Best Culinary Lavender
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Belinda Butler
Posted on: April 20, 2007

What do you consider to be the best culinary variety of lavender? I really enjoy my lavender cooking experiments.

Local herb society members told me last year when I moved here to the Gulf coast of Alabama that the only variety they had any success with is Provence, due to our high humidity (yes, that’s combined with heat in the summer). I have lost two Provence plants, with 1 of 3 planted last spring remaining.

Richters lists two different Provence lavender varieties, and I don’t know which is better, or if there’s another variety that might handle our heat and humidity and also be a good kitchen herb.

The two Provence lavenders are very different. One is a lavandin and the other is an english lavender.

The variety that your herb society friends are referring to is ‘Provence’ which is a form of lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia. The lavandins are hybrids and are, by far, the popular type grown in the commercial lavender oil trade. Because of their Lavandula latifolia parentage they are more tolerant of high temperature than the english lavenders, Lavandula angustifolia.

The other variety, introduced in 2006, is ‘Provence Blue’. Like other english lavenders it is less tolerant of high temperatures and its yields are lower than the lavandins, but its fragrance is considered more refined. The ‘Provence Blue’ variety is still grown in Provence but because of yield and disease resistance issues, it was largely replaced by lavandins in the last century even in the Provence region.

Which varieties are best for culinary use? I am not aware of any study to compare the culinary properties of the different lavenders, but it is safe to say that only the english lavenders (L. angustifolia) and lavandins (L. x intermedia) have culinary value. Most of the other species have poor flavour and fragrance; for example, L. latifolia, L. stoechas, and L. dentata have camphorous oils that give an off-putting taste. Of the two most popular lavender types, english lavenders and lavandins, I would say that the english lavenders are the better ones for cooking use. Again, it’s the camphorous components that make the difference: these components are found in lavandins, though not to the same noticeable degree as in L. latifolia, L. stoechas, and the other species.

Because english lavenders are susceptible to diseases that thrive in high humidity and high heat your friends have already discovered that a lavandin variety is the best compromise between flavour and fragrance on one hand and ability to withstand the warm, moist conditions on the other. Even so, I am not surprised by your poor experience with ‘Provence’. Although the lavandins are better able to cope with your conditions they still take a "hit" in longevity. While some individuals may last longer than others your conditions may mean that you can only expect 1-3 years of growth while drier, more northerly locations can get ‘Provence’ to survive for 10 years or more.

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