Overall, 150 perfume, aromatic and medicinal plants are cultivated in France.
A great number of these plants are inherited from the Charlemagne period in the eighth century (768-814) when he ordered that a selection of aromatic and medicinal plants be cultivated in the King’s gardens.
The tradition has remained, especially in some regions of France. Today no less than 4800 farms associate these production to other crops, although some are entirely specialized in these plants. The average surface dedicated to these productions amounts to 19.8 acres per farm totaling roughly 94 000 acres nationwide.
The industries the plants are produced for are the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetic industries as well as perfumeries.
Many of these plants benefit from a geographical indication and/or a quality certification (such as an organic certification).
Where are these plants cultivated?
The production is quantitatively concentrated in the South-Eastern part of France but small productions can also be found in various regions.
The main productions are lavendin (40 000 acres that means 42% of the total area dedicated to perfume, aromatic and medicinal plants), lavenders (8600 acres, 9%) and clary sage (2500 acres, 2%).
47 000 acres are used for these plants. Quantitatively, lavendin and lavender are the two major productions but other fragrant plants are exploited: jasmin, violet leaf, orange blossom and roses. However, maintaining the culture of these plants is a real challenge due to the pressure of urbanization.
Today, France produces respectively 90% and 33% of lavendin and lavender essential oils worldwide. The image of lavender has becomeemblematic of Provence ever since the sixties and possibilities of enjoying the view and scent of lavendin has since been an attraction for tourists.
Aromatic plants are commonly associated with the vegetable sectors. Overall, around 5000 acres are cultivated with aromatic plants.
This crops include thyme, savory, basil, rosemary and oregano, and can mainly be found in the Southern part of France to diversify and to value some poor lands– especially in the mountains. They are used in either dried or in frozen processed food.
They have been cultivated in monasteries since the early Middle Ages. Nowadays, around 80 species are cropped in France.
The Pays de la Loire region, Center west of France, is the historic cradle of medicinal plants. Some of the most commonly cultivated plants there are valerian officinale (Valeriana officinalis), cynara (Cynara cardunculus), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), matricaria (Matricaria recutita), Provence psyllium (Plantago arenaria) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Most of these plants are used in the composition of high-value products in the pharmaceutical industry.