The Trans Canada Trail: testing my mettle.

riding across kinsol trestle bridge

Kinsol Trestle Bridge, spanning the Koksilah River

Mid-July rain pattering against the window, I pick up a pencil and apply myself to the latest drawing. Botanical illustration is something I love and pursue in the spare time I can carve out from work. My legs feel restless however and I realize I’m missing the spin and whirr of pedals, the hum and clatter of wheels and the days where we rode for hours, finally stopping for the day and a hearty meal before passing out and getting up to do it all over again. Not having to think much beyond that was a genuine detox from work, screens of various kinds, information overload in general.

An open valley on the Cowichan Valley Trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail

Open meadows, Trans Canada Trail (Cowichan Valley Trail area)

We’d promised ourselves a relatively local cycle tour. Door to door, on the bikes with no transportation other than a couple of ferry rides. We chose to ride the Trans Canada Trail on Vancouver Island from Nanaimo to Victoria via Lake Cowichan, then back to Vancouver with a side trip to Saltspring Island, roughly 400kms in a little over a week, including several rest/chilling out days.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on a bike. A 75km day on mostly gravel trails is probably equivalent to about 100kms day on tarmac. I developed my first ever saddle sore from hours bouncing around on rough, choppy portions of the trail. Apart from a couple of nights booked in an Airbnb, we camped the rest of the time and in taking all that we deemed necessary – tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, cooking gear, some basic food, copious snacks, clothing for variable weather conditions – we managed to weigh our bikes down an exorbitant amount. In the end we used everything so I felt justified in our choices, if amazed that I could even steer the unwieldy, bucking piece of metal that my bike had become.


Setting sun over Ladysmith high street

We got lost on the first day on a deserted ridgeline outside of Nanaimo. Abysmal signage – an issue confirmed by other tourists and residents – had led us astray. And hours later, near the end of the day, we found ourselves riding the shoulder on the busy, fast, noisy highway. We finally staggered up a brutally steep hill (a theme that was to recur) to our first overnight stop in Ladysmith as the sun began to sink. I wouldn’t choose to ride from Nanaimo again unless the route was improved, but I’d visit Ladysmith again without hesitation; a delightful small town, unspoilt, quiet, stuffed with rose-filled gardens, a pub devotedly English in style and a bakery packed with locals queueing for pastries, birthday cakes and rustic loaves.

freshwater marsh

Freshwater marshes, Cowichan Valley Trail

We fared better on the Cowichan Valley portion of the trail. It’s (mostly) well signed, and obvious, albeit with long, sometimes confusing connecting stretches on roads. A gravel trail generally follows former rail lines, a new kind of riding for me on a regular touring bike with smooth tires. A gradual upward gradient toward Lake Cowichan and the resistance of gravel meant slower speeds, hunkering down to hours of doggedly turning the legs, the sound of our heavy breathing accompanied by the percussive clink and ping, rattle and clatter of loose stones bouncing off our wheel rims. The scent of fir, spruce and cedar emanated from dense stands of trees that hemmed us in on each side of the trail, breaking rank only occasionally to reveal meadow, freshwater marsh and hillside.

Cowichan River

Cowichan River

The subtle downhill slope from Lake Cowichan the following day was our reward for the previous days grind up, gravel, rock and stone giving way to smooth earth at times. A spike of adrenaline spurred on our legs when we heard the trail was favoured by the local bear population, and that Lake Cowichan had experienced an increase in human/mountain lion conflicts as logging invaded yet more of their territory. With many kilometres to cover before we reached Goldstream Campground for the night we stopped only to admire the view from the several bridges we crossed –including the spectacular Kinsol Trestle Bridge – spanning deep gorges the oxide green river water flowed through.

emerging from Malahat Connector

Scott emerges from the Malahat Connector

The joy of moving from one kilometre to another under our own steam, reeling in forest, valleys and mountainsides, couldn’t even be dented by the heinous gradients we encountered at the Malahat Connector in the Malahat Nation or the Sooke Hills Wilderness trail. But as my front wheel skittered sideways on loose shale yet again whilst I pushed my bike up another 20% hill, I wondered why I was doing this to myself. For hours. And hours. Tired, hot, as I planted one foot in front of the other, the answer wasn’t completely available to me then of course. It’s always only later that I fully appreciate the experience.

In the simplest terms, it’s because I’ve been on an adventure, and my legs are ready for another.

riding the Cowichan Valley Trail

Author on the Cowichan Valley Trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail network


Ode To The Bicycle

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring” – Desmond Tutu

Apologies to those who love fishing! But I think you get my gist. Once upon a time I would have rated my hiking boots my most prized possession, followed by my cross-country skis followed by books and photos, then, well, not much else actually. I don’t have a lot of things – partly out of necessity, two of us live in a shoebox-sized apartment – but also because I don’t want to feel too weighed down with stuff.

Travelling in New Zealand years ago I discovered the joy of moving forward on your own two feet for extended periods while hiking the Routeburn, Greenstone and Abel Tasman trails. I’ve worn out a couple of pairs of boots over the years, my last pair stood me in good stead on some long hauls here in British Columbia, finally coming apart at the heel. I got blisters for the first time ever in twelve years or so of wearing them. They’ve been replaced but their hierarchy has changed. I’ll never not love hiking, but cycling, well, that’s taken over for the last few years and my bikes have precociously shouldered my humble boots aside to take top spot.


Bicycle on display, Design Museum, London UK

It’s amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike. Start cycling at the beginning of the day and you could end up in a totally different environment at the end of it. Zipping around town to run errands and collect groceries often takes a fraction of the time than on foot or in a car on congested roads. Freedom, self-containment, fresh air, exercise, the soothing whirr of wheels – unless of course there’s an unexpected and frustrating click, clank or hiss necessitating a usually infuriating session of ad hoc bike maintenance, this is when I don’t love my bike.

Cycling has made me feel stronger than I thought I could possibly be. At times when I’ve despaired getting up a trail on a mountain bike, I’ve had to relax, take my time and just plug away at it. I’ve surprised myself at my tenacity and felt a real sense of achievement when I’ve crested a hill. I’ve also learned to read my energy levels much better. If I’ve had enough, that’s ok too. And there’s not many times a bike ride doesn’t put things into perspective.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking” – Arthur Conan Doyle


Chilling out on a leisurely trail

Oh, and here’s a few fun facts and figures in an article at Climate Central.  By undertaking just 10% of urban trips in cities worldwide by bicycle instead of motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 11%. The article concedes the potential difficulties of installing infrastructure for bikes in certain areas and the cultural shift towards bikes needed in others, but the general agreement seems to be that the science behind those figures is sound. And I don’t think there’s much dispute that exercise is good for you, I’m not saying that cycling is the reason Robert Marchand is still riding a bike at 105 years old, but I don’t think it hurts either.

“Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.”
Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin, January 2010



Two Cycle Routes in The Okanagan

For four days in June we’d made an escape to one of our favourite campgrounds on the far side of Skaha Lake, across from Penticton in the Okanagan.

sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ  Provincial Park, formerly Okanagan Falls in the town of the same name, is now managed and run by the Osoyoos Indian Band. The name means ‘little falls’, and although the falls themselves for which the park is named no longer exist – in the 1950’s they were blasted to make way for a flood control dam – at night we can hear the rushing water of the Okanagan River by the side of the campground. It’s challenging to describe the allure of this spot, jammed as it is between the river and a road just off the highway. It’s small, it has very limited amenities (certainly no showers), there’s little to no privacy for each site. But its compact size is part of the charm; tucked around the corner of the mountainside as it is, the highway noise is eliminated.  The riparian vegetation encourages birds and bats. As so often happens in campgrounds, despite the open tent sites, there’s an unspoken agreement to  preserve the illusion of privacy. A friendly nod as you walk past sites and then eyes are politely averted.

The weather was mercurial during the week we stayed. Thunder and lightning the first night accompanied by cool rain. Perhaps we hadn’t brought enough warm gear? Then the sun broke with a vengeance, the temperature shot straight up to 30c and suddenly the swim gear and sun umbrella for scrubby Skaha Beach didn’t seem to be out of the question anymore. It also meant we needed to tactically time a couple of bike rides, we both cycle better in slightly cooler temperatures.

Holidays to me don’t mean getting up at six or seven in the morning, even though I was the one harassing us to get moving this time, so thank goodness for coffee. And food, ahhh food! I do love it so (I have to segue here and mention a great little compendium of recipes created and put together in a book I bought called Bike. Camp. Cook by a couple who have bike toured a huge amount, who clearly appreciate good food and who wanted to eat well and nutritiously on their trips. I originally stumbled across their book on Kickstarter but they now feature it on their website Going Slowly. They recommend a cooking set that we purchased and it has made our lives so much easier. I’ve followed their recipes for french toast, mango/avocado salsa, baked bananas, feta cheese and zucchini fritters, all so good. I photocopied the recipes I wanted to use, a useful way to save weight).


Mango and avocado salsa, I added tomatoes.

Fortified by caffeine and french toast we struck off for what was actually a short (one hour) ride, but a pretty one. At the far end of Okanagan Falls we turned onto McLean Creek Road, a popular local cycling circuit. It wound up a couple of steep turns then levelled out into a gently winding route past farms and well tended, prosperous looking ranches before dropping down to the east side of Skaha Lake and so back to the campground. As we started out the sun was already burning (hence the arm protectors), the sky a gorgeous blue.



Early morning light. Photos by Scott

A day later we woke to a hot but overcast day, the sky an oppressive stony grey. Our circuit this time took us in the opposite direction for a two or three hour ride. We tackled two outrageous hair pin turns on Green Lake Road which runs beside the campground, passes a vineyard or two and turns onto White Lake Road, leading to Twin Lakes Road and thence to Highway 3A and back again. There’s a beauty to this sage-filled landscape that can’t be denied. During most of the time riding out and back to the campground we rarely saw a car, sometimes a motorbike and as there were no fondos on at that time (it’s a popular area for group rides), just a few  cyclists. Once we’d reached the highway we spotted a nearby gas station and stopped outside to drink chocolate milk and stretch. As we relaxed in the shade a red-faced dad, mum, teenage son and daughter, all impressively geared up in matching cycling gear, rolled up, ran inside and emerged with the largest ice creams I think I’ve ever seen. We exchanged ‘hellos’ and route suggestions. People are friendly here anyway, it’s part of what brings us back each year, but I’m nearly always struck by the camaraderie of the cycling world, it’s a lovely thing.

If you like cycling there’s so many more routes to ride nearby, this is just a taster of this beautiful and diverse area, and you can always stop off for a glass of wine at one of the many vineyards. We certainly did.

White Lake Road

White Lake Road



Green Exercise


Exercising outside is one of my favourite things to do – I wrote an article for Wisdom Pills about the benefits of Green Exercise which you might like to check out – and so we took advantage of a lovely day at the end of March, Easter Monday to be precise, to ride to Steveston in Richmond, about 20km from Vancouver. Steveston is a pretty destination, a historic fishing and cannery village looking out over the Fraser River with plentiful waterfront restaurants and cafes. Lots of sun on the ride albeit with a chill breeze.


Part of the route passes by historic Finn Slough, accessible by foot or by water. Originally inhabited by Finnish settlers in the 1800’s who made their living fishing, it remains a working village to this day. Residents live in wooden homes both floating and on stilts,  many without a sewage system and relying on wooden stoves for heat. The village developed unplanned and unregulated, an eclectic  collection of houses, boats, boardwalks and sheds surrounded by wetlands.






Just by being outside you encourage your ‘ecological literacy’, learning more about your surroundings and becoming more invested in looking after the natural environment you enjoy.  Getting out of your home and outside also affects your view of urban settings, neighbours and neighbourhoods in general.  And part of the reason I’ve come to love cycling so much is that it increases your access and exposure to  different ways of living, like the inhabitants of Finn Slough, in a low key, low impact way – you almost don’t notice you’re getting exercise at the same time.

Cycling For Pastries

Rain, rain rain…….it’s been virtually constant and chilly too lately with windy gusts that make holing up inside with a good book and a coffee/tea/glass of wine (take your pick) more appealing on days off than getting out for a ride or run or just a walk. It’s not the way to lose a couple of extra winter pounds though so when finally a momentary lull in the daily downpours and a hint of sunshine lurking behind heavy clouds broke out we were enticed to run the bikes out into the chilly air and take off for a ride.

There’s a decent route to take in Vancouver for a good enough workout and some vistas of the mighty Fraser River (the longest river in BC and the 10th longest river in Canada for those who like to know those kind of things). We cycled to SW Marine Drive – a busy road but with a wide, mostly debris free cycle lane that distantly follows the shoreline of the river as it flows into the Georgia Strait – and headed west, ducking off at one point to enjoy a view over the  water.

river blog photos

Carrying on the road will ultimately take you to the beginnings of the campus of UBC (University of British Columbia) perched on the peninsula that is home to Pacific Spirit Regional Park. There you can either wend and weave your way past the university  buildings or circumvent the campus and fly down a steepish portion of road (now NW Marine Drive) adjacent to the sea until it spits you out to sea level where you ride past several beaches – almost deserted now except for a few  joggers, dog walkers or cyclists like ourselves – en route to perhaps a coffee in any one of several nearby neighbourhoods, there to enjoy a guilt-free pastry – an hours ride allows for that!

Cherry blossom and even magnolias are starting to show, and as some warmer air and sunlight hit the trees a faint perfumed scent could be discerned coming for the burgeoning flowers. But then the rain returned to remind us that winter is still with us as we shivered our way home. Spring and renewed energy will return but only when it’s ready. Like many good things, sometimes you just have to wait patiently.


Canelé pastry – a little burst of sunshine

Lavender Revisited

In my previous post The Sweet Smell Of Lavender I mentioned I was in the midst of writing an article about Provençal lavender for the British Columbia Association of Practicing Aromatherapists (BCAPA). The article will be published in the spring newsletter but as the latter isn’t available to the general public it’s been agreed that I publish it on my blog. Hope you enjoy it and if anyone has any comments, corrections or observations to add, it’d be great to hear from you.

Cycling the Fragrant Road: Perfumed Provence Under Threat

Lavender is the soul of Provence

So said Jean Giono (1895-1970), a beloved French author who lived and wrote in Provence and whose love of the natural world, reflected in his mini novel The Man Who Planted Trees, made him an early precursor to the modern ecological movement. René-Maurice Gattefossé (1881-1950), the so-called father of Aromatherapy and the man who coined the term itself with his seminal work Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales, held Provence and the lavender it produced close to his heart.

While undertaking a cycling tour of rural France in the summer of 2014, noting the haze of purply blue flowers that swept to the horizon, there was no doubt in my mind that the intertwined relationship of lavender and France was an indelible part of the cultural and economic landscape. But the bucolic scenes of lavender fields stretching into the distance under a blazing sun belies a furious battle on two fronts to preserve a way of life that has its roots in the Middle Ages.

rural France

Whilst aromatherapists here in Canada have felt the bite of Health regulations in recent years – with the implementation of Natural Health Product Regulations, natural product numbers and product licences – spare a thought for the embattled growers of herbs and distillers of essential oils in France for a moment. The focus of an intense regulatory spotlight is amply personified by the lavender growers of Provence as they seek to resist an attempt to have lavender oil (along with other essential oils) labelled as chemical toxins under the European Unions REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) program to be implemented by 2018. It is an unthinkable development given the long history of the herb as an alternative therapeutic addition to home and garden and a dollop of salt added to an open wound. Lavender and lavandin – the latter a massive provider of essence for the cosmetic and perfume industry – have been struggling against climate change over the last two decades. A blight has destroyed almost fifty percent of the lavender crop in recent years in the region. A mini cicada has thrived in unusually hot weather, transmitting the micro-bacteria stolbus phytoplasma, which drought-weakened plants have trouble resisting. The disease is contagious, and in the early stages the plants fail to show signs of infection. There is real concern that lavender could disappear from the landscape in twenty or thirty years time.

harvesting lavender

The regulatory struggle farmers face emerged later the same year that I had been travelling in France; news stories featured photos of signs posted in fields we either hadn’t spotted at the time, or went up after we’d left: ‘lavender is not a chemical.’* Concerns that such a designation would mislead the general public with its bold black and red ‘hazardous’ labelling are matched by the troubling fact that the cost of chemical analysis and classification would be a significant difficulty for smaller farmers and producers. Classifying a product that is dependent on the sun, soil, altitude and a myriad of other natural conditions would be challenging in itself. As such a real economic blow to the industry looms on the horizon. At present the blue-gold of Provence is worth over 100 euros a kilogram; according to the French association APAL (Association des Producteurs d’huile essentielle de Lavande AOC de Haute Provence) approximately 50,000 acres of land is cultivated for lavender, with 2000 producers and 120 distilleries. The lavender industry provides 25,000 related jobs that include a tourist industry comprising thousands of visitors to the south of France who come for the panoramic views of the lavender fields in bloom. Draconian regulations and a blight; the potential impact to the region could be incalculable.

lavender fields

Revered for its perfume and therapeutic qualities, lavender has a powerful place in history thanks to its healing and aromatic properties; it is a versatile oil that blends well with almost any other essence. Kurt Schnaubelt noted that the French lavenders are characterized by a high ester content (i), esteemed by perfumers worldwide. Therapeutically lavender has been found to have a marked sedative activity (ii), and the true or ‘fine’ lavender grown from seed, the Lavandula Angustifolia P. Miller that APAL protects so rigorously, is calming and balancing. Recommended for respiratory ailments, asthma, spasmodic cough, influenza, bronchitis, tuberculosis and pneumonia (iii), lavender is often used directly on the skin to treat anything from cuts and scrapes to insect bites and burns. This was famously demonstrated by Gattefossé after an explosion in his laboratory resulted in burns that became infected. Applying lavender oil to his burns Gattefossé was astounded at the antiseptic and healing properties of the essence.

In France the seriousness and scale of lavender essential oil production, and the use of oils in the therapeutic and perfume industries in general is tangible. In the last three years Bulgaria has overtaken France in its production of lavender oil and as the challenges besetting French lavender growers have intensified and production has exponentially decreased, Bulgaria has profited, although ultimately the EU regulations will affect Bulgaria as a member country in the same way. Yet even a Bulgarian producer acknowledges the superiority of true French lavender: ‘At the same time we can’t praise with better quality, though, as French lavender oil remains the standard.’ Only four areas of France produce the highly sought after AOC (now AOP) labelled lavender oils, the departments of Drôme, Vaucluse, Alpes de Haute Provence, and the Hautes Alpes. The AOC designation – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – can only be used for Lavandula Angustifolia and is the standard against which lavender oil is still assessed. The fine or true oil must come from plants grown at a minimum altitude of 800 meters.The product must pass a double series of tests both analytical and olfactory and the individual batches are sampled and examined under anonymity. The standard is high, the tests for quality rigorous.

For our cycling tour of the Vaucluse – the heart of Provence – we opted to stay in the charming town of Sault, situated like so many other villages in the area on a rocky promontory on the Albion plateau. It was an ideal spot for not only the cycle friendly accommodation and scenic roads but for access to the local lavender growers and businesses that make up a large part of the economy of the region. The Albion region is the top producer of lavender, yielding 40% of the country’s production, the majority of which is dedicated to creating perfumes, supplying therapists with high quality oil and manufactures of lavender products with raw materials. A local sign describes the region a little: ‘The landscape here is structured around a large north-south depression from Aurel to Monieux between Mont Ventoux and the plateau of Albion. Villages and towns are strategically built on rocky spurs, offering them good views as well as protection. The scent of lavender, golden fields of cereal crops and flocks of sheep have been part of the lives of Sault inhabitants for several centuries’. Cutters or ‘coupeurs’ of lavender supplied the flowers to the Apothecaries of Carpentras in the 19th century and distilleries were later installed to produce the essence of lavender. Lavandula Angustifolia began to be seriously cultivated at the beginning of the 20th century at the request of the perfumers of nearby Grasse – world capital of perfume production – and by the beginning of the 21st century was established as the centre of fine lavender cultivation. In 2008 lavender growers signed a joint charter with the national Minister of Agriculture dedicated to the sustainable development of lavender, countering the trend towards mass production with its potential side effects of reduced quality and increased pollution.

The scent of lavender even relatively early in the growing season is omnipresent in the area. The day we cycled into Sault was midway into the second week of June and midway through an unexpected heatwave. By early afternoon the temperature had climbed to nearly 40c with no sign of abatement and the feeling of being utterly parched had become the overwhelming sensation. On the climb up the last of what had been many hills that day into town we were happily distracted from our aching limbs and dry throats by the smell of lavender. It was barely in bloom, really only just in the first blush of flowering, but the aroma was tangible. We found this over the entire region; combined with the heat, the quantity of the crop let alone the local shops selling soaps, oils, bouquets and other related products, the fragrant air was imbued with lavender. In the town centre we found delicious lavender ice cream (made using the flowers) at a local crêperie that we fell on with the desperation that only the overheated can appreciate; the weekly market sold bulk lavender and we were presented with a bar of lavender soap by our hotel patrons on our departure.We reciprocated with a local lavender infused honey found at a farm stand by the side of the road the day we rode back from a monumental climb up nearby Mont Ventoux.

lavender ice cream

Leaning over one of the walls overlooking the valley below Sault, it becomes quickly apparent the entire area is filled with lavender fields, interspersed with pockets of spelt, photogenically arranged in opposing directions and angles. The more popular routes to Mont Ventoux and into the surrounding countryside were well marked with signs for following a lavender trail. We were lucky one day to choose a quieter road in the quest for a few hours of relaxed riding with a good meal at the midpoint. We circled around the valley and back up into the hills to a high point over the plateau to earn our delicious ‘cyclists lunch’ (meaning substantial and reasonable) at a local restaurant. A wonderfully scenic route past fields on tree shaded roads led us to stumble across a gem of a local lavender farm. In the village of Ferrassières in the adjoining Drôme department we met a farmer called Natalie who was putting together bunches of lavender flowers to sell at local markets. Sacks of lavender flowers were stacked against the walls of her shed, and from her shop I bought a bottle of oil that had been distilled from the previous years crop. Answering the question I’d posed in broken French, she nodded that ‘oui’ the oil was the fine lavender, or true lavender found at higher altitudes in Provence, the angustifolia family that is considered the ‘nobler’ plant. On arriving back in Canada I opened up the coveted bottle of lavender oil and it smelt wonderful; subtle and rich, not overpowering, fully meeting the high expectations I had for a true French lavender.

As our holiday in France was to end with a couple of days in Paris, it made sense to visit the Fragonard Museum – the Fragonard perfumery is one of the oldest perfumeries in Grasse – to sample some of the end results of the work in Provence, and to place in historical context the growers and producers of plants and their essences in the region. The museum is small, private and no cameras are allowed inside, but it gives a fascinating insight into the story of perfumery. Numbered vials of solid perfumes tempt you to test your smell perception to detect more unusual scents: strawberries, pineapple, sandalwood or perhaps sweet pea. Lavender, rose, jasmine, orange blossom and mimosa are just a few of the flowers supplied by Grasse and its surrounding areas for perfume making, the art of cultivation culminating in the exquisite art of perfumery.

Fragonard museum

There is perhaps some hope on the horizon for the lavender producers of Provence. A collaborative three-pronged effort is underway between the local growers cooperative France Lavande, a French fragrant plants research organization (CRIEPPAM) and Givaudan, a major company in the fragrance and flavour industry. Givaudan is financing the supply of healthy lavender plants from CRIEPPAM to the cooperative members in the hope that the decimation of lavender plants can be mitigated and production increased. At the time of writing there is no further news on the EU regulations, although there has been vigorous opposition to the proposed rulings and concerns aired in discussions with EU officials. An online petition challenging the regulations had at last count garnered 22,429 signatures. The hope remains that lavender can perhaps be designated as an agricultural product and thus bypass the complexities of chemical classification.

Exploring what remains at present, despite the struggles, a dynamic and thriving region on exquisite country roads made riding a delight and an ideal way to experience first hand the artisanal lavender farms and the scenic surrounds at a pace that allows full appreciation of the area. As it was France we of course felt obliged to indulge our gustratory senses (sublime cherry clafoutis anyone?!) whilst learning more about an exceptional plant and the commitment of the people who grow it to achieve the highest quality possible. There is great pride in lavender, the economic support it provides and the identity that comes with this beautiful blue flower. Hope that this way of life continues is tinged with disbelief at the thought that lavender might one day disappear from the horizon. Lavender is, after all, the soul of Provence.

* It should be noted that whilst the belief is essential oils should not be classified as ‘chemicals’ and are wonderful substances to have in your home, they are highly concentrated products and should be treated with respect. Keep out of the reach of children and pets, do not ingest, do not use undiluted and use as directed on the label or by a qualified practitioner.


(i) Advanced Aromatherapy, Kurt Schnaubelt (1995)
(ii) Essential Oil Safety, A Guide for Health Care Professionals. Robert Tisserand, Tony Balacs (1995)
(iii) Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, Shirley Price, Len Price (second edition, 1999)


France Lavande
CTV News, Canada
The Guardian, UK
BHP Radio Bulgaria

© On A Small Blue Planet by Amanda 2016

The Sweet Smell of Lavender

In the summer of 2014 we undertook a great cycle tour (my first) of France, which I described in a couple of posts, A Nightingale Sang and The Joy of Eating. As an aromatherapist essential oils are a crucial part of my work, and being a big fan of lavender we of course had to take in the some of the lavender routes in Provence, which I talked about a bit in The Fragrant Road. I’ve been doing a little research recently about lavender, writing an article for my aromatherapy association newsletter which I hope to post a link to once it’s published (or post online in full on this blog) with more details of the serious issues facing lavender production in Provence. I hadn’t realized it at the time of our holiday, but the plant is under serious threat, a bacteria is attacking the lavender crops and EU regulations are looming on the horizon wherein the oil (and other essential oils) could be labelled as chemical toxins, something that could inhibit the general public from feeling confident about using these lovely essences*. A bacteria and draconian regulations could seriously affect the economy of Provence – a tragic development given the long history of lavender in the region.

As I looked deeper into these issues I stumbled across some real attempts to a) salvage the crops from the devastating blight and b) fight the EU regulations and perhaps have lavender oil classified as an agricultural product, so avoiding the chemical designation. And the French Institute  CRIEPPAM – Regional Center for Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Research – has combined forces with a German perfumery company, Symrise, to introduce a new harvesting machine that removes only the flowers of the lavender plants, excluding the stems, resulting in a fresher more modern scent at the same time as reducing the environmental footprint of harvesting. Some people tend to think that lavender can smell a bit ‘old-fashioned’ – depends how you use it I think. A true lavender is gorgeous, and when added to a blend can impart a rich, subtle and balanced aroma.

Lavender oil is probably one of most well-known of essential oils, but if you haven’t tried it the ‘true’ therapeutic lavender, Lavandula Angustifolia, is a fantastic oil to have in your arsenal of helpful essences. I’ve used it (diluted) for bites, stings, burns (sunburn and otherwise), spots, massages, in a facial oil, in the bath and to smooth and give body to oil blends. It’s healing, hypotensive, relaxing and calming. Not bad for one little herb.


* It should be noted that whilst the belief is essential oils should not be classified as ‘chemicals’ and are wonderful substances to have in your home, they are highly concentrated products and should be treated with respect. Keep out of the reach of children and pets, do not ingest, do not use undiluted and use as directed on the label or by a qualified practitioner.

Celebrating Rain

It’s been a fantastic summer here in Vancouver, but with a big price to pay. Drought, wildfires, plant life stressed from the endless sun and heat. None of us have been used to it in this region. It’s made camping easy – no rain gear to worry about – and choosing to jump on the bike very easy, except for when it got too hot. But I’m very, very happy to see the rain; to bundle up in a little extra clothing and to smell the rain dampened air. A quick and easy ride to access from the city is Rice Lake Road up at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. On a drizzly Tuesday last week it was almost devoid of human life, a few branches scattered around from the wild windstorm that had swept in over the area during the week-end (the LSCR had dodged most of that bullet). It was a typically cloudy and misty day à la BC.


Photo by Scott

Nairn Falls Provincial Park is a great campground just off the main road between Whistler and Pemberton. One night was all that was needed. A campfire allowed again after a long ban and a prime view over Green River (we didn’t walk to the Falls, too busy struggling to put up a tarp in the wind. In the end the wind won, the tarp ripped right down the middle. We just put up the tent and hoped it would keep the rain out, which it did). Damp, mulchy foresty goodness. We were sitting having a glass of wine when a chipmunk ran up with a pine cone the same size as him. I guess his view was obscured by the cone and he hadn’t seen us. Skidding to a halt he did a quick duck off to the side and ran behind a tree. We heard mad chattering early the next morning outside the tent so perhaps he was still a bit peeved at us….


Photo by Scott


Green River