The lavender is in full bloom at the aptly-named Sunny Acres Lavender Farm in Orchard City. Named after one of its owners, Sunny Howland, the summer sunshine also beautifully drenches the orchards and fields, making this little farm "sunny" in a lot of ways.
Sunny and her husband Bob have grown lavender since 2010. At that time, they were already growing cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds. They were looking for something else to plant that wasn't more trees. They attended a meeting of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado and learned that our growing conditions are similar to conditions in the Mediterranean, where lavender originated from centuries ago.
Lavender is very drought tolerant and doesn't succumb as easily to frost as other plants. Deer and rodents also don't find it tasty, so they leave it alone. Bob and Sunny quickly saw the benefits of lavender. They planted seven varieties, four of which are English lavender. "I said, once it's planted I'll figure out what to do with it," Sunny joked. As she was researching what to do with her lavender, she quickly learned that they hadn't planted enough of each variety to distill, which is how lavender essential oil is made.
But she has found plenty of uses for her small quantity. "I think people think they like lavender, but they don't really know what lavender can do for you," Sunny explained. She has become so knowledgeable about the plant and its uses that she recently invited a group of friends (members of the Altrusa Club of Delta, of which she is a member) over for a program she called "All About Lavender!"
She greeted her guests with several lavender beverages: an Earl Grey lavender sun tea, lavender lemonade and a lavender and peach sangria. For dinner, she served caprese salad with lavender balsamic vinegar; a pasta salad with pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, drizzled with a tomato and lavender vinaigrette; lavender and peach pulled pork sliders; and a watermelon salad with mint, feta cheese, walnuts and, of course, lavender. For dessert, she served lavender meltaway cookies and lavender apricot blondies.
And, as lavender is also used as a relaxant, her guests were pretty mellow as Sunny started her program and explained some of the history and uses of this fragrant power-hitter.
Historically, the plant was used by Egyptians, Phoenicians and Arabians as a perfume and to preserve the bodies of the dead. The Greeks used the buds for pretty much all ailments: insomnia, body aches, insect bites, and even insanity. When Romans got hold of the plant, lavender became a highly sought-after commodity. Some reports say the flower cost 100 denarii per pound, or about one full month's salary for a farm worker, or the same cost as 50 haircuts from the local barber.
The French used the flower for cooking; Renaissance Europeans for disinfectants and deodorants. The word itself derives from the Latin lavare, or "to wash," and the flowers remain to this day a popular additive in bath and beauty products. Cleopatra is said to have used lavender oil to seduce both Marc Antony and Julius Caesar.
Back at the Sunny Acres Lavender Farm, Sunny dabbles in a little of this and a little of that, from cooking to crafting to skin care.
She no longer uses a commercially-made lotion for her skin, and instead uses her own infused oils. The technique is fairly simple to make your own oil, and Sunny is happy to share her recipe. Start with food-grade grapeseed oil, found at the local grocery store. Almond, avocado or apricot oils can also be used, but stay away from corn or nut oils, which can go rancid in time. Place a fresh lavender bunch in a clean glass container, and fully cover and immerse the flowers in the oil -- leaving any of the plant uncovered may lead to mold. Let the oil sit for about two weeks and voila! You can use that oil to make other beauty products as well, like sugar scrubs.
"I believe in using pure unadulterated products," Sunny said. "I've been a consummate greenie all my life, before it was popular to be green. I love that this is just lavender and a pure grade of oil."
In cooking, Sunny uses the buds to flavor lamb, fish and chicken. A small quantity of the flowers adds a fragrant addition to ice cream. Lavender tea, while being refreshing and delicious, can also help with headaches and nausea.
She dries the flowers to use in flower arranging and sachets. She makes a lavender stuffed rabbit and Christmas ornament angels from a lavender bunch.
Her home and lavender fields were featured during the 2011 Colorado Lavender Festival; she hosted a farm tour at her home that year. She has also served on the board directors for that organization.
"Lavender enhances my life," she said. "It makes me happy. I love it. I have it in every room in my house."
Her next goal is to purchase a still in order to use her lavender to make essential oils, a more potent oil than the infused oil she currently uses. "A girl can dream," she laughed.
And though Sunny's lavender patch yields just enough for her personal use and she does not produce lavender products for the public, here is a super yummy recipe she shares to help get you started on your own lavender-infused journey.
Lavender Apricot Blondies
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Buena Vista Lavender buds
2/3 cup butter
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup apricot lavender preserves
1 cup cream cheese frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut parchment paper to overlap a 15x10x1 inch baking pan. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. Using a large pan, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Let this cool for about 10 minutes and then add the eggs one at a time. Be sure to beat well after adding each egg. Add the flour mixture, the nuts and the white chocolate chips and blend well. Spread in the parchment pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven or until the edges begin to pull away from the sides.
Cool partially in the pan and then remove from the pan and parchment. Spread apricot lavender preserves across the top. Let cool thoroughly, and then frost with cream cheese frosting. Cut into small squares.