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May 13, 2009 11:53 AM

Can you use a lavender bush for cooking?

What I mean is the lavender people plant in front of their homes....same thing goes for rosemary-you see the beautiful, big bushes here in CA. But can you cook with them? Somebody told me once that for eating plants need to be grown a certain way, without the chemicals...Do I need to stick to the smaller version that you can find in an herb area of the nursery?

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  1. Lavender plants are used to cook with. They grow best in sandy. well drained soil in full sun That means at least 6 hours of sun a day. It's a perennial plant and needs a few years to get established, but you can certainly harvest a few leaves as the season goes on. I agree with the no chemical fertilizer statement. No chemicals in my vegetable or herb gardens, just well decomposed compost and 3 yr. old composted manure.

    Here's a good source of information....

    1. I live in the southwest and am looking at both rosemary and lavender in my front courtyard as I type. They grow year 'round here and the lavender is blooming now. I use both for cooking and no, they are not some special "eating" plants.

      When you write that "eating plants need to be grown a certain way, without chemicals ..." I think perhaps this refers to chemical sprays generally used for pest management. In that case, one should certainly not use poison on food plants but I have never found bugs to be a problem with either rosemary or lavender and have never used any pesticides. NB: I plant them especially because my wild desert critters dislike their strong aroma/flavor and therefore do not eat them, leaving more for me.

      Many non-gardners and non-cooks believe there are special food-only plants grown and the everyday plants we routinely see in landscape situations should not be eaten. polish_girl, these plants were growing wild long before anyone thought to cultivate them. If you stay away from commercial locations where it is likely that pesticides are routinely used, you won't need to buy special plants.

      When I first moved to AZ from the East, I traveled with garden snippers in my car to take advantage of the rosemary routinely used for landscaping at the supermarket & local banks. Yes, I made certain to wash it before using, but have long discontinued this practice since my own plantings have matured.
      NB: the upright rosemary makes great, woody skewers for lamb & vegetable ka-bobs.

      Have a delicious time and tell the Nervous Nellies that you'll be OK. Yes, they should stay away from oleander and other poisonious plants, but the rosemary and lavender are fine.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        Thanks, I thought something didn't make sense. Why would I need to start with a tiny plant from the herb section, when I can get a big one from the landscaping area for almost the same price? Great, I will be buying them this weekend....

        1. re: polish_girl

          I hope that I'm not too late ....... I forgot to mention that there are different types of lavender and have different flavor properties.
          Spanish Lavender is widely available, a very sturdy plant but, in my experience, has the least aroma and flavor. It is, however, very easy to grow. I grow it but do not use it in the kitchen.
          French Lavender is what I use for cooking. As I mentioned, I live in the SW of the US and our climate is hot & dry. Lavender from the South of France is at home in my environment and provides a strong-smelling plant which translates to the kitchen.
          English Lavender prefers a cooler climate than I can provide. It is also strongly-scented and I would grow it if I could.

          I apologize for the delay; early summer onset is cooking my brain.

          1. re: polish_girl

            The bottom line is to rub the leaves (or flowers, in the case of lavender), sniff it, and decide if that's the flavor you want to cook with. I like Grosso which is a cross of English and French lavenders. To my nose, the English is sweeter and rounder, and the French is sharper and stronger. The cross is the best of both worlds to me.

            1. re: polish_girl

              Just coming across this thread - and I thought I would pipe up.... I was out looking for a lavender bush for culinary purposes - the place I went to had about ten varieties. Only one was safe for eating. Glad I checked.

              1. re: Apple

                What do you mean? What makes them unsafe? Does quantity matter? How much would you be using? FW IW, it don't eat my lavender, but use them for their scent, I (and my neighbors) eat my rosemary regularly.

                1. re: Apple

                  I really doubt that the lavenders were unsafe for eating. Unpalatable, though, I can easily believe. Some varieties have more camphor and terpins than we'd find pleasant to eat, or have so little flavor (Spanish lavenders, for instance) as to be pointless.

                  1. re: Apple

                    By this reasoning, ("...the place I went to had about ten varieties. Only one was safe for eating") I should have been dead or ill a very long time ago.

                    "Many non-gardners and non-cooks believe there are special food-only plants grown and the everyday plants we routinely see in landscape situations should not be eaten. polish_girl, these plants were growing wild long before anyone thought to cultivate them." see my post above.

                    Sorry to disagree, apple, but my experience trumps a nameless garden center employee who gave no reason for the blanket, unsubstantiated pronouncement.

                    Both Shrinkrap and Karen_Schaffer hit on the head perfectly. Some lavenders are simply not very tasty.

                    1. re: Sherri

                      Or, perhaps the fertilizers or pesticides used on the other nine varieties rendered them unsafe for eating. If a plant is to be grown for ornamental use only, it's possible that the nursery used a stronger, systemic pesticide or fertilizer on them to maximize appearance and bloom.
                      Probably not too likely, but it could be a reason why Apple was told only one variety was "safe" for culinary use.

                      1. re: choco_lab38

                        Good point. I did cover this in my initial post but neglected to mention it in the follow-ups. I really cannot wrap my head around the idea that there are specific varieties of lavender for culinary use and the others are botanicaly unsafe. I would have been a goner long ago .......

                        1. re: Sherri

                          I guess I should have been a little more clear... I didn't mean to imply that particular varieties were not safe for eating but rather the other varieties that the garden center had may have been treated with certain fertilizers/pesticides that are used for their landscaping bushes versus what they would use for their culinary-use herbs.

              2. Lavender is one of the herbs in a traditional "Herbs de Provence" blend. It makes a wonderful delicate sherbet or granita, and some people like lavender ice cream too. A little lavender in homemade lemonade is nice. Some blossoms scattered in fresh fruit salad adds eye appeal and a hint of flavor. I've dried lavender buds in sugar and used the flavored sugar for baked goods and the buds for cake decorations.
                If you have rosemary shrubs available to you, not only are the leaves great for cooking but the woody stems make awesome skewers for bbqing and grilling. I sometimes throw bundles of green rosemary on top of coals to smoke meats when grilling.

                Just be sure what you use for cooking is pesticide free. If you've bought nursery plants that you have doubts about, grow them this year without using them and next year they should be fine for culinary use. I've not had any problems with bug damage and when I grow in pots I use a weaker, watered down version of liquid organic fertilizer to guard against fertilizer burn.

                1. While there are no toxic varieties of lavender, there are varieties that are very resinous and not well suited to culinary uses. It's very hard to say which is which but if you take a small handful of buds and crush them, you can sniff them and see if they have an aroma you think would enhance your food.

                  If you, as I do, have the resinous variety, dried culinary lavender is available online.

                  1. I have a small lavender bush in my backyard that has about 10 small purple blossoms on them. Do I just harvest the blossoms? Then what? Can it be used both fresh and dried, like other herbs.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: icey

                      If you want to dry them, harvest with stems on, rubber band them together, and hang them upside down in a place with low light and plenty of air circulation. When they're dry, clip off the heads and store in something air tight. If you want to use them fresh snip off with stems and then snip the stems off. That's if you want to avoid having Morticia Addams looking lavender plants. ;-)