herbes de provence: an excuse to eat lavender

Herbes de Provence is a classic cooking blend from, as the name suggests, the Provence region in southeastern France. It hit my radar early in my gardening adventures, because it was one of the few recipes I could find that included lavender as an edible spice. When I bring up Herbes de Provence, it’s really because I just want to talk about lavender.

As with the more commonly familiar salad-dressing herbs, lavender is a beloved aromatic. It fell out of use in US kitchens, to the point where many people associate the smell and thus the flavor with soap.

And that’s such a shame, since lavender is a full apothecary in a single plant.

Lavender’s aromatic qualities mean it supports digestion, as with the other salad-dressing herbs. But the plant has more tricks up its sleeve for this effect. It’s also bitter, which uses a reflex action to tell the brain that food is coming, coordinating the timing and action of the many phases of the process. And lavender’s well-known reputation as a calming herb also shifts our nervous systems from fight or flight (sympathetic dominance) into rest and digest (parasympathetic dominance.) That shift tells our bodies it’s safe to focus on digestion rather than running from a dangerous situation.

Remember, too, that those aromatic compounds make it antimicrobial — its name comes from the Latin lavare, which means to clean.

Several years ago, I led a hands-on workshop that focused on using lavender the attendees had grown themselves. To prepare, I went looking for the recipe for Herbes de Provence — and was surprised by what I found. Not only is there no single recipe for the blend, not all the recipes even use lavender.

Herbes de Provence is really just folks going outside and grabbing some herbs from their gardens or wild places and adding those to their food. It’s like a gathering an edible bouquet of wildflowers, changing based on the season and the gatherer’s mood.

And that struck me as really beautiful: Food as art made from a palate of what’s growing around you.

Lavender is happily starting to become more available as a flavor. You can find recipes for lavender cookies, or find it in syrups or specialty ice creams. And, of course, in Herbes de Provence blends. If you’re on the fence about lavender, hopefully this will change your mind, or at least give you a gentle nudge to try it.

Here are four versions of the blend, selected because they include lavender. Use these when roasting vegetables, on pizza instead of classic Italian spices, or with olive oil for roasting fish or chicken.

 

From Martha Stewart:

  • 3 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dried savory
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 3 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers (optional)

 

From The Spruce Eats

  • 3 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dried savory
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers (optional)

 

From Rachel Cooks:

  • 4 tablespoons thyme
  • 3 tablespoons marjoram
  • 3 tablespoons summer savory
  • 2 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mint
  • 1 teaspoon chervil
  • 1 teaspoon lavender

 

From Mama’s Kitchen Hope:

  • 3 tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 3 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sage leaf
  • 3 tablespoons savory
  • 2 tablespoons lavender flowers
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary