France | Lavender — The Color and Scent of Provence

France | Lavender -- The Color and Scent of ProvenceWhether it’s scenting a sachet, soap or candles, no doubt you are familiar with the absolutely divine smell of lavender. If you are like millions of others, including me, its crisp, clean, herbal perfume is one of your favorite scents.

The documented history of lavender stretches back more than 2,000 years. Originally it was named nardus by the ancient Greeks, and in the Bible there is a reference to “nard.” Romans used lavendarius, as it was called in Latin, when bathing and as a scent for the body and the home.

Since then, the lavender flower and its scented oil have been used throughout the world to heal burns, relax the mind, and perfume everything from necks to closets. And particularly in France, where lavender grows in both cultivated fields and wild along the side of the road, chefs have used the flower itself as an herb in sweet and savory dishes and its nectar to flavor honey, cheese and sugar.

Of course, the lavender flower also gives us its color as well. There are many shades of lavender used in fashion and interior design; mauve, periwinkle and amethyst are considered lavender-based hues by designers although “floral lavender” remains the standard bearer for color trueness.

Surely, you’ve seen photographs of lavender fields. They’re scattered around the Provence region of France; some guides even offer tours that take visitors from one field to the next. But nothing can prepare you for the experience of being in a field of lavender as it bakes in the Provencal summer sun.

It’s the vibrant color that first grabs your attention. While most lavender you may have seen has been dried and therefore a more subdued color, a field of lavender is an explosion of purple on a blanket of silvery-green – and in a Provencal summer, with a backdrop of a Mediterranean blue sky. Like seeing a pink lizard or a bright blue bird, at first it seems like a trick of the eyes. Does that color really exist in nature?

Then the breeze picks up, and it’s a whole other experience of the senses. The smell washes over you, and as you close your eyes and inhale deeply, you wish you could live in that field forever. You quickly realize that no perfume, pillow, or piece of clothing has come close to capturing its essence. Once you smell a field of lavender, you may just spend the rest of your days smelling every candle and bath gel on the planet trying to recapture that blissful moment in the sun.

Comments

  1. I spent a week in Provence this Summer and bought far too many lavender sachets, oil and soap! However, the scent immediately brings to mind the beautiful lavender garden that was in our ‘Mas’ (farmhouse). The variety of color in each lavender bush was astonishing, with the tiny green leaves giving it so much texture and depth of color. One couldn’t help but relax and put your worries aside!

    • Lavender is so relaxing for me, too. I made some sachet “pommes” with ribbons and fresh cut lavender. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon surrounded by fragrance and color!

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