The Sweet Smell of Research
by Susanne "Brown Thumb" Dietze
I grow lavender right outside my office window. No lie: as I started typing, a hummingbird swooped down to steal a bit of nectar from the tiny purple blossoms. Bees love lavender, too. Just like me. It’s easy to care for (I don't kill it), it calms you down when you put it into your tea, and it smells fantastic in a drawer.
I wanted to include lavender in a big way in an upcoming novel. I’m no expert on it, though, so I decided to visit a few lavender farms for research. So far, I’ve visited a handful of farms in two states. The farms look a bit different, but let me tell you, they all smell the same. Sweet and fresh, with a hint of camphor.
|Lavender Farm in Sequim, Washington, by Kgrr|
Visiting farms is enjoyable for my whole family (even the guys, who were shocked to realize they had fun doing something so presumably foofy). We buy goat milk soap and sample lavender products, like lavender lemonade--a big hit with my kids. It’s not hard to make your own, either. Just steep dried lavender flowers in the sugar syrup in your favorite lemonade recipe. (For steeping just about anything, I use empty tea bags, purchased anywhere you buy loose leaf tea.)
Fortunately, I grow my own lavender. If you have your own lavender plants, you have a world of opportunity in your yard.
Trimming lavender is easy. Just cut down on the stem with trimmers or scissors. You want to harvest your lavender a few times a year, so don’t hesitate to cut away! Plop the stems in a vase to enjoy, or dry them by binding the stems with a rubber band and hanging upside down. I keep mine in paper bags so I don’t lose any dried blossoms.
When they’re dry, all you have to do is gather the loose, dry buds in a sachet. Or make a tea by infusing a handful of blossoms in a pot of boiling water and steeping for ten minutes. It is said to calm anxiety and upset stomach.
Try a bath tea. Add a sachet of dried blossoms to your bathtub. Lavender is in a lot of calming aromatherapy products for a reason!
I love lavender oil, but naturally, I have to buy this from a grower. It takes about 600 lavender plants to distill a gallon of lavender oil—no wonder it’s expensive!
The hydrosol, or water mixture that remains after the distillation process, is a gem unto itself. It retains a lavender and camphor smell, and has multiple purposes. You can rinse your hair with it, apply to scrapes, and spritz it like a body spray. It lasts a year and doesn’t need refrigeration.
Looking to plant some lavender? There are many, many varieties, but here are a few I like:
Grosso developed in France and did not earn its name because it’s gross, as my youngest kid assumed. With tight silvery foliage, Grosso blooms like a hedgehog, with spikes all the way around, making it nice visual selection for your garden. It is also a popular culinary choice.
|Not as "hedgehog-like" in appearance as the Grosso, but Impress Purple sure is sweet|
|a row of young Provence bushes|
Hopefully I'll be a bit more realistic when I write my Lavender Heroine after all my lavender farm visits.
*How does hands-on research help you when you're writing?
Susanne Dietze is a 2013 Genesis Finalist who puts lavender somehwere in all of her stories. She's represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com.