The romantic image of lavender many people carry in their minds is of the indigo-painted fields of Provence, where it is often pictured among the quaint stone homes and dusty paths of the French countryside. Indeed, it hails from this region of short, cool winters and hot, dry summers where it can still be found wild speckling the rocky hillsides.
The color and fragrance of lavender exude coolness and serenity. It is at home among grey-green olive trees, rustic grape arbors and banks of colorful wildflowers buzzing with honeybees. It is such a trustworthy plant, it gives gardeners a sense of calm, knowing that with little effort on their part lavender will shine its joy on the garden all summer long.
Lavender springs up in pastries, teas and sometimes ice cream, but outside the garden its biggest presence in the lives of humans is in perfumes and beauty products. The aroma soothes the senses and the chemicals found in its essential oils restore skin tone and reduce inflammation, leading to it use in everything from shampoo to eau de toilette.
René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist in the early 20th century, was studying essential oils in his laboratory when his clothing was ignited by a small explosion, severely burning his hands. In a panic he plunged them into a vat of lavender oil, thinking it was water, and was miraculously healed. In the ensuing years, Gattefossé dedicated himself to understanding the medical properties of essential oils, and has come to be known as the father of aromatherapy.