Right, hands up those who associate lavender growing with Provençe; and now, hands up those of you who associate it with Norfolk. Now, hands up everyone who associates it with China…ok, I didn’t either.
Of course Chinese medicine uses lavender, why should I be surprised ? – after all it’s relaxing, sleep-inducing properties are well recognised in the West, as are the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of oil of lavender, so naturally the Chinese would use it in similar ways.
A few Sundays ago AMM and I were taken (by a dear friend who we have known for many years) to a Lavender Festival deep in the countryside NE of Beijing.
It was an extraordinary – slightly surreal – experience and I loved every minute of it. Our friend QH and her family live in central Beijing and recently bought a house in the suburbs which has a garden. She has become really passionate about gardening, and has joined a Gardening Forum on the Internet. It was the moderator and some of the members of this forum who had arranged the trip to the Lavender Festival. Not all the members knew one-another by sight or real name, having only met on the Internet, which made the whole experience even more surreal. Suffice to say they were incredibly friendly and welcoming and we all got on like a house on fire.
The festival was held up in the mountains, we drove up as far as we could go in cars, and then mini-buses carried us right up to the Lavender fields. High up in the little valleys tucked between peaks were flat areas which had been planted with thousands of lavender plants, the air was saturated with their scent and the hazy blue colour of the flowers set against the backdrop of green peaks and pagodas was quite lovely. The type of lavender being grown was Lavendula angustifolia which is commonly known as English Lavender, and which is particularly suitable for the production of oil which they sell on. Most of China’s lavender is grown in Xingjian way out in the west, and this is just a small venture. The enterprise is run by volunteers and any profits are ploughed back into the local economy.
We were served tiny cups of very cold liquid which tasted quite magical – a lavender ‘tea’, strained, sweetened with lavender honey diluted then chilled. Just what you would imagine Oberon and Titania drinking in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We were then served lunch with little lavender honey jellies as dessert, before going to a talk on lavender oil and how it is made.
After that we each had the opportunity to try our hand at blending our own oils. As lavender oil on its own is incredibly strong and quite expensive, for normal use it is blended with a ‘base’ oil. Each of us was given a small phial with a measured quantity of base oil – in this case it was apricot kernel oil – and a sheet of instructions (in Chinese of course) on how to blend 10 different ‘recipes’ of oil depending on what use you wanted it for. I chose recipe Number 7. It promised to prevent the aging of skin and reduce wrinkles ..has anyone told Estée Lauder about this?
I see a potential fortune just waiting to be made! I had to add 5 drops of lavender oil, 3 drops of rosemary oil and 4 drops of rose oil to my base. Then I had to seal the phial and shake it ‘at least 49 times’ until the three oils became totally mixed. It smells absolutely heavenly, but to be honest I haven’t noticed much change in my ageing skin!
As the afternoon wore on I became fascinated watching a bride and groom who had been brought up to the Lavender fields by their photographer and his two assistants, together with a portable changing room. The bride was pinned into a very elaborate gown with veil and bouquet, and later into a bright scarlet cocktail dress, and together with her groom in a succession of different suits, they posed amongst the lavender for what will be their formal wedding photos. They probably got married wearing jeans and t-shirts!
Just like Winnie-the-Pooh, AMM felt the need of a little smackerel of hunny and managed to purchase a couple of jars of the lavender honey before we had to tear ourselves away and return to the smog of Beijing.