Are Lavender Leaves Edible?

We don’t often think of shrubs as edible or feel inclined to cook with aromatic herbs like the Lavenders growing in pots in our homes or gardens. However, as food trends shift, we’re more open to new tastes and might even consider eating Lavender. But are Lavender leaves edible?

Lavender leaves are edible. As an aromatic herb of the Mint family, Lavender leaves’ taste varies with a distinctive flavor in some of the world’s top chefs’ signature dishes. Lavender leaves also benefit anxiety, depression, fatigue and are a medicinal antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.

There are fascinating facts about Lavender, and best too that the whole bush is edible – leaves, buds, and stems. Lavender’s use is age-old as a medicinal herb and in cooking. Also, there are many different Lavender leaf varieties, with each variety having different tastes – from bitter or camphor-like to sweet!

You Can Eat Lavender Leaves

Lavender leaves

Lavender is no longer just an aromatic oil; it’s cooked with, and Lavender farmers worldwide are growing Lavender for its leaves too. Soon it’ll be just fine to add Lavender leaves to all your favorite recipes for a tasty twist!

Don’t be put off by some Lavender leaves’ bitter or more camphor-like taste either – these aren’t poisonous. Though the sweeter tasting Lavender leaves are preferred, the more bitter tastes are exciting to use too. Fresh Lavender leaves vary in taste, so cooking with these leaves is a personal choice as to how much to use, and dried leaves are more potent.

Interestingly, the Lavender or Lavendula genus is an aromatic herb in the Mint family (Lamiaceae) and is like plant cousins of Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme, yet its uses are not as common. Perhaps, it isn’t easy to think of Lavender as not a shrub but an edible herb.

There’s a huge variety of Lavender or the genus Lavendula species, 47 of which each has a unique taste. The species Lavandula Angustifolia, most cooked with, has almost 100 edible cultivars! 

Choosing Lavender Leaves For Your Kitchen Garden

Next time you buy a Lavender bush, think: Lavender leaves are edible, and from experience, the English Lavender is the best for eating, specifically the Lavandula Angustifolia’s Hidcote, Munstead, or Lady.

This ‘True Lavender’ or ‘English Lavender’ is preferred in cooking because of its smoother taste of a blend of Royal Velvet and Folgate cultivars. Hybrids like Lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia cultivars) are also cooked, and the preferred cultivars are ‘Grosso’ and ‘Provence.’

The leaves of ‘True’ and ‘Hybrids’ vary in taste, with the ‘Hybrids’ more camphor-like, even bitter. The best crop of Lavender leaves is in early spring, when the Lavender leaves are tender, soft, and velvet-like. Fresh leaves are always best for eating as the botanical ingredients change as Lavender leaves dry. But you can dry leaves and keep these.

Lavender is easy to grow water-wise and needs a sunny spot in the garden and well-drained soil or a pot in the sun in the kitchen. It’s a good companion plant to Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, and Borage and is planted to ward off flies, ticks, and mosquitos or to attract bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.

You Can Tell A Lavender Leaf’s Taste By Its Shape

lavender tea leaves

It’s easy to tell the type of Lavender that’s growing in your garden at a glance; look at the leaves’ shape or rub leaves between your fingers and smell.

The cooking staple English variety (Lavandula Angustifolia or true Lavender) is sweet in aroma with elongated, straight Lavender leaves. The French Lavender (or hybrid Lavandula X Intermedia or Lavandin) has scalloped leaves. These broader leaves are toothed or serrated and have a stronger camphor-like scent, similar to Rosemary.

Another way to tell Lavenders apart is their stem lengths: the hybrid Lavandula X Intermedia (Lavandin or French Lavender) is 18-24 inches long. The sought-after culinary Lavandula Angustifolia is shorter, between 12-16 inches. True Lavenders also bloom about a month before Lavandin’s.

Related: Does Lavender Repel Spiders

Lavender Leaves Have An Exciting Taste

The different types of Lavender leaves taste different. Lavender leaves don’t taste as they smell, and dried Lavender leaves are not the same as fresh ones. You’ll have to play around with this exciting herb to get the right tastes. How much Lavender leaves you use depends on whether it’s fresh or dried and the flavor you want.

Mostly it’s the sweeter and more floral tasting Lavender leaves that are used in both sweet and savory dishes. And, it’s the lingering after-taste of cooking with Lavender leaves that appeal to guests as much as cooks and chefs.

The flavor of Lavender leaves (and petals too) is subtle and like a floral mix of Mint and Rosemary or something between a Rose and Rosemary with hints of Mint and Citrus. Lavender leaves have a fresh lightness that blends well with Fennel, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, and Savory.

Cooking With Lavender Leaves

The Lavender shrub no longer needs to be in a pot or garden bed in the front garden – but belongs in the veggie patch beside Rosemary, where Lavender leaves can be used instead of Rosemary. You’ll find that Lavender leaves, especially the more camphor-like ones, are closer to Rosemary’s balsamic resin scent and taste.

Have fun with a handful of Lavender leaves added to savory and sweet dishes or baking. You can use dried or fresh leaves, although the potency increases with dried leaves. Lavender leaves’ pungent floral flavor is a secret ingredient in the world’s top chefs’ dishes! And, did you know, famous Herbes De Provence includes Lavender?

How many Lavender leaves you use depends on the leaf variety, your taste, and the flavor you want but remember, don’t overpower the taste: fewer leaves are tastier. Start with a Lavender leaf’ rub for meat or vegetables by crushing, grinding, and mashing leaves with salt and a bit of sugar (if so inclined). Use Lavender leaves in bread-baking or on focaccia!

Chop fresh or dried Lavender leaves and sprinkle over roast potatoes, or add leaves to a roast lamb, beef, chicken, and pork. Infuse freshly chopped Lavender leaves in olive oil and vinegar mixture as a salad dressing. Try some Lavender-infused lemonade and Lavender ice cream too!

Lavender Leaves’ Curious Early Uses

This hardy, evergreen shrub is close to 2500 years old and native to North Africa and the Mediterranean, where it thrives in harsh conditions with minimal water. The Arabians brought Lavender to Greece and Rome from where it went to France, Spain, Italy, England, and America! Now it’s grown across the world.

Early on, Egyptians used Lavender in embalming (mummification). Lavender is also associated with the early Greek and Roman Lavender-scented baths from where the herb’s name is derived: from Latin’ lavo’ meaning ‘to wash.’

Curiously, ‘English’ varieties were grown in the 1600s at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, who valued Lavender as a conserve (less sweet than jams and used as a condiment) and as perfume. Her royal table, Her Majesty ordered, was never to be without conserve of Lavender. She also drank copious cups of Lavender tea made from Lavender leaves to ease her migraines.

Lavender leaves as a tisane (herbal infusion or decoction) lift moods and ease anxiety and fatigue. A cup of Lavender tea also boosts sleep or eases menstrual cramping and is thought to add a glow to skin health.

Lavender Leaves Give A New Twist to Food

Lavender cookies

Whether you’re paging through Nancy Baggett’s Let’s cook with Lavender (2021) or considering a dinner party using Lavender leaves’ “chameleon-like spicy, citrusy, piney character … [to] amp up flavors of fruit, nuts, creamy cheeses, and robust meats” (cf Nancy Baggett in Cooking with Lavender 2016), Lavender leaves will surprise your guests.

And, if you’re not cooking at home, check out what Welsh Michelin chef James Sommerin does with English Lavender’s sweet and mellow flavors in his duck breast with beet and yam combo. Or, Alain Passard’s Beets with Lavender and crushed Blackberries!

Also, each month about 1000 patrons come to Yotam Ottolenghi’s London Soho restaurant Nopi to order his signature appetizer Lavender-infused Burrata (baked ‘buttered’ Mozzarella and Cream cheese) with Blood Oranges. It’s never been left off the menu, we’re told.

Also Check: Growing Lavender In Texas: Important Gardening Tips For Different Areas

Are Lavender Leaves Poisonous?

Just in case, a warning: don’t consume essential oils as these are toxic when ingested.

And, cats and dogs are allergic to small amounts of a chemical compound called Linalool in Lavender which can cause vomiting and a lack of appetite for your pets. It is, however, safe for humans.

Like with all herbs, wash Lavender leaves well and don’t use leaves in cooking that might have pesticides on them.

Conclusion

Lavender leaves are a highly sought-after culinary ingredient, and it appears, the edible uses of Lavender leaves are limited by your imagination only.

It’s time to chew on a Lavender leaf for inspiration, create a Lavender leaf extravaganza on a white starched linen table cloth scattered with Lavender buds, and toast with Lavender leaf-infused gin to the leaves of this ancient herb’s modern incarnation.

References

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lavender-tea-benefits

https://guide.michelin.com/en/article/features/clare-smyth-s-chocolate-lavender-tart

https://www.denverpost.com/2016/07/13/lavender-where-you-least-expect-it/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/the-herb-you-need-to-take-a-second-look-at/2016/07/01/8f7fafc2-3cb4-11e6-84e8-1580c7db5275_story.html