About Lavender Oil

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The genus Lavandula, commonly known as Lavender, originated in the mountains of the Mediterranean region, including much of Persia and the Indian subcontinent, and from there spread throughout all of Europe. In the 13th and 14th centuries Lavender was cultivated extensively in the gardens of monasteries for its visual appeal, but also its aromatic properties. Today, it is grown and distilled around the globe – in France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, India, Bulgaria, Australia, New Zealand and the US – for use in a seemingly unlimited scope of applications.

By the early 1800s, the first traditional distillers of ‘true’ Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil were French sheep farmers. These shepherds, intimate with the countryside, knew that the hills and valleys of Provence were populated by many aromatic herbs widely used all over Europe. Former sheep farms and whole shepherding communities were transformed into distilleries and Lavender cooperatives even before the actual cultivation of Lavender was practiced. At that time, the perfume industry employed the primitive and exceedingly laborious method of enfleurage extraction by placing certain fresh flowers (e.g., tuberose, jasmine) on purified animal fat to produce highly aromatic materials known as pommades; a second method subjected botanicals to simple solvents like hexane that yielded intensely concentrated concrètes and absolutes.

The first low temperature, low pressure alembic stills used for the production of perfumery oils and floral extracts were imported into France at the beginning of the 19th century, only gaining popularity by around 1840. At the time, demand grew sharply as did further advances in distillation technology. Perfumers, shrewd businessmen in their own right, found the price of Lavender too high as a manufacturing raw material and soon turned to the more camphoraceous but higher yielding Spike Lavender (Lavandula spica or L. latifolia) essential oil as a lower priced alternative. In the Provence region, Spike Lavender grows wild at higher altitudes and blooms slightly later than the angustifolia species, however it lacks the fragrance complexity and softness that is the signature of true Lavender. Even as vast hectares of ‘population’/aka wild Lavender spread to purple the sunny yellow and green slopes of the majestic Vaucluse valley, the plants and the new found fortunes of shepherds-turned-distillers were losing value. Eventually, even higher yielding varieties of Lavender were discovered in select areas that turned out to be hybrids of true Lavender crossed with Spike Lavender – via cross-pollination attributed to bees – creating at least a dozen hybrids, or Lavandins.

In 1930, a pharmacist by the name of M. Abrial found an extraordinary plant – one of these hybrids – that he cloned and named Lavandin abrialis. While approximately 400 pounds of Lavandula angustifolia yielded 80 gallons of hydrosol and a little more than a quart of essential oil – depending on the age of the plant and the exact species used – the L. abrialis hybrid produced between 6-8 times the yield of either Spike or true Lavender and became the most prolific variety grown and distilled from 1930-1985. In 1942, the first double-walled alembic fitted with steam engines and strong marine steel was designed and built in an effort to facilitate the production of more oil to meet the demand, but it had some compromises. Although some of the innovations were ultimately useful, it was the older alembics that continued to yield the highest quality oils, resulting in two price ranges: the newer stills produced high-yielding Lavandin oils on the lower end, and traditional alembic distillations of true Lavender and Spike Lavender oils at a premium.

In the perfumer’s hands, Lavender holds special reverence. There is an entire family of perfumes based on the Lavender note – fougère – that takes its characteristics from the contrast between herbaceous Lavender and the bitter-sweet notes of coumarin and Oakmoss. Solvent extraction yields a dark green Lavender Absolute with a sweet velvety smoothness used almost exclusively in fougères, but is also creatively applied in amber, floral and chypre types, citrus colognes and more, whereas the essential oil has applications not only in perfumery, but in everything from aromatherapy and cosmetics to air fresheners and laundry soaps.

The history of Lavender essential oil and all of these details are provided not to overwhelm or confuse, but to outline what exactly determines quality, describe some of the ways inferior oils reach the marketplace, and help explain why we are so selective about the oils we offer.

Click here for more information and to explore our collection of Lavender oils and Lavender hydrosol.


Private communication.

Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils, Vol I, 1948.