Rosemary vs. Lavender

Photos by Kerri Conan

They’re twin herbs separated at birth. Rosemary was raised in the kitchen. Lavender got stuck in Grandma’s underwear drawer. It’s time to reunite them for a cook-off.

In starkest terms, the difference between rosemary (shown on the left) and lavender is akin to pine needles versus peach-tinted rosebuds. Each has a place and a purpose but one is easier to cuddle up with.

Rosemary has the advantage of familiarity. Unless you or someone you know grows lavender it can be tough to find it fresh. Ask around your farmers market for someone to start bringing it. If you can only find dried, that’s fine; like rosemary, lavender dries well with a similar concentrated potency.

Twice last week I took the lavender path to great success. First I pushed a couple sprigs under the skin of a spit-grilled chicken. As the drippings bubbled and reduced before straining and serving, I dropped the leaves in the pot to eke out the last bit of flavor…

And here are those leaves again, barely visible minced into mustard-seed-balsamic vinaigrette for grill-roasted beets…

In both cases, rosemary would have been appropriate. But lavender was understated in the chicken, not easily identifiable. You knew it wasn’t rosemary and it tasted almost like bay leaves. As a dressing for warm, slightly charred beets, it amplified their sweetness, where rosemary’s pineyness might have provided a more one-dimensional counterpoint.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use lavender: in the pot with white beans or lentils, rubbed on lamb or duck, steeped in simple syrup for cocktails or punch (lavender julep anyone?), brewed for herb tea, scalded with the milk or cream for custards (and strained out), in marinades for olives and feta, baked into focaccia and socca, or snuck into blueberry pie filling.

You’ll chart your own course but a good place to start is to try lavender whenever you’d consider using rosemary—if only it weren’t so harsh.

– Kerri Conan

Posted in Behind The Scenes

6 Comments

  1. Joseph Donnelly said...

    Here in West Virginia it seems that the local deer population will eat rosemary plants only if there is nothing else. Lavender, however, serves as a nice salad and is consumed quickly.

  2. Jen said...

    Really good goat cheese, drizzle w honey and sprinkle lavender over. Really yum

  3. Anne Sofie said...

    I often use rosemary, but I have very little experience with lavender and I don’t even have it in the house. I have added lavender to my shopping list so I can start using it. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Pedro said...

    Lavender is in my kitchen 365 days a year! Perfect with grilled figs and lamb. I also sprinkle it in sandwiches.

  5. Barbara Garcia said...

    I now have a new respect for lavender. Thank you

  6. Sandy said...

    I grow 3 varieties of lavender as well as 2 types of rosemary. The two herbs, along with a bay tree, a Meyer lemon tree, and both plum and nectarine trees allow me to naturally flavor much of my cooking and baking. I absolutely recommend growing and using fresh spices.

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