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Monday, August 3, 2015

ways to use lavender flowers

If you were to ask me what is my favorite herb, I would have a really, really difficult time choosing just one. Lavender does come high up on the list, though. While we use lavender essential oil in our home for many things, here are a few ideas focused only on using dried lavender flowers. You can wildcraft or grow and harvest the flowers yourself, or purchase from a reliable company. Be sure that the flowers are a lovely purple color when dried -- or if white lavender, then a proper white color. Greying flowers will be old, and so not nearly as beneficial to use. They should be strongly fragrant, too.

Lavender and Oatstraw Tea is a surprisingly delightful drink. I prefer this hot, before bed as an alternative to chamomile. The tea is strongly fragrant, a strong floral scent with a small pungent bite that other flowers generally do not offer. Lavender is a nervine relaxant, helping to soothe the nervous system thereby holding the potential to calm headaches and muscle soreness. However, lavender is best used in smaller quantities. Large amounts of lavender can result in a stimulating effect, which might run entirely opposite to the desired result! Oatstraw pairs well with lavender as a nervine tonic, one which helps to rebuild and maintain the healthy pathways of the nervous system, and also because it has a very mild taste, faintly grassy and not much else. Oatstraw is also high in calcium which when consumed at bed time can help promote sound sleep.

Mix together 1 part each lavender flowers and cut oatstraw and toss together. Add a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of honey if desired. Alternatively, 1/2 a part of spearmint added to the blend makes a fresh tasting bed time tea. Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 Tb mixed herbs and steep for 5 minutes before drinking.

Lavender is also a diaphoretic herb, meaning that it promotes sweating. When ill and running a damp fever, promoting sweating can often help the body to flush out the problems with that high heat and the fever can come to a breaking point more quickly. Lavender and oastraw tea is wonderful for this. Avoid the cooling peppermint when treating a sweating fever this way, but add 1 part yarrow leaves and flowers to the blend for extra diaphoretic action. Wrap up warmly, keep the feet covered in several pairs of socks, and sip the tea regularly for a few hours. I have been able to "break" a fever in myself and others quite successfully this way.

(However, common sense does apply, so if the fever persists or runs extra high, breathing or pulse are compromised in any way, or if the individual displays signs of unresponsiveness, please pursue professional medical help. Also, be careful when using lavender to treat illness in small children, and be aware that high fevers in little ones can more quickly cause brain damage. Pursue outside help if you are at all uncertain or symptoms get worse or do not improve.)

Bathing in lavender is...mmm. If you haven't tried it, do it now! You can mix up the lavender flowers as you like. Here are my favorite bath tricks.

Soothing bath: One handful lavender flowers + one of chamomile flowers + several rose heads or a handful of dried rose petals. Add a cupful of epsom salts for good measure.

Mentally restoring bath: great for mamas who can't just go to bed yet, and are putting off a few evening chores now that the kids are in bed! One handful lavender flowers + 1/2 handful rosemary + one orange sliced into rounds. Add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, too.

Tie up the herbs into a large tea bag. You can use old cheesecloth, thin cotton, muslin washable tea bags. Or, as I do, you can visit the local paint shop and buy some nylon mesh bags made for the filter part of a spray paint gun! Really. These bags are wonderful! They are reusable over and over and over, and a little elastic band tied at the top makes a huge bath tea bag that steeps well and cleans easily. I don't like to let the herbs all float around in my baths. I know it looks pretty, but I'm far too pragmatic for that sort of thing. It all gets in my way and then there's cleaning it out afterwards before the tub can be drained... I like to relax in my tub, pull the plug, and walk away without further chores waiting in there once I'm clean.

Sunshine Salve

My son and I recently made up a large batch of this for his teachers at the end of the school year. So easy, so lovely, smells gorgeous, and is good for everything summer related, pretty much. Make up a herbal oil using equal parts of lavender and calendula flowers, and then set it into a salve with beeswax. We put ours into plastic deodorant tubes for hands-free application. Sunshine Salve is buttery yellow from the calendula, with just the right amount of lavender fragrance not to be overpowering. Apply it to chapped skin, sunburn or sun rash, bug bites, and bumps and scrapes that happen during summer play.

Lavender and Rice or Wheat Bag

Muscle aches and pains are all fixed with a rice bag. Oh, what would I do without mine? If you are handy with a machine, you can sew a pocket of any size you like, providing the fabric is purely fabric (no metal or elastic), and then fill with dry rice. Or, upcycle an old muslin or cotton swaddling blanket. Fill the middle of the blanket square with several cups of dry rice, and then tie a secure knot in the gathered corners to keep the rice inside.

Wheat can be used instead of rice. Be sure to use only dry, uncooked whole grains. Mix in several handfuls of lavender flowers for sweet scent each time the bag is warmed.

To use your bag, pop it in the microwave for a minute or two. The time will depend on the size of your bag. My favorite long rice bag that I use each month during period cramps takes 2 1/2 minutes on high in the microwave. So long as you keep the bag dry, you can reuse it over and over for months, even years.

Lavender Clothes Sachets

No new trick, this habit goes back generations. But good ideas last. Use any little cloth bag you like -- muslin tea bags, pretty cloth gift bags, a pair of old tights or stockings with knots tied in the open ends -- and fill with lavender flowers. Stuff these little sachets into your drawers of clothes, especially the ones that are not in frequent use, such as winter sweaters, to keep moths and bugs away. The sweet fragrance when you lift the lid on your sweater box in autumn is merely a side benefit.

Other insect-repellant herbs can be used in the same way. Consider rosemary, cedar, pine, cinnamon, wormwood, cloves. These sachets will last quite a while but can also be freshened up with a few drops of essential oils.

Lavender Vanilla Sugar

Pop several tablespoons of lavender flowers + a vanilla bean scored in half lengthwise into a pint jar not quite full of sugar, white or brown, powdered or granulated. Shake daily for 4 weeks. The fragrance you will get from the sugar when you finally lift the lid will blow your top off! Amazing! Wow your friends at the next tea party you host with this breath of summer life.

Alternatively, make yourself an infused honey with the same ingredients. Heat the honey and herbs in a crock pot on low for 24 hours, strain, and store.

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