A lavender farm turns the Golan purple
Color trends can be something you are not even aware of. They slowly seep into your world until they appear in your food, clothing, home decor, and more.
Purple has been a presence in recent years and will peak when Lavender Cream becomes Pantone’s color of the year for 2023.
This soft hue represents wellness, self-care and digital escapism, according to Pantone – the authority behind global color trends used by designers and product developers.
In Israel it is Golan Heights is the place to indulge in all things lavender.
Head north from the Sea of Galilee and you will arrive Moshav Kanafwhere the purple fields look like they have been lifted from Provence.
While sitting on the cafe terrace Azizo lavender farmtry lavender-infused cappuccinos, shortbread cookies and ice cream or be more adventurous with a slice of pizza topped with dried lavender.
And don’t forget to breathe in the heavenly, slightly medicinal scent that fills the air.
A dream on hold
Azizo, founded by Lilach Assraf and her husband Dan, has grown into a 60 dunam (14.8 acre) lavender farm over the last 10 years.
However, their association with lavender began in 1985 when the young couple from Petah Tikva and a group of friends decided to settle in the lower region of the Golan Heights.
“We wanted to make a living from farming. The Jewish Agency adviser who was with us asked what we thought we should plant, and most of the group said plums or pears, since the area is known for growing fruit,” recalls Lilach, whose name is the Hebrew word for “lilac”.
“But he had just returned from Provence and enthusiastically advised us to grow lavender. He had seen how successful it was over there and figured our sunny climate would also provide the same conditions for lavender to thrive.”
Unfortunately, the weather could not be relied on, especially for a crop that needs full sun and well-drained soil. The following year, Lilach recounts, was unusually rainy and cold, followed by six years of extremely dry conditions. Ultimately, the project never got off the ground.
Despite this, the Assrafs chose to base their lives on Moshav Kanaf with its panoramic views over the Sea of Galilee.
Lilach worked as a manager in an optometrist and Dan worked in security for the local government.
Then, 10 years ago, they felt the “vision and dream” of cultivating lavender reappearing and decided to plant five dunams (1.2 acres) this time under the guidance of Prof. Nativ Dudai, Head of the Department of Medicinal and aromatic plants to grow Newe-Ya’ar Agricultural Research Center.
The couple also traveled to Provence and other countries with a long history of lavender cultivation. They found their connection with Bulgaria most productive.
“Bulgaria is world famous for its roses, but they are equally specialized in the distillation of lavender. We bought all our stills from there,” Lilach tells ISRAEL21c.
King of essential oils
That Lavender Grosso Species they have chosen for breeding is a hybrid developed in France.
The name means ‘fat lavender’ as this variety has unusually large and deep purple flower spikes and retains its color and scent even after drying. It also attracts bees and butterflies.
“It grows everywhere in Provence,” says Dudai. “It was also chosen because it has the highest yield of enteric oils and is therefore the most profitable to grow.”
Lavender oil has a long list of uses, which is why Lilach calls it the “king of essential oils.”
It has proven antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help heal minor burns and insect bites, and is useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Lavender oil is commonly used in aromatherapy and various topical products like massage oils and lotions.
Lavender water, created from steam when the oil separates from the water in the distillation process, is also used as an ingredient in soaps, creams, and fragrances.
Only in the last five years have the Assrafs been able to give up their daily jobs and devote themselves fully to the Azizo, named after the sixth-century Dir Aziz synagogue excavated nearby.
In addition to earning income from the sale of enteric-coated oils to various industries, the farm is also a successful agritourism business, attracting visitors year-round for guided tours, its café, and gift shop.
The store is a riot of purple hues with items like lavender aromatherapy oil, cosmetics, chocolates, jams, liquors, dried lavender sachets, and lavender honey from Azizo’s own beehives.
The Azizo model of agritourism and the yield of high-quality enteric-coated lavender oil are the key to commercial success for Dudai. His plan, he tells ISRAEL21c, is to create several lavender farms in the region that will create a route similar to what Napa Valley has done with wineries.
“From May to the end of July, people will come to see the flowering fields at their peak. Then it’s the harvest time and the distillation process that is also interesting to learn about and see first hand. My vision is to see the Golan Heights painted purple,” he says.