Lavender has been cultivated in Haute-Provence (Southeastern France) since the 19th century. The perfume and medicinal qualities of the plant were already very famous during the Roman times about 2,000 years ago, and its essential oil was very valuable. The “Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil” received the “{appellation d’origine contrôlée – AOC}”, the French equivalent of the European “Protected Designation of Origin – PDO” in 1981.

Lavendar Fields ©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

Lavender Fields ©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

Lavender or Lavandin
Two types of lavender are cultivated in Haute-Provence – the “real” or “fine” lavender ({Lavandula angustifolia}) and the {lavandin}, a cross between the real lavender and the aspic lavender, a lavender with higher productivity. The main difference between the real lavender and the {lavandin} is the three-headed nature of the {lavandin}’s floral extremities – those of the real lavender are only one-headed.

The Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil PDO only applies to the real lavender, which is considered to be the finest and most delicate by perfume creators.

In order to obtain the precious essential oil, lavender producers have to distill the flowers in the traditional way. First a wilting* of one or two days long is necessary to preserve the aromatic quality. After this preliminary drying, the essential oil is extracted thanks to the presence of water vapor circulating through the flowers.

Wilting is a cultural technique that consists in letting the plants dry in the field for a few days after they are cut.

Lavender and Provence Landscapes

Provence has a very diverse landscape morphology. What makes lavender unique is its capacity to adapt to various cultural systems.

Lavender fields in Provence

Lavender fields in Provence

The “lavande-site” (in site lavender) landscape is characterized by undulating plateaus, open spaces, and amazing horizons underlining curves and hills. The Albion and Valensole plateaus are very good examples of this type of landscape.
The “lavande des hauteurs” (high-country lavender) can be found in high valleys with poor soil and a hard climate. The lavender is a pioneer in these areas and its cultivation is difficult but represents a very strong local identity. The city of Digne and its surrounding areas are the main cultivation zones of high-country lavender.

The “lavande-mosaïque” (mosaic lavender) is characteristic of the dry mid-mountain climate. The lavender culture was implanted to intersperse itself among other traditional cultures of Haute-Provence such as olives, wines, and aromatic plants.