Tag Archives: Essential Oil Distillation

When Will French Lavender Return?

Gary Young and Jean-Noel Landel at 2002 Young Living convention
Gary and Jean-Noel Landel, the manager of the Simiane lavender farm and a guest speaker at the 2002 Young Living convention.

While visiting with Benoit Cassan, the former president of CRIEPPAM (the technical research center for lavender growers and distillers in Provence, France) and the largest grower in and around Simiane, Jean Noel asked him if he would have any angustifolia that I could buy.

He said that wouldn’t be possible, and even the orders of his buyers who he has supplied for the last 15 years were being cut back by 50 percent, and the 50 percent that he was supplying them was being mixed half and half with lavender angustifolia and cloned lavender.

He went on to explain that in their latest association meeting, they discussed the possibility of taking all of the lavender out in all of France to sterilize the soil and kill the virus that has been attacking and killing the lavender for the last 10 years.

Then in 5 years when the soil had been nourished and built back, they would replant and start over. But even if they were successful, it could be up to 8 years before the lavender would be back on the market.

However, the farmers cannot wait 8 years for a crop, so they will replant a different crop. Once the new crop is established, the farmers will not take it out and put lavender back in again.

Thankfully, the lavender in our valley in Simiane was not affected by the virus, only by the drought.

When the French Agriculture Department stopped subsidizing lavender production in the early 1990s, many farmers quit growing. Then in 2000, the government started subsidizing the farmers again, but the farmers never went back to growing lavender.

The Loss of French Lavender Farms

lavender farm in Provence, France
Drought and a plant virus strike lavender farms in Provence, France.

As we drove over the plateau on the mountain top, field after field was in the same condition. Ten years ago I wanted to buy a farm on the plateau that I fell in love with and had taken many distributors to see. It was a beautiful 300-plus-acre, organic, Lavandula angustifolia farm that was nestled high above the main plateau in a valley at 5,000 feet. Over the years I had visited this farm, and three times I tried to purchase it, but the farm was never for sale.

However, the owner was able to grow and supply the oil for us to make up the difference when our own production was short because of our growing demand. This year the farm is sadly for sale. The dead and dying plants, caused by the drought as well as by a virus that has attacked and killed the lavender plants, caused a rapid drop in production and, of course, income, which put so much stress on the family that it resulted in a divorce.

This year the production on his farm was down 60 percent from previous years. There is no way this man can recover, and if he doesn’t sell the farm, he will simply lose it to the bank. Unfortunately, he is only one of many farmers in similar situations. In addition, many distilleries on the plateau were out of operation this year.

Jean Noel and I had a lot of discussion about our farm and distillery. We wondered what to do about the distillery simply because there was no crop. Many farmers who are hoping the lavender will come back are talking about keeping just one central distillery in operation and selling the others, if they can find buyers.

Drought Decimates French Lavender Fields

Gary inspects lavender field in France
Gary inspects lavender at the Simiane-La-Rotonde farm in Provence, France.

My most recent visit to Provence, France, in November of 2010 was shocking and very discouraging. I have worked with the growers in France, planting, harvesting, and distilling over the past 25 years, and have never seen anything so devastating.

As I drove into the Simiane Valley, my heart felt like it was stuck in my throat. All the lavender fields were dug up and gone; and the hybrid and cloned lavender was 40 percent dead.

As I arrived at my farm, a knot like a 100-pound lead ball filled my stomach as I walked through the lavender fields we had planted five and seven years earlier with our distributors. I had not been to our farm for two years, and I could hardly believe my eyes.

Jean-Noel Landel, who has been my partner in France for many years and is currently the manager of the Young Living farm in Simiane, had reported to me over the last couple of years that the lavender was dying, but until I saw the fields, it hadn’t become a reality. When I saw that 90 percent of all the lavender was dead, I knew I was faced with a major decision.

In addition to the lavender, we had also always maintained a two-hectare field of Lavandin super for our Purification blend. As I walked the field, I saw that 40 percent of those plants were dead as well. In 2009 our fields produced 68 kilos of Lavandin super and 60 kilos of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and in 2010 they produced 58 kilos of super and no lavender.

Jean Marie, a large lavender grower, who we have contracted for the last eight years to do the cultivating, planting, and harvesting of our farm, along with many other farmers, lost all of his lavender and 40 percent of his lavandin as well.

A farmer can experience no greater pain than to have crop failure. As I walked back to the car and sat down, the words of Mr. Henri Viaud over 20 years ago resounded loudly in my head. “Mr. Young, you will see the day come that if you do not grow it, you won’t have it!”  He predicted in 1993 that the lavender would die.

We’re fortunate at Young Living that we have our farms in Utah and Idaho, where our lavender is growing strong and healthy.

Cloned Lavender

boy and girl picking Lavender
Picking true lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, at Young Living’s Mona, Utah, lavender farm.

True lavender (lavande vraie) is a variety named Lavandula angustifolia, and it is all about powerful, therapeutic properties and superior fragrance. If you haven’t experienced Young Living’s Mona, Utah, lavender fields, I invite you to come in July and take a walk through the rows of vibrantly colored lavender with its enticing scent. Travelers along Interstate 15 are so stunned at the sight and the enchanting fragrance that they often pull to the side of the road to stare in wonder.

This experience of sight and scent is becoming harder and harder to find in France. The popularity of lavender in the perfume and cosmetic industries ensured that hybrids and clones would become popular. Cloned lavender yields 2-5 times more than Lavandula angustifolia. While the new varieties maximized yield, clones and hybrids also minimized the power known to true lavender.

Lavandin, a lavender hybrid, and varieties of cloned lavender like Lavandula mailette, L. grosso, L. super, and L. abrialis now fill the fields that once knew only Lavandula angustifolia.

It all began with two varieties, spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and true lavender, (Lavandula angustifolia). Spike lavender has flowers that are more grayish than the bluish color of Lavandula angustifolia. It has a harsher, more camphorous fragrance as well. So spike lavender was crossed with true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) to create a hybrid called lavandin, known as Lavandula x hybrida. Some growers call it Lavandula intermedia abrialii (also Lavandula x hybrida abrialis). While lavandin is harsher than true lavender, it has stronger antiseptic properties.

In the 1970s, a lavender grower named Pierre Grosso propagated a new variety of lavandin named after him, Lavandula intermedia var. Grosso. These new lavandins were known for higher yield in mass cultivation.

Cloned lavandin is grown from cuttings rather than seed. If the scent is not as rich, the synthetic ester linalyl acetate is added to increase the “lavender” fragrance. Clones and hybrids are raised for quantity not quality. This is why it is so vital that you know your grower if lavender’s therapeutic value is important to you.

French Lavender: Encroaching Synthetics

Gary Young with Marcel Espieu and Jean-Noel Landel in Mona, UT
Gary invited Marcel Espieu and Jean-Noel Landel to tour the Mona, Utah, lavender farm in 2002.

Years ago, sons had a tendency to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, which was certainly the case with Marcel Espieu, who was president of the Lavender Growers Association for over 20 years, and Jean Paul and Jean Marie, three of the old lavender growers who had taken over from their fathers. For some like Marcel, who was fourth generation, growing and harvesting lavender was the only life he knew.

Lavender was a natural, wild-crafted crop that could easily be cut and harvested in the hills. Over time it was domesticated and gradually became one of the largest ingredients in the manufacture of perfume and scented cosmetics. It became one of the most profitable oils in the history of the perfume cartel, until chemical houses started to duplicate compounds synthetically.

By the 1960’s the use of lavender oil reached its peak and remained a highly sought-after commodity in the industry for about 20 years. However, with time and cheap synthetics, the use of pure, unadulterated lavender gradually started to decline.

In order for farmers to stay in business, they had to increase the yield and decrease the price. In the late 1970s, the era of growing hybrid plants and plant cloning started because they produced a higher yield and gave the appearance of true lavender.

The cloning process was developed from selected plants, which gradually changed the multi-colored true lavender into a single, manufactured color of hybrid plants.