Lavender is a sweet-smelling herb with pink flowers often grown in English gardens. But there is only one place in Britain where it is still harvested on a commercial scale. This is the Norfolk Lavender Farm, a place of endless fields covered with pink flowers, where visitors can learn about the fascinating history of this unusual plant.
Like many other herbs, lavender was first brought to England by the Romans. They discovered its healing, soothing and insect-repellent properties and used it for massages and baths. The plant's name is derived from the Latin word lavandum which means 'fit for washing'.
Magical medicine, popular perfume
In medieval monasteries monks grew lavender in their gardens and used it in many of their remedies. By the sixteenth century lavender was used in every room of the house: it was laid in cloth chests to prevent moth damage, scattered in beds to deter insects, hung in bags to freshen the air and even mixed with charcoal to clean the teeth. In the nineteenth century lavender was very popular as a perfume and for scenting linen and clothes. However, during the twentieth century, with the development of chemical medicines and the wider availability of more exotic ingredients for perfumes, there was a rapid decline in the growing of lavender.
The Norfolk Lavender Farm began as a small two-man enterprise in the early 1900s. Today over forty hectares are harvested every summer, providing 150 tonnes of lavender, which is used to produce oil and dried. July is definitely the best time to visit this unique place. At this time the fields are covered with plants in full bloom and the air is deliciously scented. Visitors are offered two guided tours: of the fields and of the distillery. In the distillery stills are loaded with plants and then treated with steam. The pure essential oil collects in a container underneath, about half a litre from every 250 kilograms of the plant. The oils from different varieties are stored separately and must be allowed to mature for a year before use. Then they can be mixed according to unique recipes dating back to the nineteenth century.
Three thousand products
A trip to Norfolk Lavender Farm wouldn't be complete without a visit to the shop where the most comprehensive range of genuine English Lavender products is on sale. Perfumes, soaps, oils and lavender sachets are among more than three thousand products available. Many are produced locally, all in a traditional way, which makes them very sought-after worldwide. For those interested in trying to grow their own lavender there are nearly fifty varieties for sale. Books explaining how the plant should be grown are also available.
Norfolk Lavender Farm is located north of Cambridge and is open all year round. If you decide on a visit, it is also worth seeing Sandringham palace nearby, home of the Prince of Wales, and Hunstanton, a seaside resort with unusual red and white cliffs.