Since the dawn of time, lavender perfume is as much appreciated for its delicate scent as for its medicinal virtues. While its use dates back to ancient times, this aromatic plant evokes childhood memories for each of us. Close your eyes and it will carry you into shimmering mauve fields, in the heart of Provence. Even today, lavender is a flagship ingredient in cosmetics products. From the small packets in our grandmothers’ wardrobe to the fresh and soothing fragrances, discover all the mysteries of this exceptional plant.
An aromatic plant old as the hills
Like a perfume of fresh linen
Lavender comes from the Latin word lavare which means wash but also lavandaria that can be translated by washing clothes. Very early, lavender is associated with the notion of cleanliness and purity, and even today. Moreover, women who cleaned clothes in public washhouses were for a long time called “lavandiere” in French.
Lavender comes from the western Mediterranean arid lands. Barely landed in Provence, the Romans quickly fell under lavender’s spell because of its delicate perfume and a thousand virtues. Very concerned about cleanliness, they used lavender as a perfume. It was added to the bath water, in the laundry to wash it and to give it a fresh smell. We can also find it in the wardrobes to push moths away. It even seems that Roman women chewed lavender sprigs to refresh their breath after a few glasses of wine…
Lavender as a cure
From the Middle Ages in Europe, lavender is grown in the gardens of monasteries and herbalists. It enters the composition of many scented waters and is used for its healing, antiseptic and antivenom virtues. While common sense wants that diseases spread through bad smell, lavender eradicates epidemics by perfuming. Widely adopted when the Black Death decimated a quarter of the European population, lavender was used in all forms: fumigations, plasters or sprinkles.
The vinegar of the 4 thieves
It was also one of the flagship ingredients of the famous vinegar of the 4 thieves, a composition created by four brigands in the 17th century. Then devastated by the plague, the inhabitants of the city of Toulouse in France, see four thieves sack the contaminated houses. However, the crooks were not affected by the disease. Finally arrested and sentenced to death, an agreement was proposed to the bandits. They had to reveal the ingredients of the mysterious liquid they used to protect themselves in exchange for their saved lives. The magic recipe was unveiled! The vinegar of the 4 thieves contained lavender, thyme, rosemary or sage. These aromatics were macerated in vinegar with the indication of rubbing the whole body. Despite their confessions, thieves were not spared but a new remedy appeared.
This formula was even patented in the 19th century by Antoine Maille, a famous vinegar-distiller. The vinegar of the four thieves entered directly into the medicine trade. It was recommended to rub temples and drink a spoonful on an empty stomach when you had to approach sick people. Gradually this miracle cure became a real grocery product. Other herbs such as garlic or mint were added to its composition.
A perfume from Provence
From the Renaissance, lavender is still appreciated for its many therapeutic virtues… But it also becomes a full-fledged perfume product! Plentifully presents, this plant is used in the Provençal town of Grasse. The tanners, who are settled there, used lavender to perfume some accessories such as gloves. In 1759, the creation of the Glovers-Perfumers corporation turned the trade of the skin to that of perfumery. The demand for lavender perfume becomes more and more important. Many farmers are dedicated themselves to the picking, a new livelihood. In scented compositions, lavender combines with other plants such as jasmine, rose, violet or mimosa to perfume all Europe. It is in the 19th century that we begin to really cultivate this wild plant thanks to the considerable development of the perfume industry.
Until the early 20th century, lavender lives its moment of glory. This is how many perfumeries set up in France, in the region of Grasse, which transforms it into essential oil.
Lavender has more than one trick up its sleeve
How not to linger on the legendary virtues of lavender? Indeed, this aromatic plant is recognized since ancient times for its many medicinal properties, and it is still the case today!
The first scientific research around lavender dates back to the 16th century at the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier in France. The chemists who were interested in the various plants grown in the Garden of Plants of the faculty, have studied lavender from every angle. They discovered that this plant had remarkable toning and antiseptic properties. The various medical uses of lavender developed in the 17th century throughout Europe. But not only! In India, lavender has also been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It is used to fight against depression and to stimulate restful sleep.
Lavender has thus won its spurs. It is used against anxiety, headaches, burns, to purify the skin, treat rheumatism, remove moths… In short, in addition to its delicate fresh fragrance, this aromatic plant would have almost magical powers! It is still fixed in our minds as a symbol of purity and tranquility, with more and more enthusiasts.
Fine lavender, aspic lavender or lavandin?
There are a multitude of lavender varieties, but those that are most commonly found in Provence are fine lavender, aspic lavender and lavandin. But are they all used in the same way in perfumery?
The fine lavender
Fine lavender, or true lavender, grows naturally in the heart of the Provencal garigue between 800 and 1400 meters of altitude. The higher it grows, the better will be its quality. Fine lavender is a small plant with only one purple-colored ear on each stem. It blooms from the middle of June to the month of August according to its production sector. Much appreciated by perfumers for its delicate fragrance, it takes 130 kilos of flowers to produce 1 liter of its essential oil. One hectare of plantation can make up to 25 liters of essential oil in the best years. Its scent is aromatic, herbaceous and even camphoric, which gives it a warm and enveloping note.
The aspic lavender
Aspic lavender owes its name to its natural habitat that it shares with the aspic viper, which lavender can cure the bite. Its structure is larger than fine lavender and can grow up to 80 cm tall. The purplish-blue flowers release a powerful camphoric scent, with an eucalyptol hint. Its blossoming and picking are later and it grows on dry limestone soil between 200 and 500 meters of altitude. Its essential oil is less famous than fine lavender’s one because its smell is less pleasant. Very little used in perfumery, this variety of lavender is more interesting for its therapeutic virtues.
Lavandin is a lavender hybrid, as it is the fruit of the crossing between true and aspic lavender. It grows between 0 and 800 meters of altitude and is easily found along the roads or in the gardens of Provencal houses. Its scent is stronger than that of fine lavender and more aromatic. Lavandin has flowers very thick and thus offers a more interesting yield than the other two varieties. This hybrid arrives in Provence in the 50s. Thanks to lavandin, 40 kilos of flowers are enough to produce 1 liter of essential oil. Less qualitative than true lavender, it is mainly used to perfume the products of everyday life.
Lavender fields in your bottles
Culture and harvest
The cultivation of lavender has been widely professionalized since the 19th century with the development of perfumery. True lavender is grown in France (in Provence of course), but also in Spain, Italy or Russia. Bulgaria will also become one of the most important lavender producers further to the loss of a large part of the French culture, affected by the Stolbur phytoplasma between 2005 and 2010. Today, Bulgaria produces about 60 tons of lavender per year.
The harvest of the true lavender takes place between June and August. When temperatures rise, the heat brings back the contents of the essential oil in the lavender flower. The sprigs are picked just before flowering because it is the moment when the perfume is the most intense. In the past, lavender was harvested by the sickle and the gatherers worked in the fields with a large canvas sack worn over the shoulder: it was called the “saquette” in French. When the saquettes were filled with lavender sprigs, they were emptied at the edge of the fields to let the flowers dry in the sun.
This harassing work, under a blazing sun, was done by pickers, often employed since their youngest age. They moved from village to village beginning the cut in the low altitude areas where flowering is earlier to finish in the mountains of the Drôme near Mont Ventoux.
Since the 1960s, harvesting is done mechanically thanks to automatic reapers that raise the flower, guide it to a clever cutting system and finally link it in a sheaf. Once the sheaves are made, they are placed on the plants to dry before distillation.
It is now time to distil the lavender sheaves to extract the precious essential oil. Originally, each property had its own small copper still, and lavender were distilled at the end of the field, near a watering place. Today there are several distillation processes.
The first method is steam distillation, which requires drying for about two days to remove water from the plant. Then, the flowers and the stems are arranged in a tank, also called vase. They are carefully packed so that the water vapor, which will then cross them, cannot find a free path and is totally impregnated with essential oil of the plant. This mixture of water vapor and essence cools in a coil where it becomes liquid again. After decantation, water and essence separate and the scented essential oil is extracted. Steam distillation is a traditional method still widely used today.
To produce lavender oil, a distillation can also be done without drying. Applied since the 90’s, this method is used to increase the productivity and the yield since the distillation of the lavender flower is done immediately after its picking. The flowers are cut and crushed, then distilled immediately.
It is also possible to obtain lavender absolute thanks to the manufacturing technique of the extraction with volatile solvents.
Lavender and perfume: a story filled with scents
Birth of an olfactory family
Lavender appears for the first time in a great perfume in 1892, the now iconic Fougère Royale by Houbigant. This perfume, then considered as a small revolution in the world of scents, will pave the way for a new olfactory family: the one of ferns. Nothing to do with the plant that does not actually releases any odor. The olfactory structure of the ferns thus highlights a lavender top note, a rather floral middle note and a base with oakmoss and coumarin.
Lavender, perfume for man
This olfactory family perfumes are historically addressed to men, the proof with the famous Pour un homme by Caron in 1934 that ingeniously combines the scent of lavender with vanilla. Yardley English House also plays with lavender in its creation Old English Lavender in 1913. These lavender fragrances, also known as lavender soliflore, have won over many fans. With these fresh and aromatic eaux de toilette, this is the first time that men really get to grips with these scented notes. And the fern perfumes will stick to their skins for many years, associating lavender, present in more than 50% in these creations, to the image of the male. Today, lavender is an ingredient found in other accords, as with aromatic chypres where its essence sublimates thyme or coriander.
But above all, lavender has crossed the boundaries of the genre to flourish in more feminine compositions, even if you know, we advocate subjectivity regarding the sex of perfumes!
Lavender and coffee, a daring association mix?
Lavender has always inspired perfumers with its delicate and powerful fragrance. And at Carrément Belle we quickly succumbed to the charms of this aromatic plant. She is one of the top billing of our perfume alfred kafé, alongside a powerful aroma of coffee. The invigorating coffee then sprinkles with a light, fresh and soothing lavender in the middle note to create a soft, green scent. Lavender essential oil transports us to a ribbed field of blue and mauve shades, the time to enjoy a lazy coffee under a shady cedar…
Originally intended for man, alfred kafé has recently also won some women hearts in quest of masculine scents. Once again, lavender perfume plays perfectly its role and titillates our nose and our imagination!
Did you know the story of lavender and what scented memory does it evoke to you? What ingredients would you like to
see smell associated with it?