November 20, 2017

The Lavender Museum

One of the many attractions for visitors to Provence is lavender, a flower beloved for its tranquil purple hues as well as its long-established medicinal properties and calming scent. Its tiny florets can also be used to enhance the flavour of foods like baked goods, chocolate and lemonade. During our outing to the Luberon I visited the Musée de la Lavande, Lavender Museum, in Coustellet to learn more about this iconic symbol of Provence.

Luberon Lavender Field

Lavender is not native to France but thought to originate in Persia or the Canary Islands. My visit to the Lavender Museum began with an explanation of the difference between fine lavender (lavandula angustifolia) and hybrid lavandine, which was first cultivated in the early 1900s. The hybrid variety, recognized by its three flower stocks, is propagated by cuttings and produces a higher yield than fine lavender. Only 40 kilograms of lavandine flowers (versus 130 kilograms of fine lavender) are required to produce one litre of essential oil. Lavandine has a sharper, more camphorous scent whereas lavender is sweeter and more floral.

Lavandine's Three Flower Stalks

I then saw two films about the cultivation, harvesting and distillation of fine lavender on the Château du Bois estate, which accounts for ten percent of production in France. The lavender farm is located in the high altitudes of Lagarde d’Apt, between the Luberon and Mont Ventoux.

The museum’s exhibits include a number of copper stills dating from the 16th century used to extract the lavender essence. An old mobile distiller used for a series of seasonal crops (rosemary, lavender and fruit) has bullet holes from government efforts to prevent the use of the still for making alcohol.

19th Century Steam Still and Boiler

Coil Condenser and Florentine Vase Separator

Mobile Distiller

Bullet Hole

Traditional clothing worn by the men and women who harvested the lavender crops by hand was made from boutis, a stuffed quilting created in Marseille, and printed fabrics imported from India.

Traditional Clothing Worn by Harvesters

Stuffed Quilting Boutis

Scythe for Cutting Lavender

At the end of the tour I bought some pure lavender essential oil in the Château du Bois boutique but was soon lured outdoors by the rows of lavandine behind the traditional Luberon farmhouse.

Traditional Luberon Farmhouse

Rows of Lavandine

For more information, visit the Musée de la Lavande web site.

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