Home & Design July 31, 2008

For the Love of Lavender

Lavender, by stem, oil, scent or taste, is perfect, and I can prove it.

As the mother of a pair of adventurous toddler girls, I have had a first-aid kit packed with ointments, ice packs and bandages from the moment just after they learned to hold their heads up on their own.

But it wasn’t until a trip to the Valley View Lavender Farm in Buhl last summer that lavender oil became an essential component of that kit.

The girls and I were in the cutting garden of the organic farm where $5 gets you a fistful of the sultry scented stems that you select yourself.

Two 2-1/2-year-olds with scissors is fun enough, but add the extra element of leisurely bees drifting heavily from flower to flower, and you have a nature adventure of major proportions.

We had been cautioned about the bees, mind you. But caution, to my daughter Gracie Peterson, is a challenge. So, it was fitting that she would be the one running over to me squealing, “Mommy, look, I got one!” Her more frequently compliant and always ready-to-correct sister, Devon, ran beside her, yelling hysterically, “Gracie! No! You can’t do that!”

The bee, clasped in Gracie’s little fist, agreed with that. Instantly, the joy turned to horror. Gracie dropped the bee and wailed in place.

The man with the hand-held radio, the one who had told us to watch out for the bees in the first place, was there again, calling in for help.

I was thinking, wet aspirin, that’s what my granny used to draw out the stinger. Benadryl? What if, like my boxer Emma, Gracie was allergic to such stings? Her throat would swell, she wouldn’t be able to breathe. “EpiPen®! MEDIC!” my thoughts raced as I plunged her hand into a baby pool filled with ice and drinks usually reserved for guests.

“Yeah, we need some lavender oil at the baby pool,” the man told the radio. Huh?

Up pops another adult, wielding a small vial for the man with the radio. The man dried her tiny, reddened hand and touched a dab of the lavender oil on the injury. In literally a few seconds, she stopped crying. She proclaimed, “It not hurt, momma.”
I love lavender . . . >>>




It’s no wonder that bees love it, too. Lavender flowers are said to yield abundant nectar, which in turn makes for a high-quality honey. Lavender flowers are edible and you may have eaten some candied on a wedding cake. A flowering plant in the mint family, lavender is also used as an herb and is an element in Herbes de Provence. The French have utilized this savory herb in their cuisine for centuries.

The dried buds add a floral, yet slightly sweet and elegant flavor, but its taste is not like its smell and is instead quite subtle on the taste buds. It can be substituted for rosemary, thyme and, naturally, mint. It even flavors chocolate and black tea and is especially nice on salmon, chicken, pork or beef.

The rule of thumb is, the lighter the color of the flowers—from white to dark purple—the more delicate the flavor.


It is said that during London’s 17th century plague, workers fended off the disease by fastening lavender bundles to their wrists. It is believed that is because fleas—which carried the disease—were averse to the flower.

History shows even the Bible documented lavender as an essential element in the Garden of Eden, one that offered protection from evil. That theme took on numerous variations through the ages and cultures. Roman bathhouse rituals included a lavender splash and ancient washer-women dried clothing on lavender bushes to get that fresh scent into their wash.

Lavender is the herb of love. Cleopatra used the seductive scent on Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. It is said to encourage and sustain loving relationships among those who use it.


The essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and was even used to clean hospitals in World War I. Added to bath water or sprinkled on pillows, it is known to aid in sleep. A bunch of lavender can ward off insects, while an infusion can soothe and heal the bites they inflict.

Applied to the temples, it can aid with headaches, and reportedly was part of a migraine cure a German nun concocted that also included vodka, gin or brandy.

It is also used for the treatment of skin burns and inflammatory conditions.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid lavender oil as a remedy as it can produce an allergic reaction. The Endocrine Society has also cautioned against the use of lavender shampoos, soaps and body lotions in young boys because they may cause hormonal imbalances. The effect is reversed as soon as the use is discontinued, the findings held.
Still, with those cautions in mind, those who practice herbal remedies claim that lavender’s oils can treat hyperactivity, and flatulence, can reduce the size of breast cancer tumors in mice and reverse impotence.

As with anything, do your homework to decide what’s best for you and your family. >>>




Before you try to grow your own, contact your local nursery to see if they carry varieties that are suitable to your growing zone.

Gardeners at Valley View Lavender Farm in Buhl, just outside Twin Falls, carry lavenders zone hardy for 5 to 8. They suggest placing lavender in an area that allows room for air currents around the plant when they reach maturity. Lavender loves sun and dry air and requires good drainage. It does well in rock gardens.

Bill McDorman, of Ketchum’s High Altitude Seeds Trust, said he hasn’t had much luck growing it in the northern end of the Valley.

“I sold lavender seed when I first opened the seed company in Ketchum in 1984. I finally stopped in the early ’90s because it didn’t live very long,” he says.

“I have seen it growing around Ketchum and have often wondered if someone found a special variety. I think it was more about special mini-climates created with stone walls and walks that moderated Ketchum’s climate somewhat in special niches here and there.”

McDorman is not discouraged, though, and doesn’t discourage trying it at your home.

“I love the plant. I have searched the world for a variety that would grow dependably in Ketchum. I was never able to find one. I have never given up, however. Tell me if you find a way.”

At Valley View, they will advise that you use a slightly alkaline soil. Some sand, well-rotted manure or compost will give your starters a boost. Be aware that the plant can spread and grow up to five feet, so plan accordingly.


Valley View is all about the herb. You can dig your own plants, cut a bundle, or simply wander the grounds. There is even a lavender internship offered annually for future farmers.

It all started in 1999 with a passing comment made by Peggy Armstrong to her husband Al one evening: “I wish I had a small patch of lavender to enjoy.”

Al Armstrong started researching the subject and discovered that their Buhl farm did, in fact, have the ideal soil and conditions for growing the sweet-smelling herb.

The couple attended a lavender festival and conference in Sequim, Washington, to learn all they could and were seduced, toting 100 plants home with a plan for the future.

Seven years later, they oversee three acres of lavender with approximately 15 varieties amongst their 6,000 plants, Al Armstrong says. The resulting products have won national awards and their farm has garnered mention in magazines like Sunset and Country Living, AAA Via Magazine and Country Woman Magazine.

Every year, Valley View hosts a Lavender Festival where you can cut your own, sample roasted chicken and Herbes de Provence potato salad, herb rolls, lavender sweet tea, margaritas and ice cream, cool off under a tent that mists lavender, roam the crafts fair, attend demonstrations like wreath making, enjoy live music and learn all you want to about lavender.

This article appears in the Summer 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.