On August 07 we visited Terre Bleu lavender farm in Milton, Ontario with my brother and sister-in-law. Terre Bleu farm was started by Ian and Isabelle Baird who were enchanted by the spectacular fields of purple and the fragrant air that swirled all around, while vacationing in Quebec. They moved from downtown Toronto, with their young children William and Madeline, to rural Milton and began farming organic lavender.
In 2011 the Bairds planted their first 10,000 lavender plants. After years of careful planning and cultivation the farm opened to the visiting public in 2014. Today, this is the largest lavender farm in Ontario and is home to over 50,000 lavender plants and many other herbs and flowers spread over 160 acres. Thousands of visitors throng Terre Bleu every summer to share the experience of sustainable organic farming.
Lavender is believed to have originated from the Mediterranean, dating back some 2500 years. It is a flowering plant of the mint family known for its beauty, fragrance and its multiple uses. Today Lavender is cultivated across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America.
Lavender is amongst the world’s most ancient documented plants. Hieroglyphic texts from Ancient Egypt mentions the use of lavender in embalming and cosmetics. When the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened, jars filled with ointments resembling lavender were found.
“While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (Song of Solomon 1.12)
Lavender derives its name from the Latin ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’. The Romans used lavender to scent their baths, beds, clothes and even hair. They also discovered its medicinal properties. In ancient times, bundles of dried lavender were given to women in labour for squeezing during contractions as the fragrance released was known to alleviate the pain and facilitate an unencumbered birth.
On reaching the farm we embarked on a farm tour. Our tour guide was a smart enthusiastic young lady pursuing her university degree in life sciences. She said she loved working on the lavender farm for the fresh scented air she could breathe as it rejuvenated her and also that she could put into practice what she learned at school. Obviously, it did provide her monetary benefits, especially during her summer vacation.
Walking through the farm we saw women harvesting lavender flowers. At Terre Bleu, they harvest the flowers manually. Here they grow the French and English lavenders. Both are lookalikes with the French lavenders a bit taller than their English counterparts. English lavender in comparison produces less oil, but is more in demand due to its aroma. French lavender has more camphor in its oil which has a soapy taste. Hence, English lavender oil is preferred over French lavender oil in cooking.
Enjoying the aroma filled air of the farm as we walked a few minutes, we entered the distillation plant. Lavender oil is distilled here by steam distillation. This copper still (pot) distillation plant was imported from Portugal to facilitate distillation through the age old European traditions. The still is packed with lavender flowers to the top avoiding air pockets between the lavender and water at the bottom. The top of the still is connected to a condenser. The still is heated and the water boils to form steam. The steam rises and passes through the still stuffed with lavender flowers. As the steam passes through the lavender, the pressure inside the sealed kettle along with the high temperature of steam causes the buds of the lavender to release its oils. The lavender buds hold most of the oil and not the actual flowers.
In the condenser, the steam gradually cools down and turns to liquid that drips out. As oil and water do not mix, oil floats on water because water is denser. Oil is drained out from the top spout of the condenser and lavender hydrosol (mixture of oil and water) is removed from the bottom spout. Hydrosol is used for removing makeup, and in the manufacture of body sprays, deodorants, linen sprays etc.
We then walked to the Apiary being maintained by the farm. The relationship between flowers and bees is only too well known. Terre Bleu promotes organic cultivation, free from pesticides that are harmful to the bees. This ensures many healthy bee colonies in the farm.
Lavender is definitely more than just a pretty purple bloom. It has many health and wellness benefits. Lavender is a good sleep aid and can calm your stress and anxiety. It is naturally anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-bacterial and can cure dandruff. It fights congestion and can relieve sore muscles and headaches.
Our farm tour ended at the farm-store where we enjoyed lavender flavoured ice-cream.