by Dr. Tina Marcantel

Essential oils from lavender are used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and natural sleep and can be helpful in treating headaches and nausea. Dr. Tina Marcantel is a naturopathic physician in Gilbert, Arizona, who also serves the East Valley cities of Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Scottsdale, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, and the greater Phoenix area.

Lavender field

Last year my husband Peter and I took a trip to Europe that included a visit to Provence, France. I was excited to see the region because it’s famous for its beautiful lavender fields and I enjoy the delicious-smelling products they export. Unfortunately, our itinerary brought us there about a month too early to see the lavender in bloom. We had fun touring the countryside, but I felt I’d missed an important experience. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I could enjoy the sights and smells of lavender fields right here in my home state of Arizona by heading a few hours north of Phoenix!

A small ad in the Arizona Republic caught my eye last week and I learned that Red Rock Ranch and Farms in Concho was hosting its 9th annual Arizona Lavender Festival in late June. Peter and I decided to make the trek up to the White Mountains last weekend and I was pleasantly surprised to find (on a smaller scale) the “lavender fields” experience I’d missed in Provence.

Lavender has long been recognized as more than just a beautiful, sweet-smelling flower. Essential oils from the plant are used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and natural sleep and can be helpful in treating headaches and nausea. The dried flowers can also be brewed as an herbal tea.

For the more adventuresome, lavender can be employed in the culinary arts. We learned from one guide at the festival that the herb has long been used by chefs in upscale restaurants, but that in the past decade there has been a revival of its use in home kitchens. Some of the foods we sampled were lavender and apricot cookies, lavender-infused cake and Lavender plant and beesicing, lavender and garlic crackers, and lavender-crusted grilled chicken.

We also learned that there are many varieties of lavender but that the two main ones grown at Red Rock Ranch and Farms are English lavender, used mostly for botanical applications such as essential oils or candles, and Provence lavender, a larger plant used for culinary applications. The owners believe that the 6,300 foot elevation of their farm is a reason they produce a very high-quality lavender oil. They also credit the rocky soil of the White Mountains that they say is much like the soil found in Provence on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

All of the flowers are harvested by hand by crews who go through the fields clipping the blossoms. As you would imagine, there are plenty of bees at work in the fields, too, gathering pollen from the blooms. The owner told us that new harvesters are sometimes reluctant to get in among the bees, but he said he puts their minds at ease by a simple demonstration. He passes his hand through the flowers with the bees buzzing around them to show that the bees are so calm from the effects of the lavender that they won’t sting!

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