The lavender fields are one of the most iconic scenes of the South of France, painted by the likes of van Gogh, Matisse and Gauguin. The beautiful, lilac tones and fragrant smell add a new dimension to the summer ambience, encouraging tourists and locals alike to wander through the partings in the growth peacefully. Jean Giono, a famous author, once said that the “lavender is the soul of Provence”. And you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees.
It’s, therefore, hard to believe that the lavender fields have not always been a backdrop of France scenery, especially as they have become synonymous with the country. The humble lavender plant was brought to the country in 600BC by traders of the Îles d’Hyères, an island, which at the time, was a Greek outpost. Now, four types of wild lavender grow in French soil: Lavandula vera, Lavandula spica, Lavandula stoechas and Lavandula dentata (French lavender).
Today, Provence is one of the world’s largest lavender producers, with lavender oil being sold for a host of reasons, offering its users various benefits.
Here are all the essentials you need to know about this essential oil:
History of Lavender:
The lavender plant is believed to be over 2,500 years old, originating from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India. It is a flowering plant that is part of the mint family, explicitly known for its vibrant colours, sweet fragrance and multiple everyday uses.
Lavender was called nardus by the ancient Greeks, named after the Syrian city of Naarda (or Nard for short). The Bible refers to lavender as a holy herb used within the preparation of the Holy Essence.
How is Lavender Harvested?
Before the process of cultivation, the lavender plants were cut in the wild by women with sickles. These women would carry a canvas bag known as an asaquette in the summer months to collect the plants. They would walk from village to village, starting in the lower regions where the lavender would flower earlier, working their way up to Drôme and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
As demand increased, particularly in the 30s and 40s, distillers would travel from farm to farm with copper stills in tow to carry out the process for the farmers who could not afford a still of their own. By the 50s, mechanical harvesters collected the plants, saving on the laborious work for farmers.
Lavender oil derives from steam distilling the flowering tops of the plant. They are usually harvested in the 2nd or 3rd year of their growth, collected and distilled when they are in bloom. To contract 1lb of essential oil, around 120 to 130 lb of lavender flowers are needed.
The Uses of Lavender Oil:
Lavender oil has various uses, as we explain below. People should, however, check the bottles to ensure there are no ingredients that could cause allergic reactions on the skin or that the oil is suited for consumption if that is your intended use. Always consult your doctor before using lavender oil.
We can thank the Romans for the oil derived from the aromatic plant, who discovered how to extract the essential oil from the lavender which they could then add to their habitual baths. The word ‘lavender’ derives from the Latin word lavare which means ‘to wash’.
The Romans used lavender oil to scent their baths, clothes, beds and hair. The practice of lavender oil for beauty products is still common today, with several soaps, bubble bath and perfumes on the market.
Lavender oil featured in French perfumes with the creation of factories in Grasse from 1747. The fragrance became so popular that farmers could happily supplement their income from harvesting lavender for L’or bleu de Provence.
The scent is known to be fresh and pleasing, that lavender oil is used to scent linens, closets and drawers or as air sprays to freshen rooms.
Although the Romans discovered the medicinal properties of the plant, it wasn’t until the 14th-century that France began to cultivate lavender in Burgundy for this use. Lavender was known as the miracle cure that could protect people against practically everything. Renaissance glove-makers used to scent their wares with lavender to protect the wearer from diseases like cholera and plague.
While we know now that lavender can’t protect us from infectious diseases, a couple of drops of lavender oil can be used as a disinfectant, anti-inflammatory or antiseptic. The soothing elements of the oil can help insect bites, cuts, burns, acne and sunburn, making it essential for your travel first aid kit. Also, placing a dab of the oil on your temples can help alleviate migraines, headaches and motion sickness which can affect some travellers.
Lavender oil can also be used to relieve internal complaints such as indigestion and heartburn (although you should consult a doctor before consumption and check the bottle for instructions).
Lavender oil can help aid peaceful sleep and relaxation. You can rub small amounts of lavender oil on your palms to ensure a relaxing journey to and from France. Alternatively, a few drops on your pillows will provide undisrupted and comfortable night’s sleep on your holiday.
Lavender oil is also used to treat mild cases of anxiety, which can be particularly handy for those who are scared to fly. Again rub little amounts on your pulse points before you set off.
Just like its cousins in the mint family, lavender and its oil can be used in food preparation (although you must check the labelling and buy products specific for consumption).
Lavender delivers a sweet and floral element to food. Chefs use it for everything from confectionery and baked goods to salads and soups. For most use, recipes use the dried flowers.
Some even recommend lavender tea!
Where to Visit Lavender Fields?
There are many places where you can enjoy lavender fields while staying in one of our holiday villas in South of France.
Some of the best places include the Musée de la Lavande in Coustellet, Luberon park, where you can learn more about the history and cultivation of lavender.
The Musée du Pardum and Musée International de la Parfumerie, both in Grasse, offer exhibits where you can learn about the developments of perfumery in Provence.
Discover the wonder of the lavender fields when you visit the South of France. If you’re yet to book, take a look at the luxury villas we have on offer.