Homesick Lavender Lover
When I was a little girl growing up in France, I loved to go to the travel agency with my dad. I knew that the outcome of the visit was most likely a vacation somewhere, and, as he was dealing with the agent, I would be staring at the back wall which was placarded with posters – Among the most prominent was the Golden Gate Bridge. Little did I know that some day that same bridge would be part of my daily commute!
Even though travel agencies have become more or less relics of the past, posters and decorative kitchen towels have not, and when I look in the travel section of the poster racks, I am often delighted to see the lavender of Provence even more often than the Eiffel Tower!
There is a lot to know about lavender, starting with “lavande” and “lavandin”, both of the lavender family, but different in scents and uses.
One of my suppliers in Provence started as a family farm a few years after the French Revolution and was fully operating by 1802. The original building is still standing today. Even though they no longer use the scythe to cut the lavender, their philosophy is still the same as two hundred years ago: to produce soap and body products in the most natural way, caring for their raw materials (lavender, shea butter, olive oil, aloe vera, etc.), caring for their finished products, and caring for the environment. The PR executive took the time to show me around, and I truly enjoyed the visit.
“Lavande”, called “fine lavender”, has a subtle fragrance. Generally speaking, it is reserved for fine, expensive perfumes. It is a native plant of Provence, and it grows in small quantities at an altitude of at least 2,500 ft. “Lavandin” is more pungent, also more prolific as it is a hybrid, which explains why the fields of “lavandin” look so uniform and perfect. It grows at all altitudes even at sea level, and it is used for cosmetics including soaps, sachets, and other commodities. This is not to say that “lavandin” is a lesser grade. Rather, it is a different type of lavender, delightfully fragrant, and more affordable.
Lavender is in bull bloom right now in Provence and will be harvested soon, most likely in mid-August, when the bees leave, just before the flowers start fading and drying out. The timing is critical. It is best to pick it in the morning before the heat of the day, thus before it is depleted of its essential oil.
If you ever go to Provence in August, you will find yourself immersed in the lavender culture. You will take lots of pictures of rows and rows of the purple queen and you will stop in some picturesque villages, step into some quaint souvenir shops and smell the lavender in all shapes and forms, from gift sets to lavender soap to lavender sachets and embroidered hand towels, not to forget the beautiful aprons, decorative pillows, napkins, and other house linen.
Of course, you will have many opportunities to visit distilleries, processing facilities, and take classes on how to grow and harvest lavender. You will be enchanted!
So, even though I am staying at home this summer because of the Covid-19 instead of spending some time in France visiting my folks, I am thinking of the lavender and smelling it! Yes, I grow lavender in my flower garden, and I use a twig every day to flavor my freshly squeezed lemonade… So good! So nostalgic… The delicious scent of Provence in a glass… Lavender liquid soap at my kitchen sink… Lavender shampoo in my shower… Lavender a bit everywhere… As close to Provence as I can be this year… [sigh].