When you are in Provence during the lavender season (late June to early August) not all those purple fields may be lavender. There is another plant called lavandin that is a cross between lavender and other species. It is basically a hybrid. When I was in Provence recently, I purchased three small bottles of lavender oil. I plan to give these as gifts to friends or family members. Do they know there’s a difference between lavender and lavandin oil? Will they even know what to do with their gift? Hopefully, after reading this, they will.
In my search for lavender fields, I was told that there was a lavender farm near Sault and I decided to visit the distillery and lavender farm, Vallon des Lavandes. It is a family-owned business that has been in operation since 1947. They produce lavender and lavandin oils and other products like soaps and sachets of lavandin. When you visit, you can get an English-speaking tour to learn about the distillation process. I was surprised to learn a few things about lavender that I never knew.
Vallon des Lavandes: Production of Essential Oils
Essential lavender oil is produced through the traditional method of steam distillation. After the lavender plant is harvested, the lavender bundles are hung in bunches to dry. The drying helps increase the amount of oil that you can make in a batch.
Once the lavender has thoroughly dried, the buds and flowers are combined with water and heated. The steam rises, the liquid is cooled around coils, and a distillate results—basically the essential oil and distilled water that has a scent of lavender in it.
The two are separated and voilà, you have your lavender oil. The same process is used for lavandin oil.
Here is a quick video showing you some of the processes:
I was told that because this year had a lot of rain, the lavender buds and flowers were small, so the harvest would be later in July.
The Difference Between Lavender And Lavandin Oil
- Plant name: Lavandula angustifolia; also known as English lavender
- 1 stem, 1 group of flowers
- 1 ton of lavender will produce about 4 liters of lavender oil
- Grown at high elevations of 600 meters to 1200 meters
- One field can be harvested for 8-10 years
- The scent is: sweeter, softer, floral, and more complex
- More expensive to purchase than lavandin oil
- Plant name: Lavandula x intermedia
- 1 stem, 3 groups of flowers extending from the stem
- 1 ton of lavandin will produce about 15-20 liters of lavandin oil
- Grown at low elevations of 0-600 meters
- The scent is: very strong and intense due to the camphor—it can energize you (as compared to the lavender oil which can relax you)
- Some say it has a lower quality than lavender due to the scent but it is a matter of choice
- It cannot reproduce
Using Lavender and Lavandin Oil
Purchased: three 30ml bottles of lavender oil Cost: 9 Euros each
- As a perfume or on one’s skin (it is gentler than lavandin)
- For aromatherapy and therapeutic applications
- For relaxation: putting a drop on your wrist, rubbing some into the forehead for headaches, adding some to massage oils, put 2 drops on bath salts, NOT IN bath water to help with relaxation, on a tissue near your pillow, NOT ON your pillow
- If you have a cut or insect bite, there are supposedly healing properties when you rub it in (note: some suggest diluting the oil with water first)
- It can be used on burns
- In most instances, if the product is labeled “lavandin”, then they have used this oil
- Lavandin is often used in soaps and candles, linen and room sprays—many household items
- It is beneficial for respiratory ailments
- To help with coughs and colds. If you have a blocked nose, for example, put one drop in a bowl of hot water, put a towel over your head and breath in the vapor
- It cannot be used on burns (very important: it can actually make the burn worse)
- Dried lavandin is often found in sachets which can be placed in drawers or on hangers. Besides making clothes smell lovely, they can help repel moths and insects.
Vallon des Lavandes: is open April, May, June, July, September, October, November
I just dropped in and there were three other people who required an English-speaking tour (free) which only lasts about 20 minutes. Depending on when you go, you might want to book something ahead of time. After learning about the distillation process, you are brought to their store where there are many lavender and lavandin products to buy.
The lavender season runs from late June to August and if you are in Provence in August your visit might coincide with the Fête de la Lavande in Sault—a celebration of the lavender harvest complete with a parade and floats, music, crafts, lavender cutting competitions, and presentations on how lavender is distilled. A large country lunch is also part of the festivities.
If you’re curious about where to find lavender in Provence, check out the information here: Lavender In Provence