French Icon: Lavender

Lovely lavender is a Provence staple

Lovely lavender is a Provence staple - Credit: Archant

Discover more about the iconic purple herb synonymous with summer in France

Lavender growing outside the Abbey of Senanque in the Luberon. Pic: StevanZZ/Getty

Lavender growing outside the Abbey of Senanque in the Luberon. Pic: StevanZZ/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s a fact: stress is not good for us, yet it seems to be part of our modern life. Taking deep breaths, burning a candle, taking a walk for a few moments can make a difference and help us relax. Do you know that lavender can be your best companion?

Provençal treasure

Lavender as far as the eye can see. Pic: helivideo/Getty

Lavender as far as the eye can see. Pic: helivideo/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is a lot to know about lavender, starting with lavande and lavandin, both of the lavender family, but different in scents and uses. There are many lavender farmers in the south of France, more precisely in Provence, where lavender has been growing for centuries. Most farmers have inherited the family farm, although quite a few young entrepreneurs are attracted to the new applications of lavender and specialize in bottling its essential oil.

Lavande, also 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 full 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.

Lavender has many soothing properties. Pic: Probuxtor/Getty

Lavender has many soothing properties. Pic: Probuxtor/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you ever go to Provence in August, you will find yourself immersed in the lavender culture. You will see 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 – you will be enchanted!

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Healing herb

Now for its many benefits. Lavender helps you go to sleep and stay asleep. You may try to place a lavender sachet next to your pillow next time you suffer from insomnia, and you will be amazed. Also, using lavender throughout the day (soap, shampoo, lotion, etc.) will inherently remind you to slow down for a minute and step back. It has a rare, undeniable soothing power. Careful though, for obvious safety reasons, never use lavender in a spray or a sachet in your car.

Besides being a soporific, lavender has many dermatologic properties and may be used to soothe or even counteract eczema and psoriasis. It is also said to ease the pain due to arthritis. Plants that have so many beneficial properties are quite rare, and lavender is one of them... not to mention its wonderfully distinct, delicate, and unmistakable fragrance!

About the author:

Coco is a native French restaurateur, blogger, etiquette coach, and has an online “all things French” store at