The Blue Gold of Provence
Fine lavender from Haute Provence is an ancient flower and the only lavender to offer medicinal benefits, as its botanical name « lavandula officinalis » suggests. One may also find the names « lavandula angustifolia » referring to its small size and narrow leaves, or « lavandula vera » true, unique lavender.
The people of Provence prefer to call it « la fine », honouring the delicate « finesse » of its perfume. The producers insist on calling it « population lavender « as the flower’s characteristics emanate from its seed reproduction. This guarantees its authenticity, each flower being different from the rest. Seed reproduction naturally creates populations, which in turn ensure genetic diversity. This heterogeneous group called « population » creates a haven of scent and well-being. Hybrids called lavandin, or fine lavender clones, cannot boast the same. In order to avoid confusion, like « grand cru » wines, fine lavender is protected by AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) certification.
Do you know the difference between lavenders ?
Latin names : lavandula vera, lavandula officinalis ou lavandula angustifolia.
Names given by the people of Provence: fine lavender, true lavender, lavender from the Alps.
The plant’s latin name « officinalis » proves the early interest shown by pharmacists, « angustifolia « referring to its morphological aspect of narrow leaves.
Fine lavender forms tufts even smaller than those of spike lavender. Its flowery stems are short, without offshoots. They carry floral ears the aspect of which varies in shape as well as colour.
True lavender tolerates the cold and its favourite spots are between 800 and 1500 metres. It flowers from mid-July until the end of August depending on the altitude and weather conditions.
Like spike lavender, it propagates naturally by seed. Each tuft of fine lavender is from one particular seed and genetically different from the others. In this way we see major variations in the visual aspect of the plants: the shape of the floral ear, colours ranging from pale mauve to intense purple, and sometimes pink or white plants. This plant variation is called « population » lavender.
True lavender has been used in many ways since ancient times. Today it is mostly used in fragrance and pharmacy. Fine fragrances use population lavender with its endless shades of rich essences.
The future for fine lavender is aromatherapy. This holistic medicine offers customers essential oils that are 100% pure and natural. It is important for consumer health to build awareness of the different lavender varieties that are being used.
Fine lavender has a rich, delicate and balanced fragrance, as expressed by its name « fine ». On the other hand cloned lavenders, widely used in fragrance, result in more mediocre and less balanced notes.
Fine lavender is rare and provides a low yield: on average 150kg of flowers are required for 1kg or 1.1 litres of essential oil, with a density of 0.88. Its yield per hectare is roughly 15 to 20 kg of essential oil. We plant 17000 lavender plants per hectare. These plants live for about twelve years and yield during eight to ten years. On an estate such as « Le Château du Bois, each year between six and ten hectares need to be replanted.
Here are some of the virtues of fine lavender :
The Romans used lavender to perfume their baths and freshly washed linen. Lavender was called “Garde-robe” or “Wardrobe” by our grand-mothers.
It is also called the “Swiss Knife” of aromatherapy. From the time of Dioscorides’ « Materia medica » in the 1st century to René-Maurice Gattefossé, who invented modern aromatherapy in 1928, lavender has always been recognised and used for its medicinal virtues.
Fine lavender in the form of “100% pure and natural essential oil” is used for treating and soothing:
- insomnia (two to three drops on a pillow), irritability (air diffusion), headaches (temple massage), stress (five to six drops in the bath).
Lavender has a soothing effect:
- wounds and burns (one to two drops), dry eczema (two to three drops applied to the area on a cotton pad without rubbing), pressure sores, sunburns, insect bites.
Lavender is a disinfectant and heals wounds:
- colds and sinusitis (inhale one to two drops).
Lavender fights against infection.
- sore throat (one to two drops on a sugar lump or spoon of honey)
- spasms and rheumatism (a few drops rubbed in)
Latin names: lavandula spica, lavandula latifolia
Also referred to as “male lavender or “tall lavender”, its botanical name latifolia signifies “broad leaves”.
Spike lavender, with its broad velvety leaves can be distinguished from true lavender by its height and long floral stalks that can carry several spikes. It adapts to hot climates and dry, chalky soil. It grows best above 500 metres altitude on south-facing slopes. Spike lavender grows naturally in the whole of southern France, especially in the region of Montpellier. It is no longer cultivated in France, but Spain is an important producer. It blooms from May to August with purplish-blue flowers which have a strong camphor scent.
Spike lavender essence is often associated with paint thinners and nail polish drying accelerators. It is little used in aromatherapy, as the composition of its essential oil varies greatly from region to region.
Latin names : lavandula hybrida, lavandula x intermedia (cross between lavandula angustifolia and lavandula latifolia)
Long ago, during the harvests of wild fine lavender, the reapers noticed that some plants were growing more than others. They called them “big lavender”, “large lavender” or “hybrid lavender”. They were referring to lavandin, a natural hybrid combining fine lavender and spike lavender made possible by pollinators, in particular bees. This phenomenon was confirmed in 1927 by the laboratories of the Chiris Establishment in Grasse. There are many varieties of lavandins, some resembling true lavender, others spike lavender.
Generally speaking, lavandins are more profuse than fine lavender, are remarkably robust and have a great ability to adapt to different climates and soils. They produce a significant higher amount of essential oil in comparison to fine lavender: 150 kg per hectare, which is eight to ten times more than fine lavender.
Like all hybrids, lavandin is sterile. It is reproduced with cuttings. This means that the plants are identical and cuttings can in turn be taken from them, constituting a “clone” plant group as opposed to the “population” of fine lavender.
In the 1930s, the technique of cuttings was developed allowing for rapid growth of lavandin crops. All the lavandin plantations which now exist are made up of plants obtained by clone cuttings. This explains the homogeneous and regular aspect of the lavandin fields unlike the irregular and disparate lavender fields.
Lavandin has been the object of numerous selections which have led to widespread species such as “Grosso”, “Abrial”, “Super”.
The quality of lavandin oil is by far inferior to that of fine lavender, although its cost is attractive. It is produced in great quantity all over the world. Lavandin oil is largely used to perfume detergents and deodorisers. In France its production extends from Ardèche to the Alpes-Maritimes. The largest crops are situated on the plateau of Valensole (the Verdon Gorge) and in the Drôme and Gard regions. Elsewhere lavandin can be found on all continents: Canada, USA, Brazil, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, China, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia… It is very unfortunate that lavandin oil bottles are often illegally labelled with the term “lavender” instead of “lavandin”.
Latin name: Lavandula stoechas
Sometimes called butterfly lavender, topped lavender or Hyères Islands lavender, Lavandula stoechas is a prolific-flowering lavender species. The flowers are the largest of their type.
The butterfly lavender, although common, refers in particular to the Lavandula Stoechas Pedunculata variety. It originates from the Mediterranean Basin and mainly Spain and Portugal. It thrives in dry climates and dislikes excessive quantities of water. Characterised by compact tufts and branches, maritime lavender is a little less rustic than lavender officinalis, but winter mulching protects it well.
Its abundant flowering, its honey plant character and its scent attract bees and pollinators. The flowers are rather original: small ears that are surmounted by bracts forming a tufty top, hence its name butterfly or topped lavender. This decorative flower, out in April through to June, is often used in flower beds and rock gardens. It is often found in France on the arid, siliceous slopes of the Provence Midi, Languedoc, Roussillon and Corsica and generally in the whole Mediterranean area.