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Nature: Lavender of Provence

Discovery of lavender in the Luberon

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Nature: Lavender of Provence
"True" lavenders grow at an altitude of 500 to 1,700 m on the sunny slopes of the mountains. The quality of lavender from Provence is famous ...

Main species
- Lavandula angustifolia, or true lavender. Other common names: English lavender, lavender of the Alps, fine lavender. It is the best of lavender for the quality of its essential oil. In the wild, it grows mostly in Provence, but it can be grown in more northerly regions, especially since there are many cultivars. It is a bushy shrub up to 1 m high. The leaves, linear and gray-green, have a length varying between 3 and 5 cm. During flowering (April-May), the plant develops long unramified peduncles terminated by ears whose color varies from pale purple to violet. Only the essential oil resulting from this production in a given area benefits from the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), an essential lavender oil from Haute-Provence. Approximately 4,000 hectares are cultivated in the 4 producing departments.
- Lavandula latifolia, or lavender aspic. Old name: L. spica. Compared to the previous one, its leaves are wider and very fragrant. Flowering is later (June-August), and the flowers have a very camphorous odor. They grow at the extremity of branched stems, which is the surest way of differentiating it from true lavender. It is much less appreciated in perfumery.
- Lavandula hybrida, or lavandin, natural hybrid. It is the third of the Provençal lavender. Discovered a little by chance, it was cultivated from the 1930s. The lavandin is today the most cultivated species, because its flower is more productive in essential oil than the true lavender. Its essence of good olfactory quality is more camphorated than that of lavender, it is widely used in industrial perfumery. Over the years, several varieties of this hybrid have been selected and propagated by cuttings.
- Lavandula stoechas, or lavender stechas, lavender butterfly, cantueso. In the wild, it is certainly the lavender whose geographic territory is the largest (all around the Mediterranean). But it is of no use in perfumery; it smells like camphor, and nothing else.

Geographical distribution
Originally, lavender grew in Provence and in some countries in the Mediterranean basin, and then cultivated in Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, etc.) and even in Tasmania or in Canada where mutated plants now resist frost. "True" lavenders grow at an altitude of 500 to 1,700 m on the sunny slopes of the mountains. The quality of lavender is known to increase with altitude. It is produced especially in Sault, of which it is the main agricultural activity of this area of ​​Vaucluse. On the other hand, lavender aspic is harvested in the Mediterranean basin between 0 and 600 m of altitude. The lavender of the group stoechas develop all around the periphery in particular in Andalusia and in the southern part of Portugal. Lavandins are the most widely grown lavender (800 to 1,000 tons of gasoline per year) and the most widespread because they are the most resistant. They develop spontaneously in the south of France. Harvesting of the lavender The harvest is done during the flowering, from the end of June to the month of August, for the lavenders "real", "aspic" and the lavandins. Apart from aspic which is wild, plants are usually grown. There are, however, some distillations of wild lavender mountains intended for aromatherapy, the quantities are very limited. The harvest takes place in summer because the hot weather favors the rise of the gasoline in the cells and the secretary glands of the flower. The strands are more odoriferous if harvested just before the flowers open. Afterwards, most of the aroma is lost. The stoechas lavender species are more precocious, harvested from March to May in the wild, but are rarely exploited. For crops, the harvesting is done mechanically, except for the bouquets that are manually cut with the sickle. The clonal lavender (from an individual and multiplied by cuttings) mature at the same time, unlike the non-clonal (non-clonal) lavender that does not mature homogeneously because each plant is a different individual from its neighbor. The cloned lavender is more likely to be massively attacked by insect pests, but lavender has few predators due to its content of repellent substances other than a few species, including the lavender (or rosemary) beetle ); Chrysolina americana. The essential oil would be of better quality in altitude but the yield is lower and the altitude increases the content of esters.

Production of essential oil
There are two main processes for the production of lavender essential oil:
- Traditional distillation: the crop must undergo a drying time, before distillation, in order to lose the excess water. A preganization of about one or two days is essential for fine lavender, it avoids modifying the quality of the essential oils that are obtained by steaming the flowered tops. A flow of steam is circulated in the cut lavender and well packed (relatively short distillation time, 30 to 45 min).
- "Crushed green" distillation: which since 1990 has been developed to improve the productivity of the harvest (mainly lavandin). Once harvested, the vegetal is chopped using a forage harvester and is placed in a mobile dump box or distillation box that will be directly mounted on a boiler. The fact of crushed distillation modifying the quality, this technique is not adapted to obtain an essential oil of lavender to norms AOC. Generally speaking, the ensiled qualities will have higher levels of alcohols, while those of esters will decrease (hydrolysis phenomena), they have a greener odor, which is not very appreciated by perfumers. Studies are being carried out to improve the ensiled quality and to help producers in this direction. The lavandins have a better yield because their flower is more developed and produces essential oil, its essence of good olfactory quality (especially that obtained by traditional distillation) is more camphorated than that of lavender.

Uses of lavender
- Perfumery Bags of dried flowers are traditionally placed in cupboards, to remove moths and to perfume the wardrobe. The dried lavender flowers are very resistant and retain their aromas for a long time. Another very old practice is to put lavender in the bath water for its perfume and its antiseptic and calming properties. Lavender essence contains different components depending on the species (see below). It is traditionally obtained by distilling floral summits. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Provence was dotted with small family distilleries, which gradually disappeared, suffering from slumping crises and the industrialization of production. It is of course the perfume that makes the biggest use of lavender. Everything can be perfumed with it, from soaps to detergents and toilet paper. In perfumes properly so called, lavender is chiefly reserved for men, either as a soliflora in toilet waters or as a heart note in the waters of Cologne.

- Medicinal properties It has antiseptic, bactericidal, disinfecting, calming, antispasmodic and carminative properties. The healing and antiseptic properties of lavender have been known for a very long time, and Holy Hildegarde already advised it as healing. It was also found to have antivenom properties, and in cases of viper bites, the wound was rubbed with a handful of lavender (this might explain the name of lavender aspic). The plant has also been widely used (and still is) to control moths and lice. In phytotherapy, it is recommended to combat anxiety, nervousness and insomnia, but also to relieve rheumatism and treat infections respiratory tracts. It can be taken as an infusion, in powder (capsules), in the form of essential oil or alcoholate (for friction). The essential oil of lavender is antiseptic and bactericidal. Applied pure on the skin it relieves burns and insect bites. Applied on the temples, it relieves migraine pain. The latifolia variety is also known for its soothing effect in attacks of atopic dermatitis (eczema).

- Culinary use Lavender flowers can be infused in milk, then used to prepare ice cream or lavender cream. Lavender honey is highly sought after. The strands are also used in the valleys (especially that of the esteron, near Nice), to make a liqueur particularly strong in the mouth, and with antiseptic, digestive and calming virtues.

In the language of flowers lavender means "Answer me," in a sense of suspicious impatience, of amorous questioning. In a more established relationship or a friendly relationship, it is a symbol of "tenderness": in relation to its purple mauve color, its perfume, as well as its soothing and antiseptic properties. The marriage of lavender symbolizes the 46 years of marriage in French folklore.

Provence Luberon Sotheby's International Realty: Your specialist in luxury real estate in the Luberon and Provence.

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