LAVENDER. It whisks the smeller back to a simpler time of nestling in grandmother’s bossom and being read to from Wind in the Willows or Jip and Janneke. Its potent fragrance has left country butter churners and high-brow aristocrats alike in calm reveries of tomorrow. Its should come to no surprise that Lavender is known alongside its scent counterparts as the Premier.
I visited the lovely Provencal’s town of Nyons this summer and, as fortune would have it, Nyons is home to one of the province’s own Lavender oil distilleries. The passer by could not simply pass by this open-to-the-public enterprise as the smell of Lavandula was omnipresent and overpowering. The hay-loft-like structure of the lavenderie was a welcome refuge from the hot Cote d’Azure sun and two french farmers were unloading a haul of fresh lavander from a wagon. This scene was very stereotypically French to me as if, if I listened hard enough, I could hear the accompaniment of an accordion.
The lavender went from the truck into a deep vestibule that stuck half way out of the ground, which I presumed was the container where the oil extraction took place. The metal vestibule was packed with lavender and intermittently compressed by a large, crane-operated tractor tire. I got the impression that packed tight was key. When the container was indeed full, an intricate lid with a bank vault wheel at its top ensured its sealed closure.
Though the rest of the process could not be seen from where I was standing, I could surmise what phase one of the extraction process was. And, fortunately, a nearby graph filled in the gaps for me and it read:
- The gas boiler produces steam
- The steam goes through the plants packed down in tanks, frees the essential oil in the plants and carries it to the cooling chamber
- In the coils the mixture of steam and essential oil is cooled down by strayed water droplets
- Becoming liquid again, the mixture of floral water is collected in the separator which is called the ‘essencier’ . The essential oil is lighter and rises to the top of the water
Aside from its amazing fragrance, Lavender oil has many other uses. It is an excellent anti-septic and can be used diluted with water to clean the home. In the alternative health world lavender oil, especially that grown in sub-alpine regions (lavandin), is especially useful for its antibiotic and anti-inflamatory properties.
For emotional roller coasters like myself it can instill calmness and reduce irritability. Plus, if you use it, the smell reminds people of their grandmas and, who wouldn’t want to be a catalyst for that?