The threat to lavender? – Feet on the ground

For several years in Drôme Provençale, a rumor has been circulating: the European Union and its regulations on poisoning threaten the disappearance of lavender fields and the production of essential oils or ​​​​​​​products available.

In our collective mind, however, the lavender field is one of the strongest symbols of Provence, visual and olfactory. Who has not rejoiced in front of these deep green gardens, who has not touched a flower stem and breathed this fragrance with joy? Who hasn’t tasted lavender honey?

Honored by artists and photographers, lavender is also an important tourist asset: many travelers come to see the flower of the fields, like in Japan, the blossom of the cherry trees.

It also has an important ecological value: very melliferous, it attracts bees and other pollinators. It is drought tolerant and holds soil well, including steep terrain.

A “precious plant”

It was known to be useful among the Egyptians who used it for its antiseptic and aromatic properties during mummifications, said to ward off evil in the Bible and decorate doors including crosses fastened with ropes, were listed by Pliny the Elder (naturalist) and Dioscorides. (physician and botanist) in the Precious plants. The Greeks and Romans used it for their laundry and bathing, hence its name, from the Latin, love, delete. Lavandula angustifolia Miller, or english lavender, Philip Miller (1691-1771) who invented it in 1768, was the first person to refine it for large amounts of oil.

At first, the picking of lavender flowers in Haute Provence and Drôme Provençale was left to women and children. It was only after the war of 14-18 that we started farming in the fields and slowly went to work. Since 1981, it has had the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) of The best lavender from Haute Provence. Adapted to dry land and grows in a variety of ways between 100 and more than 2,000 meters above sea level. The work of his culture in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence was included in the list of French cultural heritage in 2018.

Why is it threatened to be abolished? By whom and how?

My little research…

To find out, instead of thinking about rumors, I sought information from Mr. Distiller, is therefore considered to be an essential oil producer.

Mr. Soguel spent his professional life promoting the many benefits of lavender and its essential oil. He works with about 100 farmers-producers and they also protect organic because of its high potential and quality.

For more than 10 years, Philippe Soguel has defended the production of essential oils with the European Commission and participated in all negotiations for the development of regulations that are suitable for its products.

Very well, he explained to me the real problem that his group of producers was facing. Below are some of his various activities, at national, European and international level. *

The purpose of the object: description A lot of oil

According to the ISO international standard, the definition of the term Lavender essential oil ie: a product obtained from a raw material vegetable by steam distillation. 15 years ago, lavender oil was subjected to two regulations (REACH and CLP) which started a great debate about its toxicity. Therefore, it applies the same rights as all chemicals, regardless of their origin.

In this way, Ph. Soguel said that it mixes well with the manufacturers of perfumes and synthetic perfumes, and they do not need to be diluted. “A place for everything!” he said with a smile. He often works with them and with great cosmetics or perfumes. “There is no conflict between us”.

In fact, his share is very small, even if it is an important role recognized by other market players.

The bitterness?

Ph. Soguel adds that his company wants regulations: “We, producers of essential oils, want to regulate our products. This ensures quality and traceability. This ensures to all of us, manufacturers, businesses and consumers.”

He added: “Furthermore, I would like to say that the European Commission has always been kind and open to discuss with us. We work together without conflict. However, we must find the rules together. to meet the specifications of our products.

For example at ecotoxicology, The idea is to limit the availability of a product to a problem of “water poisoning”. To do this, the juice-fruit mixture is known. But essential oil does not mix with water because it is an oil and stays on the skin. So we are asked to provide a test solution that is impossible…. while all our applications are in reputable labs.

Mr. Soguel: “We would like to point out that 1) our production is very low in quantity compared to synthetic products, and 2) we also find molecules of 100% natural origin (the that’s our case. ) is in nature and is better treated and degraded by it than pure chemical products. And to conclude: “For these two reasons our real effect is very low in ecotoxicology and this should be considered.”

Nothing is easy and everything is difficult …as Sempé said

In 2020, a new request came from the European Commission, which provides some dangers that cannot be tested on essential oils as a whole and looks at the dangers on the basis of the options. This is absurd because recent studies have shown that what is taken alone does not behave the same as when taken in an oily matrix…

This is why essential oils are essential tested in accordance with these specifications certified and recognized by the European Commission. This is not the case now. This is the subject of discussions.

Find fault…

Finally, I know that the topics related to the evaluation of the safety of essential oils are not dependent on the Ministry of Agriculture, but on the Environment. And these two departments don’t want to talk to each other… far from it. This clearly shows the success of the reform process at the French national level.

What is surprising, however: more than 100 senators joined a Tribune to defend lavender and its production in the Sunday Newspaper (see link below). Not visible! And it shows the cultural issues, emotions, tourism, in short, how “hot” this topic is.

Hence the importance of not falling for anti-EU or anti-chemistry caricatures.

The end

No, lavender fields are not threatened with extinction. But who are the farmers who will continue this tradition if local restaurants no longer buy their produce from them?

Mr. Soguel, optimistic and nuanced: “Work is progressing between the European Commission and us producers.” He added: “We hope for new results soon.”

For my part, I hope to “tell you” and let you keep it. feet on the ground Provençale, make your summer a little longer….! And I’ll keep you posted on the latest news as it comes.

*Philippe Soguel, Vice-President of the National Federation of Medicinal Aromatic Perfumed Plants PPAM, Director of the Interprofessional Committee of French Essential Oils CIHEF, Director of European Oils FEO.

Film interview:


***For seekers : we often wonder what is the difference between lavender and lavandin.

Answer: there are 2 types of lavender: 1) spike lavendergrowing in the plains (from 100 to 700m high), with wide leaves, it has a camphor smell and is recommended for massage, to treat burns and insect bites, but it is not used properly aromatic for its camphor scent.

2) natural lavender, short, popular lavender angusti folia, growing between 700 and more than 2,000 meters above sea level. This is what makes PDO lavender essential oil so good. Its yield is low but the quality is good. That is what is used in the perfume.

3) lavender It is a hybrid, first created by pollinators between 1) and 2), then brought by humans in hybridization.

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