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The Flower of Positive Thinking

Lavender is said to have mood-elevating effects. Here's how planting it changed one woman's life.

field of lavendar

— Photo by Jim Corwin

Iris Lee Underwood had long heard that lavender was powerful balm for an aching heart. But when she caressed the velvety lavender flower she was harvesting outside her home one sunny afternoon six years ago, she felt its legendary mood-boosting powers in a way she didn't expect.

Underwood's 25-year-old daughter, Becky, had died seven years before from drug abuse, and suddenly "the cloud of grief that had hung over me lifted," she recalls. "I had studied how the oil absorbs into your skin, in your bloodstream, goes to your brain, and says, ' Everything is going to be okay,' " says the budding novelist, who had been researching medicinal plants for a book she is writing. "But it was really true: I felt this keen sense of well-being."

The moment inspired her to plant lavender all down the bell-shaped hillside around her house in Lakeville, Michigan. Today, at 60, Underwood nurtures a rolling acre of the plants on what she's dubbed Yule Love It Lavender Farm. Each year she welcomes more than 2,000 visitors, some of whom come to pick their own flowers during July's harvest season, or sit at bistro tables to sip lavender tea, or just share their stories of loss and healing while strolling through the lavender fields.

"I love farming, and I look at my farm as a peace offering—to myself, my family, the community," says Underwood. "People want to enjoy the scent of lavender, the beauty of it, the camaraderie. It brings them peace."

She pauses, then laughs. "And for me—a sore back."

Yule Love It Lavender Lemonade

To Make:

- Steep 1 large tea ball filled with organic lavender in a quart of boiled water until the liquid turns a light rose color.

- Meanwhile, in a gallon jar, mix 2 large cans of frozen lemonade concentrate with 4 cans of water.

- After the lavender infusion has cooled, add it to the lemonade.

- Finally, add ice and garnish with fresh mint, lemon thyme, or lavender sprigs with foliage, or all three.

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