posted by Jacqueline A. Soule
In the days before indoor plumbing, daily showers, and sanitation in general, the clean fresh fragrance of lavender was highly welcome. The name lavender is derived from the Latin “lavare,” meaning to wash. Leaves and flowers have been used for several millennia to do just that, wash. Fragrant baths, hair rinses, to cleanse and treat skin ailments, and, in the past, to help eliminate lice and bedbugs from the household. Tea made from leaves and flowers has been used to treat sleeplessness, restlessness, headache, flatulence, and nervous stomach.
Imagine the delight the Europeans experienced when first encountering this fragrant desert plant in our area. Here they were, after an arduous sea voyage, months of horseback travel along dusty deer trails, riding into progressively odder lands – strange towering saguaros, bulging barrel cactus, pungent creosote bush – to come across a gentle evocative fragrance of their childhood home, the sweet scent of lavender. Some, like Father Kino, may have seen it as a sign from God that their journey was blessed.
Native Seri use a tea of desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) to help treat a cold. The Franciscans (who came to the area well after Padre Kino) were known to have harvested and used the leaves and flowers in the sick room, to soothe the ill with the fragrance and to bathe fevered foreheads.
Harvesting and Use.
Harvest stalks of desert lavender as the lower-most flowers open. This gives you buds with optimum fragrance. Dry these, like all herbs, out of direct sunlight. I have used desert lavender in all the same external applications European lavender is used for with no observed ill effects. Here are three ways you can use desert lavender.
Herbal sachets can be made with desert lavender.
“Tisane” is the general term for a herbal tea not consumed as a medicinal tea.
1 tablespoons dried herbs or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs
1 cup boiling water
Pour boiling water over the herbs and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain. Sweeten to taste. Serve warm or chilled. Serves 1.
In the Victorian age, floral waters became popular. Floral waters are made by steeping leaves and flowers in water until it becomes fragrant. The water can then be used in tea, pudding, cake, and pastries. There are a number of commercially available floral waters, such as rose water and orange water (made with orange blossoms).
One of the more famous herb syrups is the mint syrup used in making mint juleps. But herb syrups can be used in many other ways, like topping cakes, ice cream, fruit, pancakes, waffles, or as a base in preparing other foods, like sorbet. In general herb syrups can be used to sweeten anything, including tea. Some herb syrups are used medicinally, like elderberry syrup. Desert lavender syrup makes a nice topping over poached pears, fresh figs or perhaps canned fruit for a quick yet elegant dessert.
1 cup water
3 cups sugar
1 cup chopped fresh herbs
or 1/2 cup crumbled dry herbs
Boil all ingredients together for 10 minutes, or until thickened into a syrup. Strain into a clean glass jar. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks or preserve by canning.
Planting and Care of this Sonoran native will be covered on August 17 in my blog on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens site. The Sonoran butterflies that appreciate this shrub will be discussed in my blog on Beautiful Wildlife Gardens site on August 5. I will return to this site to post the links, or follow you can the thread on my Facebook page, Gardening With Soule.
Note: This topic is covered more extensively in my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). If you live in Tucson, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery.
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