The soul of Provence
Lavender is the soul of Provence wrote Jean Giono!
I am sure that we all agree with this statement, as lavender is the first image that pops up to our mind when mentioning Provence.
We all imagine purple fields stretching to the horizon and exhaling a unique fragrance.
A fragrance that reminds us of our grandmothers’ wardrobes, a fragrance that brings up happy memories from our childhood…
A few quick facts about lavender
It belongs to the Lamiaceae, a botanical family that comprises several well-known aromatic plants such as thyme, savory, salvia and surprisingly mint!
The first plants cultivated in Provence apparently came from Persia (modern day Iran) or even the Canary Islands.
It seems that its medicinal properties had been known since time immemorial.
Later in history the Greeks classified it in the group of the ‘precious plants’.
The Romans named it lavandula a word that evolved from lavare meaning laver – to wash.
However, they also discovered how to extract its essential oil in order to produce perfumes.
For centuries it was therefore mainly cultivated for the manufacturing of beauty products.
However, the universities of medicine and pharmacology of Marseille and Montpellier played an important part in promoting its medicinal use during the Middle Ages.
Lavandula vera, lavandula spica and lavandula stoechas are the three species that grow wild in Provence.
Lavender is mainly cultivated in Northern Provence – Drôme Provencale, Haut Vaucluse (Vallée du Lubéron) and Alpes de Haute Provence (Plateau de Valensole).
Its culture was initially a female occupation.
Women harvested and sold it to distilleries or middlemen, while men would work the farm.
The best time to see it at its best is between late June and early August when it is harvested.
The air is then saturated with essential oil and the landscape immersed in ‘purpleness’.
Foreign workers were once imported from neighbouring countries in order to help out during the short harvest time.
Harvesting was done with a sickle until 1952, however, technique improved when the first lavender-cutting machines appeared on the market.
Today this marvelous plant is cultivated mainly for the production of essential oil, which is used in pharmacology and the perfume industry.
Distillation is based on the use of steam water, a technique invented by the Arabs long ago and still in use.
While traveling in Provence you will come across lavender farms and their purple fields that stretch as far as the eye can see.
You will also find distilleries that produce the precious essential oil, which enters in the confection of perfumes, soaps and countless pharmacological products.
You could visit the Lavender Museum that was founded in 1991 in Coustellet (Lubéron Regional Natural Park).
You should also attend some of the festivals such as the Fête de Sault that takes place each year on August 15.
Why should you always have lavender essential oil at home?
Simply because it is renowned for its soothing and calming effect, for treating throat infections, digestive problems, muscular aches and pains and skin conditions.
It can even been used as insect repellent!
It does all these and much more, but my favourite way of using it is in my wardrobe.
Not only does it leave a delicate fragrance to the linen and wool, but it also keep mites at bay!