Lavender, is without any doubt the delicate scent of Provence. From the same family as thyme, rosemary and the savory, this aromatic plant with blue or violets flowers, colors the countryside. Used in perfumery, in pastry, in the making of old styled sachets to scent the house, lavender is one of the most pleasant plants.
A LITTLE HISTORY AND BOTANICS
The history of lavender starts in Persia and on the Canary Islands. It was acclimatized easily to the Mediterranean area. As from the XVI° century one distillation is practised starting from wild lavender, very widespread at the time, that the southern peasants harvested each summer. The rural depopulation since 1930 and the appearance of professional lavender oil distillers will modify this traditional activity. The lavandin gradually replaced the wild plant. Thanks to this setting in culture, the production intensifies. It is indeed advisable to distinguish three varieties of lavender: the lavender aspic whose production was abandoned because of a high cost price and poor crop; the true or fine lavender, which grows in altitude and provides a highly requested scented oil. Finally the lavandin, an hybrid of the aspic and true lavender, obtained from multiplied cloning. The lavandin resists dryness better. Its slightly camphorated perfume is fresher than that of the lavender, although a little too sweetened.
FROM HARVESTING TO DISTILLATION
Lavender blossoms in July and is then harvested mechanically. Using a machine, the stems are straightened and cut in bundles. The bundles are then ejected on the side of the machine and are collected with the fork only three or four days later and taken to distilling. The sheaves are piled up inside large hermetically closed tanks in which steam is infiltrated. The steam infuses in the stems and comes out charged with the essence of the flowers. This scented vapor is conveyed out of the tank by means of pipes immersed in coolers. By refrigeration, the vapor condenses and is changed into liquid. Water, which is heavier, will separate from the essence. The distillation from 100 to 120 lbs of lavandin produces 2 pints of essential oil, also called extract.
USES OF LAVENDER
In the cupboards it scents the linen and drives out mites. In perfumery it's part of the composition of toilet waters and soaps. The making of lavender wine, is produced in confidential amounts. But the celebrated lavender honey is always carefully extracted cold. Lavender also has therapeutic properties. Used on cuts, burns and hematomas it has healing and disinfecting faculties. Out of infusion, three heads of lavender is used as a sedative, a diuretic and anti-rheumatic
THE "LAVENDER ROUTES"
This former capital of the Comté, Sault en Provence, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley that bears its name, is an ideal point of departure for drives on the "Lavender Routes"
Photo by Gér@rd
NOTE: Visit the "route de la lavande" at the best time, just before the harvest, from the beginning of July to the end of August... but be warned if summer has been particularly dry the harvest can be brought forward...