Provence, France is world-renowned for its lavender, but not so many people are aware that the Central Coast of California is graced with dozens of lavender farms.  With its Mediterranean-like climate, the region is ideal for growing wine grapes and lavender.  It’s a little slice of Provence right in our own backyard.

Lavender has been popular since ancient Roman times.  In all its forms, whether on the bush, distilled into an essential oil, in soap, sachet or other delightful uses, lavender smells heavenly.  No wonder it still has such a loyal following, and no wonder the Ojai Valley Lavender Festival has become a popular annual event.

Located in Libbey Park in Ojai, California, this year’s festival hosted over 100 vendors, many of whom displayed locally grown and produced lavender products that were for sale at the festival.  Other vendors offered jewelry, spices, handmade pottery, clothing, dream catchers, and other fanciful, handmade items.

You could find lavender in all its expressions here: medicinal lavender in soaps, creams and essential oils; culinary lavender in baked goods, such as pound cake, cookies and macaroons; lavender honey; cut lavender ready to dry, lavender wreaths, and potted lavender plants.

The love of lavender extended beyond the literal into a celebration of the color of lavender.  Many of the festival guests, both men and women, wore lavender clothing.  One woman even dyed her hair lavender for the occasion.

Have you ever eaten lavender?  Culinary lavender is an edible herb, a member of the mint family, and contains iron, calcium and vitamin A.  It’s also surprisingly delicious when used as an ingredient in cooking.  I purchased a bag of lavender macaroons from the Yankee Doodle Bakery, based in nearby Oxnard.  They were delightful and made with just a few simple ingredients: coconut, sugar, egg whites, sea salt, culinary lavender and vanilla.  The taste of lavender was noticeable, but not overpowering.

Since I use lavender oil every day and was running low, I purchased a bottle of lavender essential oil from Central Coast Lavender.  You can visit their farm in Paso Robles to pick your own lavender.  Check their website for information on how to arrange a private tour of their farm.

Rub a drop of lavender oil on the bridge of your nose to unclog your tear ducts.  Massage it into sore muscles to help them relax or on a scar to reduce scarring.  Put a drop of it on the tip of your tongue to alleviate seasickness.  Rub several drops on your palms and inhale deeply to lessen the symptoms of hay fever.  Massage a couple of drops into your temples to get rid of a headache.  Just the smell of lavender can help eliminate insomnia and fight depression. These are just a few of a myriad of benefits derived from lavender.

If you know me personally, you know I’m an avid fan of high-quality, natural soaps.  A lot of the soaps at the festival (lavender, goat milk and other types) were overpriced.  However, Rivendell Aromatics, based right there in Ojai, offered several varieties of handmade soap at $5.00 for each 4 oz. square bar.  I bought two bars.  The ingredients on the label listed palm, coconut and olive oils, sodium hydroxide, distilled water and lavender essential oil – in short, a pure product at a fair price.

The Ojai Valley Lavender Festival is an annual event, so you may want to put it on your calendar for next year.  The festival is easy to access and is free to the public.  It’s less than a 90-minute drive north from Los Angeles.  They provide free parking and a free shuttle that is under a five minute drive to the festival location.  The shuttle runs about every 15-20 minutes.  But I never had to wait for it, and it was not crowded, though the festival grounds were.

To top off my lavender day, I decided to visit a nearby working lavender farm, Frog Creek Farm, which was open to the public for u-pick service during the festival.  They’re also open for u-pick on weekends during June and July or by appointment.  Call or text 805-921-0027.  The cost of a sizable bundle of flowers was only $5.00 if you pick your own.  They also have bundles of lavender ready for purchase.  Note: They only take cash or checks, not credit cards, so be prepared.

The farm is over a 6 mile drive up route 150 from the festival grounds and was hard to find.  I drove passed it quite a ways before I turned around and came back.  There was no sign, but I remembered that the man at the festival information booth mentioned a line of green dumpsters.  I found the dumpsters and then found the farm.  There was a good size crowd by the time I arrived, and much of the small field of 500 plants had been picked over.

Bees buzzed in the lavender bushes, as I strolled along the rows in the hot sun.  It felt a bit like Provence without the humidity.  I enjoyed a little solitude, picked lavender stem by stem and built a sizable bundle of French and Hidcote (English) lavender, along with a few sunflowers.  With the lavender in my car, my drive home was fragrant indeed.