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July 3, 2013

Lavender lovers, unite!

Michiganders go gaga for the signature scent of summer

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Lavender lovers, unite!
Iris Lee Underwood, a professional writer and owner of Yule Love It Lavender Farm, began growing lavender in an effort to help cope with the loss of a child.

METRO DETROIT — Next weekend, metro Detroiters will follow their noses to Romeo for the 11th annual Michigan Lavender Festival July 12-14 at Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill.

There’s just something about the sight and scent of lavender that can evoke the excitement of summer and instill a feeling of serenity. And like so many seasons before, many Michiganders are once again on the hunt for the herb to use for cooking, cleaning or just plain sniffing.

For Iris Lee Underwood, lavender is a way of life. A professional writer, Underwood discovered the herb while researching medicinal herbs for a fiction story she was working on.

“I was 55 at the time, and I had gardened all my adult life, but I had never been introduced to lavender. It’s a Mediterranean plant, and a lot of us don’t have success growing it. But I learned to plant it in a sunny area with well-drained soil and plenty of aeration,” said Underwood. “I discovered that my friends just loved it, more so than my peonies or lily of the valley. They looked like they just fell into nirvana when I gave them lavender. I realized that lavender really did have the calming effect that herbalists claimed it had.”

And calm was just what Underwood needed at the time. In 1996, she and her husband were in the midst of grieving the death of their eldest daughter, and other therapeutic strategies weren’t doing enough to take away the unthinkable pain they were going through. It was the healing properties of lavender, she said, that helped her to find peace and move past her tragedy.

“Very seldom does your professional life lead you to something so marvelous and healing and wonderful. I guess God just knew what I was going to need, and introduced me lavender. It’s kept me on my feet,” she said.

Underwood said she knew that her discovery was something that needed to be shared. One day, as she looked around at the expansive land surrounding her Leonard home, she decided she would turn her two acres into a lavender farm. And so many years later, Yule Love It Lavender Farm is drawing visitors from all around the state to relax with a cup of tea, do a little shopping and enjoy rows upon rows of lavender bliss.

“At the farm, we bundle it in 8-ounce bouquets and we sell it for $10 a bundle. We have vases, sachets, culinary lavender, lotions, body scrubs,” she said.

For Underwood, there are no limits to the ways lavender can be used. When she feels a cold coming on, she creates a steam pot over the stove with lavender buds and inhales the antiseptic vapors. She leaves a sachet of lavender in the car and sniffs the blooms when she needs to calm a bout of road rage. She infuses lavender with vinegar to use a sweet-smelling, all-natural cleaning solution for her countertops. After all, she said, the root word of lavender is “lavare,” which in Latin-based languages means “to wash.”

Not to mention, she said, there’s nothing better than the taste of lavender in — well, just about everything.

“I throw lavender in everything at least once to see if it works,” she said. “And we blend 16 different teas with lavender. I’m a believer in the ceremony of tea. Tea is a relationship, not a beverage.”

The floral flavor of lavender is more like the taste of success for Scott Moloney. The owner of Treat Dreams! Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Ferndale has experimented with lavender many times while brainstorming new flavors for his freezer.

“The Honey Lavender flavor is in the top 10 of our most popular flavors. We try to have it in the store at least once a month. We have done several variations of a lavender ice cream: ginger lavender, lemon lavender, blueberry lavender, elderflower vodka lavender, and we will be carrying raspberry lavender for the first time in our store for two weeks starting July 7,” said Moloney.

To make the lavender-flavored treat, he said, he adds culinary lavender to an ice cream mix, lets it steep overnight, and then strains the flowers. Culinary lavender is one of Yule Love It Lavender Farm’s specialties, made by sifting lavender three times to get a flavorful batch suitable for cooking.

According to Heatherleigh Navarre, of The Boston Tea Room in downtown Ferndale and Wyandotte, people aren’t just falling in love with the taste and smell of lavender — lavender is making people fall in love with each other.

“You’ve heard of Love Potion No. 9. Lavender is one of the nine herbs traditionally included in Love Potion No. 9,” she said, listing the other eight ingredients as rose petals, red clover, catnip, damiana, cubeb berries, juniper berries, gentian root, and deer tongue lettuce.

The Boston Tea Room is a popular psychic and intuitive counseling boutique. Navarre said lavender is one of the tea room’s best-selling herbs because of its aromatic and therapeutic uses.

“You can throw it in with laundry, or a lot of people keep it on their nightstand (to cure) insomnia or for sweeter dreams,” she said. “If people are really struggling, I might give them a gift of an amethyst stone with a lavender sachet. When you put that combination in someone’s hand, it has this relaxing effect that’s almost immediate.”

While some may use lavender to calm down or draw a new love, Navarre said that the herb is often used by established couples to keep passion alive in their relationship or to ensure a happy marriage for years to come.

“You can keep lavender and rose petals in a sachet below your bed to improve marital relations, or you can drink it, or have a loved one drink it to draw new love or to increase passion in a current existing relationship. Some people will use it to make a tea bag for a bath and soak in it for nine nights for each of the ingredients in Love Potion No. 9.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.