If you were under the impression that all lavenders are the same, you are not alone... But there are actually 39 species and over 400 different cultivars of lavender in the world!
So is there really one "true" lavender? Often the smell of this herb is associated with a grandmother's closet, a purple bar of soap, or with the relaxing aroma drifting out of a diffuser. And no matter the variety, pure lavender essential oil is beneficial for easing the itch of an insect bite, soothing a bee sting or burn, and relieving the discomfort of a headache. Yet just like most things in nature, no two lavender varieties are identical, and the same goes for the aroma of their essential oil.
On our farm, we grow over 60 varieties of lavender from three species - Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula x. intermedia and Lavandula x. chaytorae - that we harvest, dry, distill and transform by hand into our products. But when it comes to essential oil distillation, it's the L. angustifolia and the L. x. intermedia plants that are our tried and true.
L. angustifolia are the first lavenders to bloom, throwing their beautiful blush towards the end of June. They have shorter stems and are self-propagating, meaning the seeds they lose at the end of their bloom will start new lavenders near the mother plant. These plants are often called "true" lavender or "fine" lavender, and the cultivars are derived from plants indigenous to the regions of southern France. Their essential oil is also very soft, sweet and floral, which makes it an exceptional choice for aromatherapy, perfumery, and flavouring an array of culinary delights!
Our "Maillette" essential oil, with notes of citrus and bubblegum, has been used for years to flavour our gelato and other local ice creams around town. In comparison, our "Royal Velvet" oil has a warm, rounded aroma with hints of mango, earning it first place in 2019 and third place in 2020 in the Australian Olfactory Oil Competition. Also in that 2020 competition was our "English" oil which placed second - though its yield when distilled is very low, the oil itself is exquisitely delicate and beautifully suited for perfume.
The magical thing about distillation is that we have the ability to capture unique and distinctive aromas from a fleeting bloom. And just as a winemaker combines the juice from different grapes to create a red or white blend, so too do we blend our individual oils to create a scent that is attractive to many people and preferences. In 2017, our proprietary blend of "English" and "Royal Velvet" earned first place in the Australian Olfactory Oil Competition, and the two blends we entered in 2020 both received awards of merit.
Lavandula x. intermedia
L. x. intermedia plants, or lavandins, are the later bloomers on our farm, around mid-July, and are large specimens with long stems. An interesting fact about this particular species is that it is a sterile hybrid, created from the naturally occurring cross-pollination of L. angustifolia and L. latifolia lavenders. This cross-pollination can also take place in a greenhouse by a breeder who is looking to capture certain properties from the different plants, such as higher essential oil production, lower camphor or stronger disease resistance.
The essential oil from these plants is produced in a greater volume and lower grade than the L. angustifolia lavenders, and the aroma is much stronger, making it a wonderful choice for diffusers, bath products and cleaning products.
Our "Grosso" essential oil is often preferred by customers for its "classic" lavender aroma and its characteristic scent of camphor (a natural, strong-smelling component of lavandins). Our L. x. intermedia blend is achieved by combining cultivars within that species to create an oil that has softer notes to balance the intensity.
What is pure essential oil?
When you harvest your plant material, place it into your still and run a batch, your yield will be two-fold. You will receive a small amount of the 'essence' or oil from the plant and a fairly substantial amount of the water component known as hydrosol, hydrolat or floral water.
How do you know if you have a pure essential oil, or one that has been adulterated? If you place a drop of pure essential oil on a paper, it will initially leave a wet mark and then when the paper dries, it will not be noticeable. Sometimes a pure essential oil is been 'extended' by blending it with a carrier oil to reduce costs. If you place a drop of this type of oil onto a piece of paper, when it dries, you will still see a mark left from the carrier oil. This type of oil will also have more 'glide' when you rub it between your fingers while a pure essential oil will leave a 'resistant' sensation when you rub your fingers together.