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Is it a reflection in the sky or just an illusion created by the sun’s rays, or perhaps nature trying to trick us into believing that the lavender keeps shifting color from a deep blue to mauve. Lavender is truly the soul of Haute Provence said the writer Jean Giono. It has grown wild on the southern slopes of Mount Ventoux and the Lure mountains  and has carpeted vast areas in early summer in various shades of imgres-1imgres-2imgresimgresimgres-1violet and blue. Later, a cultivated variety of lavender was introduced as a crop on the high plateaux and mountain slopes of Provence, much to the satisfaction of the local farmers who needed something to compensate for the decline in cereal production. Today, fields of lavender stretch from the pre-Alps near Gigne to the Valensole plateau.

Flowers and essential oils.

True lavender ( Lavandula angustifolia), which is by far the most widespread variety, grows best at an altitude of 1,970 to 5,200 feet ( 600 – 1,600 m) above the sea level. Spike lavender ( Lavendula Latifolia) on the other hand, prefers higher temperatures and lower altitudes between 650 and 1,625 feet (200 – 500 m). The third type is an hybrid of the 2 previous ones and occupies the area in between , growing 1,300 and 2,275 feet ( 400 – 700 m) above sea level. This true favorite of Provencal gardens is the result of cross-pollination by insects of the two varieties. The oil is of lesser quality of that of true lavender.

When the harvest begins in July just after the buds open and the intoxicating scent of lavender fills all of Provence. Tractors have replaced the pickers but you will occasionally see them carrying wide willow baskets and cloth sacks harvesting the lavender by hand. The lavender is left to dry for two or three days before being transported to the distillery. The essence of genuine lavender is used in the perfume industry and also in cosmetic manufacture. Spike lavender has a smell of camphor and is used for paint and varnish. The hybrid lavender which fragrance is inferior to the genuine lavender is used in detergents and other household products.

Lavender in the kitchen.

Lavender is finding an increasing use in the kitchen. It has been used to flavor honey, candies, sorbets and creme brulees, herbal teas or spicy cakes. It is also in competition with chocolate and vanilla as well as seasonal fruits as an ice cream flavor and even found into main courses. La Fougasse, and oval yeast bread, flavored with lavender and herbs is about conceivable. Actually lavender, thyme, rosemary and savory do have quite a bit in common, just try a leg of lamb roasted and add a few sprigs of lavender over toward the end of its cooking time, it will give the dish a delicious flavor. Lavender is used to reduce blood pressure, heal wounds, have antiseptic and disinfectant properties. Rubbing fresh lavender on your arms and legs will keep insects away. Beekeepers , who collect the Lavender honey, are rarely stung by bees. Also Lavender honey can provide relief for migraine sufferers.

In the summer time lavender festivals are held in its honor all over the country from Vaucluse to the Alps of Haute Provence. Also one in Valensole as well as Digne-Les_Bains and sault. These events take place in August. In Coustellet, the Lavender museum has a very good exhibition of the various types of lavenders. You will also find lavender distilleries, cooperatives and lavender farms that are open to the public.

Travel with us this spring 2015 to Provence.

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Anne Suire