Are all lavender plants edible? Technically, yes! This incredible edible herb is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and everything from lavender leaves to the buds can be consumed. But, it is worth knowing that there are many different varieties and cultivars, and it would be a good idea to choose one that doesn’t give your meal the flavor of dish soap.
Keep reading to choose the type of lavender best suited for culinary use and discover what part of the plant to use for great flavor as well as how to cook with it. As an added bonus, using this herb allows you to also reap the health benefits that lavender has been known to provide throughout the ages. It’s a two for one special!
What is culinary lavender?
Culinary lavender, as opposed to those varieties used for essential oils, aromatherapy, soaps, and lotions, is lower in camphor. Camphor is a substance that can be found in certain essential oils. As a general rule in the case of lavender plants, higher levels of camphor create more aroma and tend to have a bitter, strong flavor. Lower levels of camphor result in a sweeter flavor and scent, and these are the varieties you want to use in cooking.
Many of your favorite lavender recipes in the food world are made with the species called English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), due to its lower levels of camphor. This species provides the hint of floral flavor you enjoy while uplifting the taste of other ingredients in the dish. When you come across a food or drink that is overpowering in lavender flavor, the wrong species may have been chosen that contains higher levels of camphor.
See the section below to note popular varieties/cultivars of lavender (including English Lavender) and their uses.
Popular Cultivars and Varieties of Lavender (Lavandula)
If you can believe it, there are hundreds of varieties and cultivars of lavender. Lavender has been grown for thousands of years for its therapeutic benefits. Pluck a flower and give it a whiff! Even the smell of lavender will relax you. It contains medicinal properties to relax your brain which makes it a wonderful tool in aromatherapy.
Some species were cultivated for the essential oils the plant produces while others were used in spiritual practices. And, of course, lavender was used in cooking. We continue these traditions and still use this herb in the aforementioned ways.
Here is a list of some popular species and how they are most often used. The first two species are the most common for cooking:
- L. angustifolia: Common Name [English Lavender] — BEST TASTING For Cooking
- ‘Munstead’ – Cooking
- ‘Hidcote’ – Cooking
- ‘Royal Velvet’ – Cooking; Ornamental; Oil
- ‘Melissa’ – Cooking
- ‘Mailette’ – Oil
- ‘Gray Lady’ -Drying; Ornamental
- L. x intermedia: Common Names [Lavandin] — Mainly Used In Cooking and Oils
- ‘Provence’ – Cooking
- ‘Grosso’ – Crafting/Ornamental/Oil
- ‘Super’ – Oil
- L. stoechas: Common Names [Spanish Lavender, Topped Lavender] — Mainly Used In Oils and Ornamentals
- ‘Ballerina’ – Oils; Ornamentals
- ‘Pretty Polly’ – Oils; Ornamentals
- ‘Willow Vale’ – Oils; Ornamentals
- L. dentata: Common Names [French Lavender; Fringed Lavender] —MainlyUsed in Oils
- ‘Royal Crown’ – Oils
What part of the plant do you eat (and when to pick them)?
The time has come to consume! But what part of the plant do you eat? As I mentioned before, all parts of lavender are edible. However, the stems and the leaves have a bitter flavor to them. What you are looking to consume are the buds. They can be used dried or fresh, but take note that the dried ones will have a much stronger flavor.
If you are out in the garden, you will know when to harvest your fresh lavender buds when they have just emerged from the green outer covering and are bright in color. Do not consume any that have turned brown.
Cooking With Lavender
When cooking with lavender, think of it as a delicate note accentuating other ingredients in your dish. Many people know this herb for its place in sweet dishes. Cookies, muffins, cakes, oh my! The list is endless. You can even mix the buds into sugar and allow the oil to be absorbed before baking. Simply sift the buds out before using the sugar in your dish (the infusion takes a few weeks so plan accordingly). Other sweet treats to experiment with might be ice cream, making lavender honey for tea, or a simple syrup for cocktails and lemonade.
Try lavender in savory dishes as well. This is a wonderful herb to pair with rich, fatty foods. Infuse the buds in olive oil to brighten up a vinaigrette or add them to a dry rub to bake with chicken, turkey, or lamb. The American version of herbes de provence is probably one of the most well-known seasonings that has lavender. It’s mixed with other herbs including rosemary, oregano, thyme, marjoram, savory, tarragon, and basil.
As a final note, it might help to balance lavender with a bright flavor like lemon. The easiest way to know if lavender may accompany your favorite recipes is to just try it. So go get cooking!
Did you grow too much lavender and can’t use it all? Or maybe you want to savor the floral notes to get you through the long cold nights of winter where spring seems like just a memory. Either way, storing your lavender properly will ensure you get to reap these rewards.
You need to have dry lavender in order to preserve the flavor. That means, if you just harvested your lavender, place a rubber band around a bundle of fresh stems, and hang the buds facing upside down to dry. Ideally this would be in a cool, dry location with a slight breeze.
Afterwards, clip off the buds and store them in an airtight container out of direct light to retain freshness. Purchased, dried lavender should be stored the same way.
How To Buy It
Where you source your lavender from is very important. You want to be sure you are getting a top quality herb that is as close to the harvest date as possible. If you can skip the middleman and buy directly from the farmer that is even better.
Lavender is sold in specialty stores, farmers markets, spice shops, and various online venues. Give your lavender a whiff when you open the package. It should have a nice, sweet aroma but not overbearing. Avoid using lavender if you are unsure of the variety. You might bite into your next cookie and get a shocker if you are not using culinary lavender buds.
Here are two online sources where you can buy dried English Lavender buds (L. Angustafolia):
Mountain Rose Herbs (Organic)
Now you are ready to take on the cooking world with lavender as a tool resting in your back pocket. And you can confidently tell your friends the answer to the question “are all lavender plants edible” if they should ask. If your enemy is asking, you know to casually slip the EXTRA pungent varieties to them. 😉
Also, consider growing your own lavender to get the freshest buds. A healthy plant requires full sun and well-drained soil. It’s a perennial plant that does well in containers in addition to out in the garden. This makes for a great apartment or balcony plant. It’s a gorgeous herb that can uplift your mood with its beauty alone even before harvesting.
Alright, that’s all folks. Until next time!
P.S If you liked this article, you might enjoy this one on the differences between Rosemary and Lavender.