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Lavender: under French skies

July in France’s Provence region is unmissable. Or at least it would seem that way.

Vast numbers of tourists descend on the undulating countryside each year to breathe in (and likely capture for Instagram) the stretching lines of lavender and lavendin. During the June to August season, beekeepers - hoping to maximise yields of lavender honey - transport their hives nearby too, so bees can be seen foraging freely from flower to flower.

The deeply calming scent that rises from the purple fields is almost soporific, making both lavender and lavendin popular ingredients in cosmetics products. From bubble bars and soaps to shampoo bars and fine fragrance, the sweet florals are beloved for their abilities to help bathers unwind, aid in restful sleep and improve the condition of the skin and scalp.

Lavendin is a natural hybrid created from lavender (lavendula angustifolia) and lavender spike (lavendula latifolia) and it’s easier to tell apart from lavender than the names suggest. Lavendin’s scent is slightly more pungent and it’s stems tend to grow taller, up to 50-60cm compared to the average 30-40cm height of lavender. Each stem also boasts three flowers, unlike lavender’s characteristic one.

What it’s clear they have in common is a penchant for sunshine. They thrive in the dry climate of the Mediterranean with over 4,000 hectares of lavender and 17,000 hectares of lavendin planted around 3 main areas in France: Drome, Alpes de Haute Provence and Vaucluse. In total, France produces around 1,200 tonnes of lavender and lavendin oil each year.

These figures might seem vast, but one hectare of land is required to produce just 100 kg of lavendin oil. And this figure shrinks to a mere 40 kg when obtaining lavender oil.

When every hectare counts towards creating the finest essential oil, you have to get smart.

Visiting in July 2016, buyer Emilia and Jordan from quality control travelled - via Avignon - deep into the landscape of Provence to explore Lush’s source of lavender and lavendin oils. Heading away from the crowds (but into the midst of the bees) they met a supplier who has perfected his growing and distillation methods over more than 100 years of business.

Planting begins after March and April each year, when the risk of frosts is over and distilling takes place from late-July to mid-August. Each plantation will remain in place for roughly a decade before a period of three years gives the soil time to regenerate fully.

Many of the traditions - such as the fireplace fueled with lavender straw - continue as they always did, but today the harvest is completed by machine not sickle. What once was a time-consuming, labour-intensive process has been revolutionised, so Lush's supplier is now able to obtain 500 tonnes of high-quality lavender and lavendin oil each year. Some of these exquisite oils head over to Poole to be added straight into your products.

You won’t need a ticket to experience Provence this year, A French Kiss will do...

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