Graveson: Musée des Arômes et du Parfum

Ester Laushway (May 2005)

The Perfumed Garden Twelve years have passed since the Fragrance and Perfume Museum of Graveson, well-known for its exceptional collection of copper stills, antique perfume flasks, and other artefacts of the perfume trade, planted a small experimental garden of Provençal herbs, called “Le Carré des Simples”. It was modelled after a medieval monastery garden, where medicinal herbs were grown in small quantities, for use in the monks’ pharmacy. It blossomed into an aromatic tribute to the past identity of the museum, which is housed in the former wine cellars of an abbey.

From its ‘simple’ beginnings, the garden has expanded into a much more ambitious experimental nursery for new essential oils and aromatic waters, destined for use in aromatherapy products. The museum, it turns out, is not merely a historic showcase of the perfume maker’s art. It is also the attractive storefront for an aromatherapy company called Vie’Arôme, directed by Nelly Grosjean, a business-wise lady who founded both the company and the museum. The aromatherapy counter at the museum sells her natural products, naturally, as well as the half dozen books that she has written on the benefits of plant essences.

The garden now grows aromatic plants according to strict organic standards in quantities that monks never dreamt of. They are distilled in Upper Provence and then purified, blended and packaged in the laboratory located on the museum grounds. Some plants, such as camomile, for example, contain very little or no essential oils, but can still have their sap distilled to produce aromatic waters. Camomile water is apparently excellent for treating headaches, digestive problems, nervous disorders and what is delicately known as feminine complaints.

Most herbal essences, whether oil or water-based, have an amazing range of supposed virtues. Lavender, which turns the higher reaches of Provence into seas of deep purple in July, produces a powerfully fragrant oil that is virtually good for anything and everything, from treating skin rashes, insect bites and sunburn, to curing rheumatism, bronchitis, migraines, insomnia and asthma.

A little word of warning, before you set up a still in your backyard. Just because they are totally natural does not mean that all herbal essences can only do you good. Quite a few can be dangerous, if not downright deadly, if taken in the wrong amount. Anyone who has read murder mysteries will know that digitalis, produced from foxgloves, is equally efficient at treating heart disorders or killing off undesirable relatives. It all depends on the dosage. Less dramatic but still impressive is a herb like wormwood. Its essential oil, true to its name, is deadly to worms, excellent for the kidneys and reduces fever. Used in absinthe, however, and imbibed too freely, it can cause hallucinations and heart damage. So it is wiser to leave distillation to the experts and simply inhale the colours and fragrances of this perfumed garden. No visible side effect have ever been documented from taking a whiff of savoury (also known as the Viagra of Provence).

Petite route du Grès: Tel : 04 90 95 81 72 : Open 365 Days a Year, from 10:00 – noon and 14:00 – 18:00hrs: Entrance fee: 4€.

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