Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lavender Chemistry

Lavender distillation

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS of LAVENDER
Some 300 molecules were discovered in true lavender's essential oil, that are responsible for its fine, complex yet clear aroma - most of which are trace elements. The major constituents are (the ones in bold are the most dominant/famous ones):
Linool
Linalyl acetate (up to 40%) 
Lavandulol *
Lavandulyl acetate *
Cineole
Coumarin
Camphor
1-octen-3-yl acetate
Tricyclene  
alpha-Pinene  
alpha-Thujene  
Camphene  
beta-Pinene  
Sabinene  
gamma-Terpinene  
Myrcene  
alpha-Terpinene  
5-Methyl-3-heptanone  
Limonene  
Eucalyptol  
delta-3-Carene  
(E)-beta-Ocimene  
Octan-3-one  
para-Cymene  
Terpinolene  
Hexyl-isobutyrate  
Neo-allo-ocimene  
3-Acetoxy-octene  
Hexyl-butyrate  
cis-Linalool oxide  
Vinyl amyl carbinol  
trans-Linalool oxide  
Camphor
Dihydrolinalool  
(E)-Caryophyllene  
Terpinen-4-ol  
(E)-beta-Farnesene  
alpha-Terpineol  
Borneol  
Neryl acetate  
Geranyl acetate  
Nerol  
Geraniol  
Caryophyllene oxide  
alpha-Humulene  
Hexyl acetate  
alpha-Santalene

As we can see, it mostly contains terpenes, terpene alcohols and esters, and a few alcohols. According to Jeanne Rose "esters are soothing, calming, and fungicidal"; and linalool is an "antibacterial, believes discomfort, diuretic, tones without irritating, stimulates the immune system, sedating"; the latter actions similarly described as initiated by the terpene alcohols as well as toning (The Aromatherapy Book, pp. 158-160).

* Both lavandulol and lavandulyl acetate are insect pheromones, which might explain the abundance of bees observed around lavender shrubs.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lavender Nuances - Olfactory Profiling

Lavender Harvest & Steam Distillation Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

LAVENDER VARIETIES
Lavender is a native of the Mediterranean basin first and foremost, but has such a flexible and hardy constitution, that it is now cultivated all over the world. Of particular interest is English lavender, which develops unique characteristics (sweet and warm) despite the lesser amount of sunshine than ideal that it receives than in its native Provence; and I've sampled some exceptionally beautiful lavenders grown in relatively mountainous areas in India (Kasmir) and also from Tasmania (Australia). And even the Canadian ones I've experienced, despite its relatively low yield, is lovely when grown with tender care in small organic farms. Whichever is the case, sample your lavender first before you cast an opinion based only on the stamps on its passport.

Not only the type of lavender grown, but also where it has grown and under what conditions - the resulting aroma profile would be noticeably different. The following are brief impressions of several specimens I've studied and worked with. Most of them (unless otherwise specified) are from Lavandula angustifolia. Lavender that was grown in higher altitudes develops a much finer aroma due to a higher concentration of esters. But that is not the one and only reason for the superiority of high-altitude lavender: in high altitudes, water's boiling point is only 93 celsius, which means that less components get ruined in the process, and the more of the delicate esters also remain in the finished oil!

The reason esters are so desirable? They form among the most pleasant-smelling (functional) group of molecules. Among the esters you'll find many fruity nuances, but not nearly in-your-face as the fruity aldehydes. Most of the esters found in lavender oil are terpene esters: Linalyl acetate, geranyl acetate, octene-3-yl acetate, lavandulyl acetate (which is an insect pheromone, and might explain why the bees love lavender so much!) and neryl acetate. I detect a hint of pear in the high-altitude lavenders I've smelled, which must come from the latter (it is described as a floral, rosy, sweet, soapy, fruity, dewy with orange blossom and pear-like notes).

The effects of terroir and the particular hybrid or type of lavender selected for distillation, as well as the method of distillation makes a difference in the finished raw materials. This could be either very subtle (as the difference between the same species, L. angustifolia, in various countries or elevations) or extremely different (as we'll see when comparing lavender that was steam distilled versus solvent extraction).

The following are my own impressions from specimens that are in my collection:

Lavender Hydrosol
Artisan distillation by Dabney Rose. Curiously, it was distilled from the Mailette variety, while immersed with an amethyst crystal. It has a pure, clean aroma and the coumarin content is noticeable. I use it as a facial toner, but high quality lavender hydrosol could also be used in small amounts in eau de colognes as well.

Lavender grown in high elevation (France)
Herbaceous, a little like rosemary. A hint of rose-geranium. Slightly musty undertones. You can kinda smell it had hard time growing on the Alps... Smells like a very short, struggling plant. Dry down: hints of musk & wood base.

Lavender Maillette (France)
A cultivar of L. angustifolia Dray, clean, floral, woody. Sweet, hint of bery. Crystalline. Clean, clear, almost rosewoody. Has a higher content of linalyl acetate than any other lavender cultivar.

Wild Lavender (France) - Lavandula angustifolia 
Opens sweet and soft and floral, almost rosy even. Dries down into a sweet and grassy, airy lavender.

Lavender Oil (Tasmania, Australia)
Berry, myrrh-like, soft, green yet spicy-herbaceous. Light yet warm & comex. A little like sage/clary sage?

Lavender Super (Bulgaria)
Heavy, dirty, earhty. Herbaceouse, very fern-like. Slightly wine-like. Clean-herbaceous undertones.

Lavender Kashmir
Velvety, suede, smooth, powdery, potent, powerful but soft. Slightly herbaceous, hardly medicinal. Floral, powdery like scented leather gloves. Woody, slightly musty undertones.

Lavender Jerusalem
Wild lavender from the mountains surrounding Jerusalem that I had many years ago and ran out of. A little more camphoreous and herbaceous than the others reviewed so far. It might have been lavandin, but the labeling (in Hebrew) did not have the scientific name, unfortunately.

Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)
A hybrid which was created in the 1950s, and therefore does not produce seed but requires slips to reproduce. Lavandin is a cross between "Spike Lavender" or "Aspic" as it's known in French (L. latifolia) and "True Lavender" (L. angustifolia), this variety has a very similar appearance to true lavender, except that it has longer, slightly winding flowering tops. It has a tremendously higher yield at 2-2.5% per hectare (compare to L. angustifolia at 1% per hectare). While this is a blessing for the farmers and distillers, from a perfumer's point of view lavandin is inferior to lavender. The higher yield is due not only to the longer flowering tops, but also to a higher content of components such as cineole and camphor. Lavandin in general is less complex and more rustic than lavender. Comparing to the highly resourceful lavender - lavandin is relatively useless in aromatherapy and for healing purposes; but has been enthusiastically embraced by functional perfumers, who use it primarily in soaps, candles and household cleaning products due to its low-cost appeal and less delicate constituents. Lavandin also makes wonderful sachets that repel insects such as moth from ruining natural fibres.

Lavandin Grosso (Lavandula x intermedia)
What is referred to by some as "French Lavender" is really lavandin - a cross between true lavender (L. anguvstifolia) and spike lavender (L. latifolia). It is what is most commonly used to stuff sachets that are used to scent linens and keep moth away from wool and silk. Perhaps that is why when I first encountered lavandin oil in Grasse, France - it smelled more like lavender to me on blind tests than the true lavender oil did.
Lavandin gross is one variety of lavandin with an earthy, more camphoreous character than that of true lavender.

Lavandin Super (Lavandula x intermedia)
Lavandin super has a more bright aroma than the grosso, and also more delicate almost fruity nuances - I'm guessing from a higher ester content. But smell it again, this time after you've smelled fine high-altitude French lavender - and it smells rather aggressive and herbaceous in comparison.

Lavender Absolute (Lavandula angustifolia) - France
Musty turquoise colour liquid. Penetrating. Musty, airy, etheral. Ambery base. Musty/musky yet clean & sweet, a little lemony even?

Lavender Absolute (Lavandula angustifolia) - Bulgaria
Dark green, almost opaque colour. Strong coumarin presence. Very similar to the real, living plant.

Lavender Concrete 
Olive green paste. Even more realistically plant-like than the absolute. It is wonderful is créme parfums. It reminds me a bit of lavender tea (either in a blend with other herbs or in a Lavender Earl Gray). 

Spike Lavender (Lavandula spicata)
"Spike lavnder (spica) is warm and dry, and its warmth is healthy. Whoever cooks spike lavender with wine, or if the person does now have wine, then with honey and water, and drinks it lukewarm often, soothes the pain in his or her liver and lungs, and makes his or her thinking and mind pure". 
(Hildegard von Bingen, "Physica"). In her entry on galangal in the same book (spelled galingale) she prescribes a remedy for palsy made of pulverized galangal, nutmeg, spike lavender, githerut (gith, AKA nigella or black cumin), lovage, female fern and saxifrage. I do not have any essential oil from spike lavender - and it is not much in use nowadays as lavender is far superior to it, and lavandin, its hybrid with spike lavender, has a much greater commercial success. 

Seville Lavender (Lavandula stoechas subspp. luisieri) - Spain
I have a L. stoechas bush in my garden, and it has an intensely animals, almost goat-like aroma, recalling herding on the Mediterranean hills. The flowers of this species also look very different than other lavenders - rather than a stem with many little tiny buds, they look more like a spikelet of wheat, with a purple flame of petals at the top.
The absolute I have smells like a non-lavender lavender. Raspberry, hay, almost like osmanthus and linden blossom. Sweet is not the right word but sour isn't either. Fruity in an odd, fascinating way. Dark like a herbal witch brew - over steeped rosemary and sage. Resinous and sweet, a little like fir absolute.

Seville Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lavender, The Healer

Senanque Abbey
Since ancient times, alchemists sought after the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life (to achieve immortality), and Panacea, the universal remedy that will treat all ailments and ensure that this eternal life is well-lived. As you'll discover in this article, lavender embodies that cure-all potential, if only utilized with skill, knowledge and respect to the plant.

This ancient medicine plant was mentioned in the writings of the great Greek physicians Dioscorides (also a botanist), Galen and Pliny. In the 13th and 14th Centuries, lavender has become one of the most popular herbs grown in the monastery gardens all over Europe. It is one of the key components of many Aqua Mirabillis formulae, including the classic Eau de Cologne (the basic accord for which contains petitgrain, neroli, lavender and/or lavandin, bergamot, lemon, orange and additional citrus oils, herbs and fixatives of choice), Chartreuse (which was originally a remedy; the ingredients remain a trade secret - but I suspect also contain lavender, chamomile and honey), and later on in the New World - the new interpretation of the cologne formula called Agua Florida - AKA Florida Water - with lavender, lime, cloves and cassia added to the original Eau de Cologne accord.

Un après-midi sous le soleil

AROMATHERAPY USES 
"Lavender constrains many evil things, and evil spirits are driven by it".  - Hildegard of Bingen 

A few years ago, lavender oil prove to be a true friend to me. It was the peak of the summer, and I had to take an emergency flight to Israel to care for my then very ill mother. The experience was traumatizing, as to be expected. Add to that being eaten alive by the Israeli mosquitoes and attack of any bug imaginable (they've always liked me there in the countryside...) was the icing on the cake. Every night I smeared my limbs with neat lavender oil, sprinkled a protective circle of lavender oil around my bed, and a few more drops of both lavender and Roman chamomile on my pillow. That helped to keep both the insomnia, nightmares and bugs away for the most part. But whatever bites I did get were not too much of a big deal, because I would just dab more lavender oil on them when I woke up, and that prevents them from developing into an all-day misery, with scabs and all. It made the rather horrid time of my life (even though my trip lasted only two weeks) just a tiny bit more bearable. And for that, Lavender dear, I am forever grateful.

AROMATHERAPY USES 
Lavender is as close to panacea as we'll ever get: No other aromatherapeutic oil is as flexible and useful as lavender. It is used to treat myriads of conditions including physical ailments fighting infections and wounds (it is a natural antibiotic and antiseptic) and mental and emotional challenges such as insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. Keep lavender on hand to treat ailments pertaining to skin, digestion, hormones, nerves, emotions, mood, and as a general first aid and household weapon to repel insects at bay and keep it clean and fragrant.

According to aromatherapist and author Julia Lawless (Aromatherapy and the Mind), small doses of airborne lavender oil have successfully improved the lives of patients in hospital in England; both improving their overall emotional well-being, reducing anxiety, helping patients find restful sleep, as well as preventing the spread of disease. And it was even used in hospitals for massaging patients. It is also utilized by midwives to calm and reassure the mother to be and ease her labouring process.

Lavender makes a wonderful travel companion for the many hurdles and discomforts that can come your way - from insect bites and sunstroke to insomnia. Below are but a few of the key qualities that can be harnessed for maintaining our well-being.

With all that being said, it can never be stressed enough that proper use of essential oils is paramount to their effective and safe outcome. Keep in mind that each drop of lavender represents many flowering tops: if we recall, to produce just 1 lb of oil, between 110 to 150 lb of fresh plant matter is required. To give you a more concrete idea: an acre of lavender can produce between 12-20 lb (5.44 - 9.07 kg) of oil (which, with lavender's specific gravity ranging from 0.870-0.898) translates to at least  6.25-7.89 L depending on how good was the harvest that year). Every time you're using up a 5 mL bottle of lavender, envision you've consumed an entire row of blooming lavender bushes, and be grateful for it!

KEY CHARACTERISITCS OF LAVENDER OIL
According to the Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, lavender acts as:
Analgesic, antibiotic, anticonvulsive, antidepressat, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitoxic (detoxifier), carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, cicatrisant, cordial, cytophylactic, deodorant, diuretic, emmenagogue, hypotensive, insecticide, nervine, parasiticide, rubefacient, sedative, stimulant, sudorific, tonic, vermifuge, vulnerary.

FIRST AID
Lavender should be included in any first aid kit: use it to treat burns, wounds, cuts and bites. It reduces the pain in those uncomfortable instances, and also promotes faster healing and reduces scarring.

It also repels insects, and smells much better than citronella but is just as effective in keeping blood-thirsty mosquitos away. When hiking, camping or traveling - there is no better companion than lavender!

Lavender is one of the few oils that can be worn neat on the skin (without requiring dilution) - which is how it should be applied when treating burns, cuts and insect bites. Please note that this method should not be misused to prevent unwanted reactions or side effects. 

Lavender harvest

SKIN  
Lavender oil can be used to treat many unpleasant skin conditions, including: acne, eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, inflammation, sunburn (dilute 1 drop of lavender in a tablespoon of aloe vera gel and apply to affected area), and as mentioned earlier - burns, cuts and wounds.

Lavender oil's restorative properties can be also harnessed for skin care and beauty products, to treat oily and acne-prone skin. Lavender hydrosol makes an excellent facial tonic.

Lavender is also a natural deodorant (try making your own, with baking soda and lavender oil!) and is also popular in talcum powders for the feet and the body. It can be used to treat athlete's foot, and is one of the most favourite additions to foot baths or foot creams, usually along with cooling peppermint.

HYGENE
Because of its antiseptic properties, lavender is a popular addition to soap bars and shower gels. It is also popular in talcum powders for the feet and the body and is an excellent deodorant.

INSECT/PARASITE REPELLENT 
Use lavender to prevent lice infections (especially good in synergy with rosemary), to keep mosquitoes and other bugs away, ringworms, etc. 

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Like many other members of the mint family, lavender helps to alleviate nausea and treat abdominal cramps, colic, gas, etc.

HORMONAL REGULATION
Lavender can support women's PMS symptoms, especially when blended synergistically with clary sage. On the flip side: there has been a bit of a controversy a few years ago about whether lavender caused breast development in boys. I haven't found literature that is entirely reliable about this issue, so it could be that these was just anecdotal incidents.
If someone is in risk as a result of increased estrogen activities, it would be advisable to consult a doctor before exposing oneself to this oil (and perhaps also tea tree oil).

NERVOUS SYSTEM
Lavender's reputation precedes it as a cure for headache and migraines. Applying the oil neat on the temples can help alleviate headaches. A foot bath with a few drops of lavender will reduce fatigue, and lavender sprigs placed inside the hat were supposed to prevent sunstroke.

Lavender has a positive effect on the mind in emotional situations such as shock, depression and anxiety and helps to get a good night's rest. It helps to reduce blood pressure, sciatica and vertigo.  All the more reason to bring it on in hospital and clinical environments, if you ask me... 

EMOTIONAL  
Lavender has both reviving and calming qualities. It's almost as if it knows what the person who takes it needs of it - soothing or stimulation!
In her book, The Fragrant Mind, Valerie Ann Worwood describes the "lavender personality" as a perfect balance between feminine and masculine: both nurturing, gentle and powerful. Indeed, lavender's power comes from having a perfectly balanced makeup of elements that like a mother perfectly perceptive to her infant's needs - seem to almost psychically tune into the patient's needs and give them exactly what's missing to promote their well-being. It does so gently but effectively.

Lavender is helpful in bringing a sense of peace of mind, serenity and calm; yet also can help to ward off mental fatigue. It reduces anxiety, and inspires sleep in a wandering mind of the insomniacs. 
But most importantly: it helps to self-regulation emotions, in situations such as mood swings, hysteria and bi-polar personalities, etc.

Visit our blog tomorrow for more lavender beauty tips and simple DIY applications. 


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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lavender Lineage

Lavender Harvest Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

ETYMOLOGY & NOMENCLATURE
The name lavender originates in the French word "Lavandre", which is a mutation of the Latin word "Lavare" - to wash. This refers to the ancient costume, popular since Roman times, to scatter sprigs of blooming lavender in the bath, which makes the cleansing deeper an more effective, and of course - the bathing experience both relaxing and fragrant.

TAXONOMY & BOTANICAL CLASSIFICATION
Lavender belongs to the Labiatae (AKA Lamiaceae) family, also referred to as the "Mint family", aludinig to the lip-like shape of the flowers.

There are several subgenus in the lavandula genus, and while the main group is native to the Maritimes-Alpes, there are also unique varieties that are native to Spain, North Africa, Arabia, Eritrea, Egypt, the Canary Islands and more:
Stoechas Mill.
Fabricia Adans.
Styphonia Medik.
Chaetostachys Benth.
Sabaudia Buscal. & Muschl.
Isinia Rech.f.

HISTORY
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region. True lavender grows wild in southern France on the southern slopes of the Alpes, at 800m altitude and higher. Spike lavender (L. latifolia) is also a wild plant of that region, and grows in lower altitudes - from sea level and up to 600m altitude. Lavender must have travelled with the Roman conquerors all the way to the British Isles, where it has been very well received and has become an important part of the identity of British fragrance for many generations to come.

Lavender became a popular herb among the monasteries across Europe in the 13th and 14th Centuries, and used in many recipes for therapeutic alcoholic preparations called aqua mirabillis.
In her book Physica, the polymath abbess Hildegard von Bingen writes: "Lavender constrains many evil things, and evil spirits are driven by it". She describes its healing properties as stemming from combining the benefits of strength (of odour, I presume) and bitterness (which is how it tastes).

Lavender now grows all over the world, and is a popular fragrance in many preparations, and particularly for its aromatherapeutic properties. Its oil is used worldwide in skincare, soaps, home care products, and the buds and dried flowers make their way to many homes to impart a clean, relaxing scents to closets and shoe away wool-greedy moths in the forms of sachets, potpourri etc.

FOLKLORIC AND HERBAL TRADITIONS 
Lavender is a nostalgic scent to many, and usually brings fond memories. This may be because of its diverse therapeutic benefits; and also because it is so hardy and adaptable and can grown in many climates. Lavender is a popular garden herb and ornamental plant that attracts bees with its pheromone-like aromatic molecules.

Dried lavender buds are in use in many homes in potpourris and in sachets to scent linen and clothes, and for its varied functional uses (insect repellent, antiseptic, nerve tonic and with many other therapeutic properties), and is considered to be the closest thing to panacea - the cure-all remedy.

In her excellent book Aromatherapy and the Mind, renown aromatherapist and author Julia Lawless mentions that midwives would burn lavender over hot charcoals to ease a woman's labour; and mentions its association with the sorceress goddess Hecate. We've already mentioned its original use in Roman baths, but they were not the only ones - it was also used in the Turkish Hammams and Egyptian bath houses.

Lavender harvest
Lavender sprigs were placed inside hats to prevent sunstrokes; they were also believed to ward-off the "evil eye" and even prevent the plague by scattering their sprigs on the floor. Sprigs of lavender were also incorporated in the decoration of churches on special holidays. Sachets were sewn into the skirts of Elizabethan ladies. Lavender is curiously considered to be simultaneously an aphrodisiac, and an herb that promotes chastity and purity.

Lavender was also used to scent leather and in particular leather gloves, was placed in pillows of French royalty, a custom adopted fondly by many ordinary modern folks; and the oils is used effectively to scent hospital environments to promote patient's sense of well-being and prevent the spread of disease.

Tomorrow we'll discuss more of lavender healing properties and many therapeutic applications.


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Monday, August 17, 2015

Lavender Deodorant

Lavender Deodorant

Making your own deodorant is easier than a pie. And as skeptic as I may have been - it's also results in a very effective product. I tried this one when teaching two back-to-pack Pilates classes, and was absolutely sure my armpits will overcome the superficial layer of essential oils. But I was proven wrong. I use this now all the time, and am almost out of the 4 little jars I made; so figure once I dig out my recipe, why not share it on SmellyBlog?

It's especially relevant now, because: a) it's summer; b) it's a hot summer; and c) lavender, who is getting plenty of attention this month on SmellyBlog, is one of the best natural deodorants out there!

But lavender is not the only essential oil that will help your armpits smell nice and fresh throughout the dog days of summer; here's a list of oils that can be used individually - or better yet, synergistically. When you combine two or more oils that have the same properties, not only will they smell nice; their action and effectiveness will also be amplified.

Deodorizing oils:
Allspice
Basil
Bay Leaf
Calendula
Clary Sage
Coriander
Cypress
Eucalyptus
Frankincense
Grapefruit
Jasmine
Hops
Lavender
Lemon
Lime
Lovage
Myrrh
Patchouli
Peppermint
Rosemary
Sage
Sandalwood
Orange, Sweet
Tea Tree Oil
Vetiver

The following recipe is for a cream deodorant - you will need to use your finger to apply it. It's a bit awkward if you're used to stick deodorants, but totally worth it if you've nailed down a scent that you really love, not to mention it works really well and costs very little compared to the fancy deodorants you'll find in the health food stores (some of which are not only expensive, but also rather useless).

The key active ingredients here are the baking soda and the oils. Baking soda absorbs odours and will keep the armpit scent away. The essential oils neutralize the activity of bacteria (they are most antiseptic oils, so they stop the action of the bacteria that produces armpit sweat odour). The starch's role is to absorb the sweat and also it helps with the consistency of the cream, making it less runny (which is particularly an issue on hot summer days - which is when you need your deodorant the most!).
The coconut oil is non-comedogenic, and its role is to carry all the active ingredients. The butter's role is to bring it to a more solid state at room temperature. I'm still experimenting with other butters and waxes to formulate a stick-deodorant and researching what to put in a spray deodorant. As you can tell, I'm my lab' most eager test bunny.

Lovender deodorant

DIY Deodorant 
3 Tbs virgin coconut oil
2 Tbs shea butter or cocoa butter 
3 Tbs baking powder 
2 Tbs powdered starch (I used arrowroot in lieu of corn starch) 
25-50 gtts (drops) of lavender oil, or any combination of deodorizing essential oils of your choice (see list above), or use the following combination, which totals 50 drops:

"No Sweat" - Ayala's Deodorant Scent:
20 gtts lavender essential oil
10 gtts geranium essential oil
2 gtts myrrh essential oil
5 gtts patchouli essential oil 
3 gtts vetiver essential oil

Directions: 
- Measure the oil and butter, and warm up gently over a bain-marie, until just melted.
- Remove from the heat
- Stir in the baking soda and starch, until completely incorporated
- Add the essential oils drop by drop, stirring well between additions
- Pour into clean, sterilized jars, and close the lid
- Refrigerate until set (this is especially important in the summer - otherwise you'll end up with a runny paste that never quite settles down).

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes

Lavender, Blueberry & Violet Cupcakes

Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes were an invention of a moment a few summers ago that got a hold in my baking repertoire as an exotic yet easy to whip-up pastry that looks pretty and impressive. The decoration is so simple: flowering tops of lavender (preferably fresh), and crystallized violets. Both are fancy, yet keep for a long time and create a memorable impression, both visually and on your guests palate. I've served them since in bridal stagettes and baby showers, and always got many complements!

If you can't get a hold of black currants (cassis), blueberries make a fine and delicious substitute. Keep in mind that the smaller the berries - the more flavourful they are, as most of the flavour is actually in their skin. The violet glazing is not what's going to make or break this recipe, so use it only if you have it - so if you can't find it, don't let that stop you from baking and enjoying these cupcakes .

Batter:
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp. dried lavender buds
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs Créme de Cassis liquor
½ cup fresh or frozen blackcurrants (or blueberries, if you can’t find blackcurrants)

Glazing:
Violet jelly (optional)

Icing:
5oz cream cheese
2/3 cup icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste

For decoration:
Lavender springs and/or Candied Violet Petals

- Preheat the oven to 350F (180c)
- Make the batter by creaming together the butter, sugar and lavender buds.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated.
- Sift together flour and baking powder, and add to the batter.
- Add the milk and liquor
- Add the berries, and stir gently just until incorporated (avoid bruising the berries!)
- Bake in paper-lined muffin tins for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the middle cupcake comes out clean.
- Place the cupcakes and wait till they have cooled completely
- Meanwhile (as they are baking and cooling), whip up the cream cheese icing, blending all ingredients until smooth.
- To decorate, brush each cupcake with the violet jelly, once it's absorbed into the dough a little bit, place a generous dollop of the icing (or pipe it if you like it to be more precise-looking).
- Right before serving: Top each cupcake with one blooming top of lavender, and one candied violet petal.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Lavender in the Kitchen

CULINARY USES OF LAVENDER
Lavender is a popular even if unusual and difficult flavouring component of both savoury and sweet dishes, pastries, liquors and teas. There are two major culprits to lavender: it's soapy associations, and it's bitterness. The latter would seem to makes it an easy addition to pastries and sweet preparations - but even then it can come through if not dosed carefully! Another way to mask bitterness is with a bit of salt. And, it also has a very big personality on the palate - which it does not have in perfume.  Consider this a warning!

Last but not least: the type of lavender used is of crucial importance. Lavandin is especially bitter, while true lavender (Angustifolia) has a more delicate and palatable aroma. You'd be amazed how much of a difference that makes!

Lavender & eggplant pizza

Lavender is surprisingly not that popular in its native France. The famous blend titled "Herbes de Provence" (along with rosemary, thyme, savoury, oregano, etc.) was a marketing invention of a spice merchant that was well received anywhere else but in its namesake region. Lavender seems all delicate and proper; but it really is a big, demanding monarch when it comes to flavouring. Pair it with other big flavours such as yeast dough and rosemary to create a more rustic feel, as in Pure Bread's fantastic lavender-rosemary-honey whole wheat bread. Perhaps that's why it works so well with chèvre (goat's cheese) and with honey - big flavours that instead of competing with each other (as they would with anyone else) - they create a complete, sophisticated if rustic flavour profile. 

In liquors, you'd find lavender to be a part of complex, medieval-times concoctions such as Chartreuse (with honey and chamomile). In soft drinks, it is repeatedly paired with lemon, which I find not only redundant, but also ineffective in reducing the bitterness, and definitely particularly counterproductive in eliminating the soap association. Lavender + Lemon make a very nice smelling soap, but not a particularly appetizing beverage. An exception to this phenomenon is Frostbites' Meyer Lemon + Lavender Cordial, which is quite fun, even if not my favourite of theirs. 

Lavender is a popular component in flavouring Earl Grey tea - it accentuates the bergamot (after all, they both have linalyl acetate in common). There is also a specialty Lavender Earl Grey with lavender buds and all. I only ever tasted one that was to my liking, at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. All others were painfully bitter, or unpleasantly soapy. Which is also my experience with any and all lavender-flavoured chocolates (whether in bars or truffles). The only exception was my very own, delicately spiced Lavender Milk truffles with lavender Maillette essential oil, and also included lavender and cacao in Cocoa Nymph's owner's signature perfume. Otherwise, to eat a lavender-flavoured chocolate is like being punished for your sins by with force-fed soap. 

Lavender Creme Brûlée

In sweets and desserts, lavender has become a mainstay in our local Gelateria - both as a standalone, and in Earl Grey Tea gelato.  At home, try to make your own lavender ice cream, and experiment with the flavour in créme brûlée, lavender-violet-blueberry cupcakes (a winning combination), shortbread cookies (most recommended of all!) or, even better: Pumpkin Pie with Lavender Orange Shortbread Crust. You can also visit Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm for more lavender recipes.
And, last but not least - my new favourite cake: Apricot, Walnut and Lavender Cake from Yotam Ottolenghi's latest book Plenty More (p. 308).

Apricot & lavender torte

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