About Essential Oils

Lavender Oil

Oil-producing lavender plants

Lavandula, commonly known as ‘lavender’, is made up of a whopping 50 known species. The two main species that produce lavender oil are lavandula angustifolia (also called English or true lavender), and lavandula x intermedia (called ‘lavandin’ for short). A few other species, such as French lavender or Toothed lavender, are said to sometimes produce much smaller quantities of oil, too.

Within each of the species, there are many varieties. Lavender farmers around the world are in constant discussion about which species and which variety produces the best, highest-quality lavender oil. At Jersey Lavender, we grow five varieties of the lavandula angustifolia species, and one variety of the lavandin species.

Although the oil of lavandula angustifolia (which we’ll call ‘true lavender’ from now on) is more highly sought after and expensive than lavandin, far more lavandin oil is produced worldwide. This is because lavandin has a much higher oil yield and, of course, because there’s more oil to sell, it means farmers can make more money per field. What’s more, the demand for lavandin oil is much greater because it’s used commercially in cheaper, higher-volume fragrances, including those in laundry detergents and soaps. True lavender oil, on the other hand, is used in more expensive, lower-volume fragrances for perfumes, cosmetics and high-quality bath products (including our own!)

What’s the different between true lavender oil and lavandin oils?

If you compare the two smells, it’s quite easy to tell the difference. There are up to 120 different chemicals in the two oils and, while many of them are similar, there is one chemical that sticks out: camphor. It has a harsh, strong fragrance, almost like the cold remedies that you rub on your chest. In true lavender, the camphor content is between 0-0.6%. However, in lavandin, it’s between 6-8%. It’s a significant difference, right?

Within each species of lavender, there are so many varieties. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the oils in each variety are different, too. The ‘best’ oil is a matter of opinion, but it’s a good idea to smell them for yourself and see which one you prefer. Each variety produces different chemical components, which lead to varying odours and strengths. Of course, there are other variations in the oils that come about because of the plant’s life itself. Variables including soil type, nutrition, temperature, age of plant, time of harvesting, sunlight and water intake all play a part in making the plant, and therefore the oil, unique.

Is it worldwide?

Most lavender species used for oil production are indigenous to the Mediterranean region. Provence in the south of France is often referred to as the ‘home’ of lavender oil production. But it’s definitely a worldwide movement, with farms producing lavender oil also found in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the USA, South America, and here, of course, on Jersey Island!

Harvesting

At Jersey Lavender, we closely monitor the plants and when we reach the middle of June, it’s usually time to harvest our earliest-flowering variety of true lavender, called No.9.

We harvest by laying fine-mesh nets either side of each lavender row, and we cut the flower stems off with electric hedge trimmers. The lavender conveniently falls onto the nets, which we then bundle up and put in our trailer. On larger, commercial farms, tractor-mounted or specialist harvesters are used, but we find our way of doing things to be the most fulfilling, hands-on way of harvesting our wonderful lavender!

Once it’s on the trailer, we take the lavender into our distillery where it’s loaded into steam stills. The harvesting of the true lavender is usually completed by the end of July, and we can then move onto the later-flowering lavandin, which is complete nearer the end of August. Good things come to those who wait!

The distillation process

All of our lavender is distilled from plants that grow on the farm, and the distillation process itself hasn’t changed for many centuries! At the peak of the harvest, we complete around four to five distillations per day in our two trusty stills. Our biggest still will hold around 85kg of fresh lavender, and takes about an hour and a half to distil the oil.

The lavender is packed into a steel mesh basket and weighed, then winched into the stainless steel still. We bolt down the lid, then introduce pressurised steam into the bottom of the still – this steam comes from our oil-fired boiler. At 100°C, the steam is extremely hot, and it rapidly rises into the lavender, heating it up.

As we discussed earlier, there are lots of chemical components that make up the lavender oil. The oil itself is stored in tiny vesicles along the sides of each flower bud, and the chemicals within the oil have a boiling point which is less than the temperature of the steam. So, when it’s subjected to the steam, the chemical components boil and turn to a vapour.

The vapour rises with the steam into the top of the still, and passes through a short pipe into a water-cooled condenser. In this condenser, the vapour is cooled back into water and tiny lavender oil droplets. This mixture then flows into a special glass flask. The flask lets the liquid to settle and separate out into a water layer and a lavender oil layer. The oil floats on the top as a beautiful, golden-coloured layer. The oil is carefully drawn off and stored away.

Storage and maturing

If they’re not stored properly, plant oils can deteriorate rapidly because of chemical reactions. The two main enemies are water and oxygen in the presence of heat and light. So, to avoid this, we mix a drying agent into our oil which absorbs the moisture, and then the oil is filtered and weighed out into large glass bottles. The bottles are filled to the brim to minimise air pockets, and the lid is tightly sealed, which stops air getting in and prevents the oil evaporating. To further minimise any reactions, the containers we use are made from darkened glass. Once they’re filled and secured, they are stored in a cool cupboard.

Immediately after distillation, the lavender oil has a rather ‘rough’ odour to it, which some people describe as an intense, sharp hay smell. We’ll be honest… it’s not very pleasant. But, after the oil has matured for around six months, it starts to bloom into its full, fragranced glory. We continue to store the oil until it’s needed, so it generally sits in our cool cupboard for one to two years after distillation.

Top Uses of Lavender Oil

Lavender and its oil has been used for hundreds of years. In fact, it’s thought that it was originally used around 2,500 years ago! The Greeks used it for curing insomnia and back aches; the Romans used it in soaps, for bathing and for cooking; and the Victorians opted to use it to disinfect and freshen up any lingering smells at home.

Even today, this wonderful oil is highly beneficial in the medicinal and therapeutic field. It is calming, antibacterial, anti-fungal and even anti-inflammatory. The Greeks really did know their stuff.

Every year at the farm, we meet hundreds of people who use our lavender oil at home and can testify to its many benefits. It has a wider range of uses than any other essential oil and should definitely be in everyone’s medicine cabinet or wash bag. It’s generally safe to use neat, straight out of the bottle, but also works well when mixed with moisturiser creams, massage oils or even your shampoo and conditioner.

Read on for our top ten uses of lavender oil.

1: A relaxant
The soothing, relaxing properties of lavender have earned it the name, ‘Mothering Oil’. Place a few drops onto a handkerchief or into your bath, and it will help to ease away the stress of a busy day, and will aid a good night’s sleep. It will also help keep your skin supple and soft.

2: Headaches
We often reach straight for painkiller tablets when we have a headache, but lavender oil is mildly analgesic. A few neat drops of the oil can be massaged into your temples, and will help stop the pounding in your head.

3: Burns
Whether you’ve spent too long in the sun or you’ve burnt yourself on the oven, lavender oil is an effective anti-inflammatory and can be used to help cool, relieve and heal burns. A few drops applied to the burnt area, or gently rubbed into sunburn, will work wonders, helping to reduce redness and pain. For an even more cooling effect, add a few drops of oil to mineral water and spritz onto your skin.

4: Cuts, grazes and scars
With its powerful wound-healing properties, lavender oil can be used on minor cuts, grazes and scar tissue. Simply dab onto the affected area and massage in. It will help to clean the wound and eliminate bacteria, too.

5: Spots
If you can feel a spot coming up, or you have a cold sore, dab a few drops of lavender oil onto the area. It is antibacterial and anti-fungal, so will help to fight the bacteria and prevent further outbreaks.

6: Stings and bites
Lavender can not only be rubbed onto the skin as an insect repellent, but it can also be used to treat bee or wasp stings, insect bites and nettle stings.

7: External pain and inflammation
Used neat or mixed with a massage oil, lavender oil’s analgesic properties can help relieve aches and pains. Many find that it helps with their arthritic and rheumatic pains.

8: Mouth, gum and throat infections
Mix a few drops of lavender oil with water and gargle for a few seconds. The oil’s antibacterial properties will help rid you of ulcers, a sore throat and other mouth or gum infections.

9: Disinfectant
The antibacterial properties of lavender oil make it the perfect disinfectant for your body and your home. Add a few drops to detergents or water for jobs like cleaning the floor. Alternatively, use the oil in a diffuser to purify the air.

10: Food
Of course, we couldn’t forget to mention just how delicious lavender oil is in many different types of food. Add a few drops your shortbread mix, cupcake batter, biscuit dough or even salad dressings for a twist on a traditional recipe.

Please note that Lavender oil can be – and frequently is – used neat. However, in some individuals, it can cause harm if used inappropriately and indiscriminately. We strongly suggest caution if you don’t have experience of its use. Please read up carefully on the subject or consult a qualified aromatherapist or doctor. An excellent, introductory home-use guide called ‘Aromatherapy’ is available from the Books section of our shop.

 

Lavender FAQs

We’re passionate about lavender, and we enjoy answering your questions about keeping lavender. Read on for some frequently asked lavender questions!

When is the best time to plant lavender?
The hardy lavenders (such as true lavender and lavandin) can be planted at any time, but the best time would be in the spring as the soil temperature starts to rise. Planting in the height of summer is doable, but you do need to ensure that they get enough water until their root system is established.

What do I do with my garden-ready Ppugs when they arrive?
Unpack them promptly and stand them in a saucer of water for a good drink, then plant them out in your desired spot. If you receive the plugs in the winter, we would recommend potting them up and allowing them to grow in a cool, sheltered environment, like an unheated greenhouse. As the weather warms up in the spring, the lavenders can be planted out. Remember not to overwater them.

How long do lavender plants last? 
If you look after them and give them a good yearly prune, your lavender angustifolia and lavandin varieties will last for years. Some of ours in the fields are 24 years old! French lavender is more difficult to keep compact and healthy. These days, French lavenders are often treated as annuals and replaced each year, as many of the newer varieties are not comfortable with our cold winters.

How much water do lavenders need?
Lavenders are drought-tolerant plants so, once they’re established in the garden, they don’t need watering. Potted lavender needs careful watering all through the summer. In the winter, potted lavender will only require minimal watering. Overwatering is the most common mistake, which can lead to root rot and the plant’s demise.

How do I prune lavender?
If you look within the heart of the plant, you should see small shoots on the sides of the stems. You should prune using secateurs or shears, and prune so that these shoots are left below where you cut. The shoots will push out to form the new greenery of the plant. Lavenders like a good haircut – be brave about it! Some people just snip off the old flowering stems but this isn’t enough if you want to avoid your lavender becoming woody and straggly.

When should I prune lavender? 
It depends on the species. True lavender and lavandin should be pruned after they finish flowering, around late July to mid-August. This allows enough time for the plant to recover and push out new shoots before the winter cold sets in. French lavenders grow all summer so they can be cut back in after their first flush of growth in spring.

Can I save an old straggly lavender plant?
It’s definitely worth a go! Try cutting back half the woody stems to about 15cm above the ground in the spring. This may encourage it to produce shoots at ground level. If so, the remaining woody stems can be cut the following year. However, there is a risk that this will not work. These days, most people don’t have the patience for this process and would simply replace an old plant.

Do I need to feed lavender plants? 
Lavenders are not hungry plants and need very little food in open soil. We advise that you don’t use nitrogen-based fertiliser as this encourages weak, sappy growth.

Can I grow lavender from seed?
It’s fun to collect the tiny black seeds from the dried flower heads in late summer to grow your own lavenders, but be aware that English or ‘true’ lavender is sterile and does not produce seed. You may be surprised at the variety of shades of purple that are produced from your seed – this is due to the genetic influence of the other parent of the seed.

Can I buy lavender seeds?
Yes! At Jersey Lavender, we sell a couple of varieties of lavender seeds. However, lavender is not usually grown from seed, but from cuttings. This is because it’s difficult to be sure of the parentage of the seed, and therefore you can’t be sure what the plants produced from it will look like, or how consistent their colours will be. A more reliable way to produce lavender plants is by taking cuttings. The cuttings will produce cloned plants that are genetically identical to the parent, and will, therefore, look the same as the parent.

Can I take cuttings easily?
Yes, cuttings are easy to take. At Jersey Lavender, we simply take a short, 5cm green shoot cutting, gently strip off the lower leaves and put the cutting in moist, sandy soil. We do not use hormone powder. It is vital that the soil is kept moist at all times. A constant gentle bottom heat helps the cuttings root. With true lavender and lavandin, we have a near 100% success rate! With French lavenders, our success rate is much lower.

Can you grow lavender in pots?
Yes, lavenders work well in pots with good drainage. We pot up lavender in a mixture of two parts multipurpose compost to one part grit. Some slow-release fertiliser would help as well. Lavenders in pots need careful watering – it’s better to give the plant a really good water and then wait until the soil becomes dry before watering again. Avoid watering every day like you might for hanging baskets. Equally, although drought tolerant, there is a high risk of the plant drying out completely in a pot – particularly if the pot is porous terracotta. Therefore, keep a close eye on your plant.

Can you grow lavender in clay soil?
Lavender prefers a free-draining, alkaline to neutral soil rather than a heavy, acidic soil. Clay is acidic and isn’t often free-draining. You will struggle to grow lavender in clay unless you thoroughly combine lots of organic matter and grit to improve the soil structure and drainage, and add lime to reduce the acidity. If you have clay soil, try planting lavender in raised beds which will help keep their roots drier. Failing that, try growing lavender in pots.

Does lavender suffer from any pests or diseases?
Not really. It’s a remarkably tough and problem-free plant. The Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana) is a relatively new introduction to the UK and can potentially cause problems with lavender. Spittle bugs (Cercopidae) are often found on lavenders in early summer and, although the frothy blobs can look unsightly, they cause no significant damage. Simply remove them by wiping them off or spraying them with soapy water. Rabbits can cause damage to young plants by digging down and eating roots, so we use electric fencing to protect young lavenders from potential nibbles! The most serious disease is the Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV), which causes yellow patches to develop on the lavender, but this is rare.

Rosemary Oil

Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb, which, like lavender, has been used for centuries for a wide range of physical and physiological conditions. Historically, it has mainly been associated with the strengthening of the memory, but was even used by Victorian ladies in their shampoo.

Read on for our top five uses of our Jersey-grown and distilled Rosemary Oil.

1: Stimulant
Rosemary oil is a very effective physical and mental stimulant. Herbalists have traditionally used it to revitalise the circulatory and nervous systems, which, in turn, improves memory and energy levels. Adding a few drops to your shower gel or dispersing a few drops in your bath can help to lift your spirits and cure feelings of sluggishness and lethargy.

2: Decongestant
Carefully pour just-boiled water into a large bowl and add a few drops of rosemary oil. Gently lean your head over the bowl and inhale the rosemary-infused steam. This will help clear bronchial and nasal congestion, tiredness and headaches. For a more powerful decongestant experience, place a tea towel over your head and the bowl to encapsulate the steam.

3: Stiffness and muscle pain
Added to moisturiser cream or lotions and massaged onto the affected area, rosemary oil will relax muscles and improve stiffness.

4: Defence against infections
Rosemary oil is an effective antiseptic and recent research has shown that it has strong antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Therefore, it can help to protect your body and skin from infections.

5: A tonic
Think of rosemary oil as the tonic to your gin. It can be added to shampoo, conditioner, shower gels, massage oils… almost anything! It will improve hair growth, combat excessive oil production, eliminate dandruff, and even tone your skin. Gin and tonic definitely doesn’t do all of that!

Please note that Lavender oil can be – and frequently is – used neat. However, in some individuals, it can cause harm if used inappropriately and indiscriminately. We strongly suggest caution if you don’t have experience of its use. Please read up carefully on the subject or consult a qualified aromatherapist or doctor. An excellent, introductory home-use guide called ‘Aromatherapy’ is available from the Books section of our shop.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus originates from Australia where it has been distilled since the mid-1800s. Research on the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of the oil was first published in the 1870s. Historically, it has been prescribed for respiratory system conditions such as bronchitis, flu, asthma and coughs.

Read on for our top four uses of our Jersey-grown and distilled Eucalyptus oil.

1: Antiseptic remedy
Eucalyptus oil is an effective remedy for colds, flu, coughs, bronchitis, sinusitis and catarrh. Add a few drops of the pure oil to a bowl of hot water, and inhale the vapours for a few minutes. Alternatively, if you need relief on-the-go, put a couple of drops on a handkerchief and inhale the scent.

2: Chest rub
Mix together 10ml of massage oil and six drops of eucalyptus oil, then apply to your chest before bed time. This will relieve congestion and cold symptoms.

3: Muscle and joint rub
Eucalyptus is regularly used to relieve rheumatic and muscular pains, and even the effects of poor circulation. Use the same chest rub mixture described above to rub into the painful area. You could even add a few drops of rosemary oil, too.

4: General antiseptic
The strong antiseptic effects of eucalyptus make it a powerful aid in treating burns, blisters, insect bites, cuts and wounds. It will help them heal without infection. To make an antiseptic spray, mix together 10 drops of eucalyptus oil and 80ml of water.

Please note that Lavender oil can be – and frequently is – used neat. However, in some individuals, it can cause harm if used inappropriately and indiscriminately. We strongly suggest caution if you don’t have experience of its use. Please read up carefully on the subject or consult a qualified aromatherapist or doctor. An excellent, introductory home-use guide called ‘Aromatherapy’ is available from the Books section of our shop.