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Lovely Lavender

by Alexandra Lee Wipf

Most of us recognize the flowery scent of lavender commonly gracing the shelves of boutique and retail establishments as soaps, lotions, and essential oils. Many might even be able to visually distinguish the perennial by its stalky, bunched-up buds. However, lavender is no longer just a soothing scent or petty purple flower for your garden.

The latest trend to hit this ornamental plant is to bring it to the kitchen. Hailing from the Northwest, I personally have experienced the occasional Farmer’s Market lavender lemonade accompanying dried bouquets of potpourri. But this summer’s Lavender Festival in Cherry Valley took lavender’s culinary uses to new heights.

For two weekends at the end of June, the Highland Springs Resort (just 32 miles from Palm Springs), in conjunction with its neighboring “123 Farm,” put on a family friendly, educational, and delicious festival featuring a wide array of uses of lavender.

The festival included horse-drawn hayrides, live music performances, lectures, workshops, children’s activities, and, of course, plenty of lavender-infused foods.

To my surprise, lavender was used in everything from Lavender and Black Bean Quinoa Salad to Lavender Beef Brisket. The purple flower was highlighted in all courses. Personal favorites included the Lavender Green Tea, Lavender Honey Ice Cream, and Lavender Lemon Cupcakes.

The best part? The 123 Farm is certified 100% Organic by the USDA and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Festival goers could visit the Organic Marketplace to purchase many culinary staples to take home, such as lavender honey mustard dressing, lavender balsamic vinaigrette, and lavender syrup.

Although there are five varieties planted in front of our home atop the La Quinta cove, I was unaware that the desert provides particularly optimal conditions to growing lavender. With over 39 species to choose from, lavender is a member of the mint family and loves dry, welldrained, sandy soils with full sun. Good air circulation is a must, but lavender requires little to no fertilizer—you simply increase the watering schedule during our hot summer months, and you too can turn the once purely ornamental eye pleaser into a desert kitchen staple.

Although some chefs experiment with the leaves, only the lavender buds contain the essential oil that provides the scent and flavor. Experiment for yourself by adding organic dried lavender buds to any beverage, baking recipe, or sauce. The floral and slightly sweet flavor pairs especially well with sheep or goat-milk cheeses and chocolate. If you’re in the Coachella Valley area, you can stop by Solano’s in La Quinta for a Lavender Lemon Drop, on which the rim is coated in 123 Farm’s lavender infused organic cane sugar.

If you did not make it to the Festival this year, be sure to return for the 9th Annual Lavender Festival in Summer 2013. For more information on 123 Farms, visit www.123farm.com. In the meantime, try adding lavender to some of your favorite recipes or around your home as a beautiful, aromatic decoration.