Oh so lovely.
You know it: some things are all show, pretty on the outside, but not so much when you dig a little deeper.
Then there are those that are both beautiful and substantial.
That’s lavender. It’s a versatile, tried-and-true plant: Egyptians used it for embalming in ancient times, the Arabs used it for medicinal purposes in the 10th century and the British used it for perfume and furniture polish during the Victorian Era. In modern times, it is used for a wide range of purposes, from food to soaps to anxiety relief.
Oh, yeah. And it looks and smells lovely.
There are more than 30 species of lavender, which come in shades of purple, yellow and gray, to name a few. It is a plant of endurance that prefers hot, rocky areas, growing natively in regions by the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in southern Europe, northern and eastern Africa, southwest Asia, southeast India and Middle Eastern countries.
These climates might make it seem like lavender can’t grow in the Midwest. But it can. (After all, we know about grit here in the Heartland, too.)
Pamela LeFevre, owner of LeFevre Lavender Dreams in Southern Illinois, discovered the beauty of lavender on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her parents and two high school-aged daughters in 2015.
“It’s all over, it grows so easily out west,” LeFevre says of the plant. “It’s in people’s front yards, fields. We went to different farms, and we just loved it.”
Inspired by this trip and in between careers as her daughters were getting older, LeFevre decided to try her hand at growing lavender and making natural bath products back at her Midwestern home, approximately 40 miles outside of Cape Girardeau. Her business, which is a 325-plant family affair operated by herself, her parents and her daughters, is now in its third year.
Lavender is harvested in June in the Midwest and takes approximately two weeks to dry, hanging upside down. At her farm, LeFevre dries it in a cabin and in unfinished areas of her house. The plant doesn’t like humidity and needs a rock-based soil mixture and lots of sunlight to thrive. If soil is too acidic or receives too much water, lavender will not grow.
“You can’t just put them in the ground,” Lefevre says of the plants.
Lefevre notes that growing lavender is “a lot of work,” but worth it, especially with all of its versatile uses. “It’s something different for here,” she says. “And it’s just beautiful.”
USES FOR LAVENDER
Cooking — Use lavender in cheeses and cookies, on chicken and in lattes and teas.
Sleeping Help and Anxiety Relief — Put a sachet of dried lavender under your pillow at night, or spray your pillow with lavender linen spray to help you catch some z’s.
Calm Irritated Skin — Reduce the redness and itchiness of eczema, acne and dry skin, as well as treat minor burns with lavender oil.
Repel Pests and Attract Butterflies and Bees — Plant lavender near patios and porches for an insect-free zone.
Beautify Your Environment — Place bouquets of fresh lavender around your home for lovely centerpieces and heavenly scents.
Lavender Lemonade Recipe
RECOMMENDED BY PAMELA LEFEVRE OF LEFEVRE LAVENDER DREAMS IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
1 tray ice cubes
1/4 cup dried lavender
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup white sugar
5 cups cold water, or as needed
Place ice cubes into a two-quart pitcher. Place the lavender into a bowl, and pour boiling water over it. Allow to steep for about 10 minutes, then strain out the lavender and discard. Mix the sugar into the hot lavender water, then pour into the pitcher with ice. Squeeze the juice from the lemons into the pitcher, getting as much juice out as you can. Top off the pitcher with cold water, and stir. Taste, and adjust lemon juice or sugar if desired. Pour into tall glasses, and enjoy!