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Production history

In the 18th century, wild lavender was collected by hand by local shepherds and farmers from natural lavender fields located in the highlands of Provence (800-1500 meters in altitude). Faced with a continuously increasing demand, the team of gathers eventually grew to include young men, women and children from the village. Equipped with large sickles and canvas containers, the gatherers roamed the mountain collecting wild lavender.

production history of essential oils in Provence

However, at the end of the 19th century, so that the Grasse perfumery marketing demands could be met, the first lavender crops appeared on less nutrient rich soil at a lower altitude (600-800 metres).

Between 1920 and 1930, the cultivation of lavender peaked. Eventually, the traditional, overused and unproductive "baïassières" (natural sites) were phased out.

Harvesting regulations also became widespread. At the same time, the number of plantations multiplied. Limited to poor land, they were associated with food crops and livestock. Lavender therefore found a place in the family business.

Lavender cultures expanded and the first lavandin crops appeared. With an attractive yield and cost, crops developed rapidly and large estates, controlled by the industries in Grasse and Lyon, also expanded.

The harvesting therefore required more seasonal labour from Italy and Spain. Lavender was cut and packed loosely in bunches which were weighed in the evening then swathed for drying before distillation. Lavandin, however, was bound in bundles and left in the field for drying before distillation.

Steam distillation of lavender and lavandin

Harvesting experienced a major transformation from the 1950s, when the first lavender and lavandin tractor-powered reaper-binder was developed by Felix Esseyric, from Nyons. This led to the famous never-ending fields of wide, homogeneous, spaced-out lines so that the machine could be used. The use of machines solved the problem of hard-to-find labour and also reduced the harvesting time by a few days.

During the 1990s, the "vert-broyé" technique was used, which consisted in the machine crushing the stems and flowers directly in the lavender fields before conveying them to a container drawn by the machine. The container was then brought into the distillery and covered for steam distillation.

For 60 years lavender and lavandin production has been subject to major changes, from "an economy of lavender gathering" to the industrialisation of lavender and lavandin production.

These extraordinary changes in production have allowed it to remain in a developed country. Without them, lavender and lavandin would have probably disappeared from the dry plateaux of Haute Provence. The SCA3P cooperative was one of the driving forces behind these changes.

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