Turkey smells of tourism, cash cosmetics with lavender

Lavender fields have flourished across Turkey in recent years thanks to government incentives. Supported by a lavender cultivation project launched by the General Directorate of Forestry (OGM), the fields help create alternative tourist routes while their oil contributes to the Turkish economy.

Native to the Old World and found in Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, lavender also grows in Europe, across North and East Africa, the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia, China and South East India. Having spread all over the world, it is surely one of the easiest plants to find and a key ingredient in aromatherapy.

A genus in the mint flower family, lavender can reach one meter (3.2 feet) in height and is the most common perennial in the Mediterranean region. The plant is primarily cultivated to make lavender essential oil, one of the top 15 most traded vegetable oils in the world. Lavender has 48 subspecies, mostly endemic to the Mediterranean, and only three of them have the highest commercial value. Among them are spike lavender and lavandin, which are grown in Isparta, Afyonkarahisar, Denizli, Konya, Kütahya, Muğla, Eskişehir and Antalya in Turkey.

Although the timing of their flowering can vary depending on climate and soil conditions, the plant usually blooms in July and is harvested that month.

Lavender oil is widely used in the cosmetics sector while its fragrance and its pain-relieving, calming and anti-insomnia properties make it an essential ingredient in soaps and disinfectants. It also serves as a diuretic and relieves the pain of rheumatism. Lavender flowers are also used in tea due to their known sedative effects.

OGM started the project in 2015 to financially support people in forest villages and create new livelihoods. It is also applied in steep and arid lands to diversify agriculture while GMO seeks to curb migration from villages to cities with more jobs in the lavender cultivation sector. The management provides loans to producers, including an interest-free loan of TL 37,000 of which only 80% has to be repaid, with the first installment due three years after the transfer of funds.

The management also grows lavender in its own fields and last year alone it planted over 5 million lavender plants.

Up to 30 kilograms of lavender oil can be extracted from one ton of lavender. Overall, sales of lavender products contribute around 20 million TL to the Turkish economy. Figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) show that total lavender oil exports reached 9.3 tons and $184,000.

Meanwhile, “purple tourism”, as it has been called, attracts more people to lavender fields, from ordinary tourists whose main destinations are vacation spots near towns with lavender fields to those who visit specifically the fields to take selfies and videos, or just stop to smell the flowers. Located in the lake district of the northwestern Mediterranean region, Isparta has become in recent years a prime destination for lavender cultivation and agricultural tourism activities. To see the fields, many tourists travel to the villages of Kuşçular, Kuyucak, Ardıçlı and Aydoğmuş from Türkiye and around the world, with the highest number of visitors in July. Located in the largest lavender producing district of Türkiye, Keçiborlu, Lavender Valley has large fields that reflect the Provencal villages of France. Those who visit the town during the rose harvest can explore the fields and pick beautiful flowers with the locals. They can also visit the factories where the roses are processed.

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Donovan B. Sanford