A sea of purple

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For hours, people’s heads bobbed up and down amongst a sea of purple.

It was the annual lavender festival at Seafoam Lavender Company and Gardens, and Phyllis-Ann Downey and Carolyn Lee made the trip from Halifax specifically for the event.

“We heard about it through Facebook,” said Lee. “We’re both big lavender fans.”

It was their first time visiting the farm, and the smiles on their faces told of their decision. Along with a lavender u-pick, visitors had a chance to learn about the flower and its uses, and purchase goodies made with the bud. Faith Drinnan of Sisterhood Fibres was on site spinning yarn, various shades of purple yarn hanging around her.

Lee picked up a number of items — tea, cookies and shortbread — and Downey has plans to take some buds to her friend in Iceland.

“Plus, I’ll dry some for myself and probably put some in a vase. They’re so pretty to look at,” said Downey.

Dave Belt, who owns the lavender farm with his wife, Susan, continuously spoke with groups of visitors about the plant, and gave advice on drying (in a cool, dark place) and growing.

He said the plant is native to the Mediterranean Basin, and isolated lavender was first found in Africa. It was, however, found and used in India and southern Asia, and brought to North America.

“The Egyptians were the first to use lavender extensively,” he said, noting they used it for food and were one of the first groups of people to press the oil out of the buds.

“It was an inefficient way, so the Royal family and pharaohs were the only ones allowed to use the oil.”

Spices, he told those gathered, were also used in the mummification process.

With about 200 different kinds of lavender available today, Belt has created a categorization system to simplify the identification process. He categorizes lavender in one of four ways — true lavender (short/medium flower stalks with concentrated flower heads on each, suitable for oil production and culinary use), stoechas lavender (stalks varying in length with a pineapple-shaped flower head forming, with fertile seeds; not suitable, generally, for oil or culinary use); spike lavender (tall, elongated flower stocks with concentrated blossom clusters, fertile seeds, good for oil production), and hybrids (a cross between true and spike lavender).

“But there are various different types in each category,” he explained.

When it comes to culinary items, the lavender company uses the buds to make a variety of items and offers a blend of spices for cooking. They use the flowers to make jelly, which Belt says is somewhat fruity, similar to grape jelly.

The couple has two distillers — one copper and one glass — to use to pull the essential oil out of the plant, and will soon have a microwave extractor for a more efficient process.

“Never consume essential oil,” said Belt, explaining there are recent crazes about drinking oils.

Pure essential oils can do damage to the skin if applied directly, as well as liver and other internal organs if ingested. To apply it directly to the skin, Belt says it should be mixed with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, at a ratio of 97 (carrier oil) to 3 (essential oil).

“That just shows you how potent pure essential oil is,” he said.

Those wishing to use it in bath water, for example, should also use a carrier oil, such as olive.

Above: Phyllis-Ann Downey, left, and Carolyn Lee made the trek from Halifax to the Seafoam Lavender Company and Gardens for the annual lavender festival. Along with picking lavender, the women purchased a variety of culinary items. They plan to be back again in the future. (Raissa Tetanish photo)

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