Purple ReignDecember 29th, 2020
The vibrant lavender fields at Babylonstoren are truly a sight to behold and the resulting essential oils – distilled and bottled on-site – are filled with the essence of practical magic.
You would be forgiven, when first clapping eyes on the seemingly endless lavender fields of Babylonstoren – currently at their exquisite peak – for mistaking your location as somewhere in Provence, Piedmont, La Mancha or the English countryside. And yet this extraordinary perfumed patch, with its distinctive purple and grey-green colouration, unmistakable fragrance and the steady hum of deliriously happy bees, is less than an hour’s drive outside of Cape Town; another of Babylonstoren’s natural gems waiting to be discovered.
Arranged between the Simonsberg Mountain range, olive groves and the rest of Babylonstoren’s celebrated gardens, the fields are planted with several lavender varietals dominated by French and Spanish ones chosen for their aromatic, oil-giving properties as well as an ability to thrive in the sun and soil of the Franschhoek Valley.
Grown under the expert eye of head gardener Liesl van der Walt and her team, harvest time is one of the farm’s main events. Once the lavender is at its best, large crates are filled with violet-coloured blooms and transported to The Barn. This multi-use building houses the Scented Room that incorporates our striking essential oil distillery in which the lavender flowers are transformed into oils for our artisanal products.
Step inside and you’ll see why we like to think of The Scented Room as a bit like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for grown-up aesthetes: a modern-day apothecary where French Belle Époque influences and clean industrial design merge, offering an elevated sensory experience and the opportunity to get creative.
Here, from behind a glass wall, visitors can observe the distillery in all of its steel-and-copper glory and witness the creation of Babylonstoren’s pure lavender oil: a process that uses steam to condense the flower liquids into precious oils. Under the guidance of our trained technicians and using old-school laboratory beakers and tools, visitors can custom-create their own scrubs, masks and lotions incorporating our lavender or rosemary (also made on site) essential oils. Vintage pharmacy drawers and antique cupboards are also filled with gorgeous handmade soaps, essential oils, candles, diffusers, room fragrances, body and beauty products (as well as homeware) featuring fragrances that echo those found on the farm: from lavender, waterblommetjies and heritage roses to orange blossom, clivia, fynbos and more.
For lavender lovers, now is the ideal time to visit Babylonstoren and immerse yourself in a living Impressionist painting. See our website for details on daily guided garden tours. * We also offer workshops teaching the ancient art of oil pressing and soap making.
A note on lavender
For centuries and all around the world, lavender has been widely used by various cultures for its olfactory as well as culinary, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and purported medicinal properties. Mentions of lavender and its uses have been found in accounts from ancient India, Egypt and the Middle East to ancient Rome and Greece, the Middle Ages, the Elizabethan period and Victorian England – when the craze for lavender in commercial beauty products was established. The darling of the floral kingdom, lavender and its essential oil derivative has been used for everything from embalming mummies and beautifying oneself to treating allergies and anxiety, fungal infections, insect bites, insomnia, indigestion and eczema.
The name lavender derives from the Latin ‘lavare’, meaning ‘to wash’. Historical records reflect that the ancient Romans used lavender to scent their baths, bed linen and hair while in medieval France, lavender was used by professional washerwomen who became known as ‘lavandress’. Superstitious Europeans also wore lavender in pouches to attract suitors as well as ward off plagues and evil spirits. Fast-forward to the 21st century and cult beauty brands including L’Occitane, Elemis and Kiehl’s all have lavender as their star ingredient. And of course lavender forms an essential part of the tapestry of Babylonstoren. Vive la lavande!
Did you know?
The remains of the lavender flowers used in our distillery are not discarded. Instead, they are returned to our gardens for composting and that, in turn, is used in our flower fields.
‘Lavender’s blue, dilly-dilly, lavender’s green
When I am king, dilly-dilly, you shall be queen.’
~ Traditional 17th Century children’s rhyme