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Lavender Fields of Provence

August 13, 2009 by  

Lavender Fields of Provence

Lavender Fields of Provence

Imagine row after row of tiny, bud-like purple flowers majestically raising their heads from green shoots. Their stalks burst free from the hard-packed rusty brown earth. The surrounding soil is covered by limestone rocks, crunching under my feet as I walk through the field. Lavender plants wave in the breeze tickling my legs, just below my knees.

I listen carefully; the field buzzes with the sound of humming bees. No need to worry, these little critters don’t bother people. They are happy and content to flutter between the thousands of blossoms, bee nirvana. The insects produce what is called lavender honey and sometimes beekeepers place hives along the edges of a field.

Provence, a glorious region in the south of France, is home to legendary lavender fields. Wild plants have grown here since the Middle Ages. The climate and soil create perfect conditions for farming the herb. While the harvested flowers yield a sweet perfume scent, the cultivated fields send a softer aroma.

I see purple haze. Tourists and locals stop their cars, get out and stare at the mesmerizing scene. They bring cameras to photograph the visual joy, but the pictures don’t capture the ethereal essence. Being among the fields, in person, is like tasting fine wine. To fully experience the moment, you must immerse yourself.

Mid- August brings harvest time but similar to grapes, readiness depends on the seasonal weather. Lavender is hand-cut and left to dry for three days in the sun before being passed through a steam press. Nothing is wasted; leftovers from pressed flowers are used as fuel for the steam producing oven.

Honey, essential oils, perfume, soaps and dried flowers are end products of the crop. Lavender honey is said to help heal open wounds; the essential oil promotes calmness. Potpourri or lavender sachets help mask odors and chefs in France sprinkle the herb in many dishes.

The territory casts a magical spell with golden sunflower fields, precariously perched hillside towns, historic sites, in cities like Avignon, and a relaxed lifestyle made famous by Peter Mayle’s books. Tour de France fans know Provence as the home of Mount Ventoux. Photographers call it paradise for the diversity of nature, colors and vistas. Artists such as Van Gogh and Cezanne found Provence inspired their creative talents.

But I came for the lavender fields.

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