Lavender the Summer Blue-Gold Attraction of Provence
This guest post about the Lavender in Provence comes from Marie-Helene, the co-founder of the online store Remember Provence. They curate Provencal-themed housewares, gift items and culinary ingredients and ship to customers around the world. Remember, Provence represents only high-quality products produced traditionally. Please follow this link to read the original article.
The chance to visit Provence during the “blue-gold” season when French lavender is in bloom is the dream of tourists worldwide. So popular, there are many lavender tours to the fields of Haute Provence during the lavender flowering season.
Origins of Lavender
Lavender from Provence an aromatic plant known since antiquity, originally growing in the western part of the Mediterranean area. We know that the Romans already used it in linen for its fragrance.
The word lavender comes from the Latin lavandaria, which is also the origin of the word lavender in English, which means to wash. Therefore, the plant has always been linked to household linen, to which it brings not only an incomparable fresh scent but also other fascinating properties.
Also, lavender is a medicinal plant with multiple virtues which was used in the Middle Ages. The lavender cultivation developed in Provence in the 19th century.
Did you know that lavender is actually a family of Lamiaceae plants that includes several species? Part of the mint family, there are 39 varieties of lavender. Although we typically associate lavender with purple flowers, the varietals include many colours, from deep blue to white. The plants love the dry, sandy, rocky soil that is typical of southern France. A relatively easy plant to grow. Lavender is well-suited to the Provencal climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters; the plants require minimal care.
This is the lavender scientific name of ‘fine lavender,’ or ‘true lavender,’ which is also called ‘officinal lavender.’ It grows exclusively above 2600 feet of altitude. A relatively small stem characterizes the lavender plant compared to other varieties.
There is only one flower stalk on each stem. Its flower is a slightly purple-blue but more open than the lavandin flower. This is the best for perfumers because of its delicate scent. Once distilled, the essential oil of fine lavender is believed to have medicinal virtues.
The ‘aspic lavender’ grows at altitudes greater than 2000 feet above sea level. The plant is larger in size but with smaller stems in comparison with fine lavender. The scent of this variety is very camphoric. This variety is mainly found in Spain and Portugal.
This hybrid is a combination of the previous two varieties, and therefore it reproduces only by plants and not by sowing seeds. Lavandin (French name) is a robust plant with long green stems forming a ball-shaped tuft. Its flower stalks are long and blue, almost purple.
The blooms from these plants are used mainly focused on olfactory qualities. Used extensively in the perfume and detergents industry to produce essential oils, lavender soap, and make sachets or lavender bouquets.
Provence’s Lavender Fields
Marked by heavenly aromas and bees sampling the flower nectar, it’s the height of the lavender season. It is also a time for traffic congestion. Bus tours and cars clog typically quiet roads while passengers snap photos of each other in the fields. A segment of the summer travel industry specifically caters to organized tour groups hunting down the plants at their peak. Where are the lavender fields situated in Provence, France?
Lavender cultivation is mainly concentrated in two highlands in the east of the area. This is why we generally speak of lavender from ‘Haute Provence.’
One of them is the highland of Sault, the capital of fine lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It’s located in the Vaucluse, very close to Mont Ventoux, above the Luberon Natural Park, and not far from the Baronnies Provencal Natural Park.
The second is the Valensole plateau, known worldwide for lavender fields as far as the eye can see. It is further south, not far from the Verdon Regional Natural Park.
When does lavender bloom in Provence?
Lavender or lavandin are harvested in the summer at the end of July and early August when the flowers start to wilt. The plants begin flowering around mid-June, depending on the year. A stalk of purple buds forms at the end of the stem, and each small flower gradually opens, revealing an intense light blue tending to parma, so characteristic that it gave its name to the colour. The lavender flower then gives off a delicate and camphoric scent that attracts foragers such as bees and butterflies.
Depending on the weather in the spring, the lavender fields may begin flowering in late June. The flowers are often in full bloom by early July, but that does not mean the celebrations are over. Here, a few of the lavender-themes festivals.
Apt: Fête de la Lavande takes place on a Sunday around the middle of July.
Valensole: Often considered THE place to go and see the lavender fields in Provence. To celebrate the harvest, la fête de la lavande de Valensole takes place on the 3rd Sunday in July.
Alpes-Maritimes: Fête de la Lavande de Sainte Agnès is typically on the last weekend of July.
Sault: Wraps up the season each year with the final lavender festival on August 15th. La Fête de la lavande de Sault is a full day of purple fun.
It’s hard to believe, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that mechanical harvesting via tractor began. These old tractors had special blades to cut the lavender as they moved along the rows. The cut flowers are tied by the machine and left in small bunches to dry in the sun. Today, there are harvesting machines that cut and roll the plants into big bundles. This process saves time, but the aficionados believe the essential oil at the end of the distilling process is less pure.
Pure lavender oil is expensive, and there are many poor-quality products on the market. Having participated in the harvest and watched the distillation process, it’s easy to appreciate how much lavender needs to be grown to produce that little vial of essential oil. Here is a guide to lavender in Provence.
Bundled, the lavender stalks will either be prepared in bouquets or sun-dried for essential oils and sachets.
For the lavender bags, the dried flowers must be collected: the stems left in the sun for several days are crumpled by hand. This helps remove any residual moisture from the plant while retaining the scent of the flower.
If you’re looking where to buy dried lavender from lavandin flower, our shop offers assortments, including lavender sachets, with personalized messages for an occasion.
Use the lavender sachets to keep laundry fragrant while protecting it from moths. The scent of lavender remains active for about two to three years. You have to squeeze the sachets in your hands to reactivate its diffusion. They can be refreshed with 2 drops of essential oil.
Slip them the sachets your cupboards, between the sheets, in the drawers with your clothes to always find them fresh and delicately deodorized—no need for chemical detergent. Marseille soap and lavender go hand in hand!
Wands – Fuseaux
Shaped like a baby’s rattle, some describe a fuseau as a wand or spindle. These beautifully scented objects are 100% natural, and they include only the fresh plants. The purpose of the fuseau has always been to scent clothes or linens. Made by hand, bright coloured ribbons adorn the fuseaux. Sometimes you are lucky to see someone making the lavender fuseaux in a market.
We often overlook lavender’s health benefits, and that’s a shame because it has so many medicinal properties!
True lavender essential oil is THE must-have product in aromatherapy because it is beneficial. Lavender is good for headaches. It relieves migraine, insect bites, sunburns thanks to its disinfectant and healing properties.
Lavender is also anti-infectious and fights winter ailments, nasopharyngitis, sinusitis and sore throat.
Soothing and relaxing lavender oil benefits are also good for massage against pain. The lavender essential oil has the power to improve sleep, and, together with Petit Grain Bigarade essential oil, suppresses nighttime anxiety.
Of course, it keeps lice away from the heads of our cherubs, just like household linen moths because it is anti-parasitic. It’s so powerful that only a couple of drops is enough.
So, enjoy lavender from Provence daily!
Online store Remember Provence sells Provencal-themed housewares, gift items and culinary ingredients to customers around the world. The four founders launched a home-based business selling artisanal products from the South of France in 1997. In 2013, the French company relaunched the website and moved product sales to an entirely Internet-based store.