Sunday, September 27, 2009

Warm climate lavenders

The lavender family of plants is large. There are some that ring the warmer parts of the Mediterranean and go a little further south that don't even look like the lavenders that we think of as typical. They have a variety of names such as Lavandula buchii var. buchii, Lavandula canariensis subsp. canariensis, Lavendula minutolii var. minutolii, Lavandula roundifolia, or Lavandula pinnata var. pinnata. They have heads with multiple spikes, they don't smell particularly nice, although they do put out a strong odor. It might be that the smell is what helps them survive, nothing wants to eat them. The leaves vary, but in general tend to have a ferny look to them. They are tender, in our northern area we can grow them as annuals, but not perennials - or you can put them in a pot and bring them inside during the winter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Distilling Lavender Essential Oil

When you get a bunch of lavender growers in a room and ask them about distilling you get as many passionate descriptions about the only way to distill as you have people in the room. At the International Lavender Conference in Cambridge earlier this month there were people from world famous lavender farms as well as much smaller entities, like ours. Henry Head, from Norfolk Lavender, showed off his distilling system that has been in use since 1933.

For those who are debating the issue of whether copper or stainless is the best, the vats are lined with copper. They are clearly very old and well used after having distilled their world class oil for over 75 years. Hanging is a top to one of the pots and a pusher that compacts the lavender in the pot. To Henry's left on the floor is the separator.

To get the lavender to the distilling room he showed us the harvester they have developed. The front part scoops up and cuts the lavender and it goes into the green bin behind. The unit is attached to a tractor, I believe, and harvesting goes quite quickly. Norfolk Lavender produces primarily an oil out of angustifolia lavenders, I don't think they do much with the hybrids (lavandins), but if you know differently, please comment to correct.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day Four International Lavender Conference

What a great day at Norfolk Lavender. Henry Head, who spent the last 30 years building it up into a world class venue for lavender, lavender distilled oils, and lavender gardens, put together a fascinating day of tours and information sharing sessions. He brought in the perfumer he uses to create the scents for Norfolk Lavender products. I have to say, getting my nose to be able to smell the subtleties of the oils is difficult. Maybe after 30 more years of sniffing I'll get there.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Day Three Lavender Conference

Presentations today focused on using lavender essential oils for health care, both physical and mental. It was an amazing collection of information and case studies - much more research is needed, of course, but let's just say that there are certainly reasons to do the research because the potential for significant healing seems to be there.

The afternoon was spent with Dr. Noel Porter who trains people on how to use the nose to evaluate and identify aspects of lavender essential oil. He had kits set up with many constituents of the essential oil of lavender so we could learn to smell the different parts. Then we were tasked to identify them in a complete lavender oil. This was really tough!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Day Two Lavender Conference

This, after all, a first rate university, here at Cambridge, and the scholarly presentations are quite good. We haven't had much in the way of practical exchanges, but the scientific papers give a lot of food for thought. For instance Timothy Haig presented on his research on how to use lavender extract to suppress weeds. In his case he was trying to rid wheat fields of annual rye. That was somewhat amusing to me because this year we planted annual rye to reduce weeds between rows of lavender without having to till. It worked, although we did have to mow between the rows. But he said he made a slurry of ground up lavender leaves and stems and then strained it out and applied it to the weeds. I have to ask him for a bit more information on details - so keep checking to find out more.

I put out our catalogs and brochures and had some of our essential oils out for these world experts to smell and comment on. I've learned a lot about the constituents of the oils, and we have an oil workshop today that should give me lots more information.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Day One Lavender Conference

At Cambridge University about 85 people from all over the world have gathered for the First International Lavender Conference. Tim Upson from Cambridge University Botanical Gardens has organized the conference with the help of Susyn Andrews (co-author of Genus Lavendula). Stacy and I have joined this group for six days of lavender immersion. Already we have learned so much and are inspired.

As you might know, there are many varieties of Lavender in the world. The garden here has some from the remote areas around the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands and more. The Canary Island and other desert lavenders are spectacular in how they look. I think we have started seeing them in the USA, sometimes they are called "Fern Leaf" lavenders.

I'll be posting more as time permits.