Acvertisement for Le Male perfume by Jean-Paul l GaultierThe difference between lavender and lavandin, a history of lavender loving, the year lavender bloomed on the Old Port of Marseille, the surprisingly masculine image of lavender water and Provence's pretty version of the lavender bag.

booking.com logoClick here to book a hotel in Provence

Read about the man who invented aromatherapy, where provençal bees go on holiday and how lavender protects you from the Black Death in part one of our Lavender Lexicon.

L is for Lavender, and for Lavandin

Today three main types of lavender are grown in Provence. High in the hills - at a minimum altitude of 800 metres, or 2600 feet - is True Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia), a small, low, straggly plant known as lavande and prized for the intensity and purity of its perfume.

Aspic (Lavandula Latifolia) has broader leaves, longer stems and several flower spikes. It grows at lower altitudes, flowers slightly later in the season and has a strong camphorus odour.

Lavande and lavandinMore widespread than either of these is Lavandin (Lavandula x hybrida), a sterile hybrid of True Lavender and Aspic which initially occurred by chance cross-pollination. Pictured: lavandin (left) and true lavander (right).

Farmers loved this new, larger, bushier plant. Its yield can be five or six times that of lavender. And, as clones, the plants are much more regular and homogenous - they are quicker and easier to harvest, and they look great on calendars.

Lavandin now makes up more than 80% of the surface area under lavender cultivation in Provence.

The only trouble is that lavandin oil is regarded as of a lower quality with a sharper, more acrid perfume. It's fine for products such as soap and household cleaners, though some unscrupulous producers have attempted to pass it off as true lavender oil.

Since 1981 only oil from a designated area of Haute Provence bears a true lavender AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) label. Click here for details of where to buy true lavender oil in Provence.

... And L is also for Love

Lavender and love have long gone together. In an apocryphal book of the Bible, Judith anointed herself with lavender to seduce Holofernes, an enemy commander. Cleopatra used it too, to ensnare Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.

In various European cultures lavender was applied to attract a lover and assure his fidelity. In France, the lavender wedding traditionally marks 46 years of marriage, while lavender has been adopted as the symbolic colour of the gay and lesbian movements.

M is for Morning Sickness

Lavender is used as a folk cure for many ills, among them morning sickness during pregnancy. Some sources recommend putting some drops of essential oil of lavender on your handkerchief, or rubbing it on your stomach.

Alternatively, you can eat it. Afflicted by morning sickness during the early stages of her first pregnancy in 2012, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, developed a craving for the lavender-flavoured shortbread produced by Duchy Originals, the organic food brand set up by her father-in-law, Prince Charles.

O is for the Old Port of Marseille

Lavender Field on the Old Port of Marseille 2013In 2013, a sea of lavender bloomed in a unexpected part of Provence: on the Old Port of Marseille. Normally you won't find lavender fields in Southern Provence (although individual plants can be seen growing in gardens there).

But in the early summer of that year, as part of the European Capital of Culture programme, 4,000 lavender plants bloomed on the Old Port, courtesy of the Manosque-based cosmetics company L'Occitane en Provence. It made for a marvellous photo-opportunity.

P is for Perfume

Those canny tanners of Grasse, who used lavender oil to mask the smell of leather and thereby escaped the plague, abandoned glove-making and leather-work in the course of the 18th century, and turned to another related industry: perfume. But they continued to use lavender as a key ingredient.

If you associate the scent of lavender with little old ladies, think again: it is present to some degree in 90 per cent of all colognes conceived for men.

Male aftershaves based on lavender include classics such as Old English Lavender by Yardley (1873), Jicky by Guerlin (1889), Lavender Water for Men by Geo F Trumper (1898) and English Lavender by Atkinsons (1910) as well as more modern iterations like Pour un Homme by Caron (1934), Moustache by Rochas (1948), Arden for Men (1957) and Paco Rabanne pour homme (1973).

The popularity of lavender continues undiminished and one of the most successful fragrances of recent years, Le Mâle by Jean Paul Gaultier (1995), has a powerful top-note of lavender (pictured top left: a sulky sailor boy advertising Gaultier's cologne).

Q is for Quenouille

A "quenouille" is a distaff, or spindle. And it's also the word for a pretty provençal variant on the lavender bag: stems of flowers interwoven with colourful ribbons (pictured: an array of quenouilles at the Christmas market in Avignon).

Lavender quenouilles at the Avignon marketTraditionally quenouilles were offered to a young bride on her wedding day to help perfume her trousseau and preserve it from moths.

They're sometimes called "fuseaux" or, using another image from weaving,"navettes", or "shuttles" - rather confusingly, since navettes de lavande can also be shuttle-shaped sweet biscuits.

You can buy quenouilles at local lavender markets. They can be somewhat pricey, though, at anything between 20 and 30 €uros.

But quenouilles are also fairly easy to make: you just need a couple of dozen stems of lavender and a length of bright satin ribbon. There are plenty of websites explaining the technique in French. This one also has a video of a nice provençal lady demonstrating how to make a lavender quenouille.

Read here about the Arôma'Plantes lavender farm and distillery near Sault, which offers workshops in quenouille making.

 

R IS FOR REACH

That's the innocuous-sounding name of a set of European Union rules restricting the production of chemical substances. Set up in 2007, the programme was designed to combat the growth in allergies and was irrelevant to lavender producers - until 2013 when the distillation of lavender oil was included in the directive.

Lavender farmers in Provence argue that lavender is an agricultural product and always been celebrated for its healing properties.

Now they fear classifying lavender oil as an industrial product - with a health warning on the label - is likely to put off consumers. And they are deeply concerned at the cost of complying with all sorts of new bureaucratic regulations.

The EU regulations governing lavender are due to come into force in 2018, but farmers hope to have the directive overturned before that date.

RELATED ARTICLES

 

Main Menu