Open post
how to distil lavender oil

How to distil Lavender Oil

Today I’m going to distil lavender oil. Last year I followed a lavender oil distillation workshop in the Netherlands. Since then I’ve made orange oil from organic orange peels, mint oil and oregano oil. But no lavender oil yet.

lavender harvest
lavender harvest in the Alpujarras

My own lavender harvest is not yet big enough, but fortunately I still have the harvest of a friend I was allowed to pick in August. In total I have about 2,5 kilos of dried flowers that I can use to distil lavender oil.

The yield exceeded all expectations.

I don’t want to use it all, but that’s no problem because they don’t fit all in my distillery. I have a little one of 12 litres. The idea is to press the plant material firmly into the pan.

how to distil lavender oil
My 12 litres distiller

With a double elevation in the pan – to make the contents even smaller – 680 grams of lavender flowers went in with difficulty. That was much less than I thought. But the yield exceeded all expectations.

I thought it was a lavandin and that is clear from the yield of 7.1% oil.

Essential oil makers handbook

In the essential oil makers handbook of Bettina Malle and Helge Schminckl I read that flowers of lavandula angustfolia have a yield of 2.5 to 3% and lavandin 3 to 5%. The 7.1 is therefore excessively high.

Except for 48,7 grams of lavender oil the 680 grams of dried lavender flowers yielded me about 1,5 liters of hydrolate. About the quality of the oil I can only say that it smells very good. At a later moment I will analyze the harvest of my own lavender. For now the oil is enough to make my own soap and bath salts.

how to distil lavender oil
neary 50 grams of lavender oil and 1,5 liters of hydrolate out of 680 grams of dried flowers

How do you distil lavender oil?

  1. At the bottom of the distillation kettle a sort of sieve is used to separate the plant material from the water. The steam from the boiling water pushes up through the sieve and the plant material, taking the oil from the flowers with it.
  2. Fill the pan with water until just below the sieve. The plant material should not be in the water.
  3. Fill the pan from sieve to lid with lavender flowers, very firmly pressed.
  4. Close the kettle and connect the hoses for cooling.
  5. While the kettle is warming up, keep an eye on the cooling. The cooling water should be lukewarm, but not too hot. I still have to find a way to cool the cooling water without losing water. Now I need to get rid of hot water and add cold water. I need to be able to do this more efficiently.
  6. As soon as the temperature at the top of the kettle rises to about 97 degrees Celsius, hydrolate with oil runs out of the kettle. I prepare a row of well cleaned bottles or glasses and you can clearly see that the first amount contains the most oil. The oil is in a yellow layer on top of the hydrolate.
  7. After about an hour my bottles were gone and I quit. Henk Ploeger of In de koperen ketel says you can go on for two hours, but I was a bit afraid that the water in the kettle was running out. (The amount of water I put in I have to measure the next time.) That fear turned out to be unfounded, there was still enough water in it. But I ran out of bottles and I thought I could smell that the smell of the hydrolate was getting less. So still a good time to stop.
  8. One by one I have put the content of the bottles in the Byzantine vase to separate the oil from the hydrolatum. The oil floats on top of the hydrolate which you can clearly see in this picture.
Byzantine vase to separate the oil from the hydrolatum
Byzantine vase to separate the oil from the hydrolatum

Workshops distilling in Gilze, the Netherlands

Open post
cleaning sheeps wool

Cleaning sheep’s wool that no one wants

Sheep’s wool is a beautiful material, but unfortunately scores poorly on animal friendliness and environment. Just about the only thing you can say positively about the environmental impact is that it doesn’t contain any plastics. Against this background, it’s pretty crazy that the shepherd in my neighbourhood can’t get rid of his wool. He has a shed full of it and nobody wants it.

The waste of wool less than a kilometre away wouldn’t let go of me.

Cleaning sheep’s wool costs a lot of soap and water. And the use of chemicals is also enormous. And the sheep emit methane, a strong greenhouse gas. In addition, most of the sheep’s wool comes from Australia. These are quite a few kilometres of transport from Europe. The waste of wool less than a kilometre away wouldn’t let go of me.

Cleaning sheep’s wool is a big challenge

Two years ago the shepherd gave me a big bag of wool, so I could see if I could use it. Cleaning the sheep’s wool was no fun. It took an awful lot of soap and water, it literally smelled like an hour in the wind. The quality of the wool didn’t seem bad, but cleaning the sheep’s wool in an environmentally friendly way turned out to be a big challenge.

I put the big bag of dirty wool on my land and every now and then I came up with a new idea, which didn’t work. And suddenly the solution was there by itself. With time, the plants even grew a bit through it, the stench had disappeared. And it didn’t feel greasy any more and reasonably clean.

After a test I was still able to felt with it. And after one washing it was relatively clean. I found it interesting enough to ask the shepherd for a few more bags of wool, which he gave me with great pleasure.

Hot water from the sun

Cleaning sheep's wool on my land: let time do the first work
Cleaning sheep’s wool on my land: let time do the first work

The new wool I spread on the land between a folded piece of chicken wire, from the ground away from leaves en twigs. Waiting for the time to do its work again. Plus hot water. When irrigating plants on the land, the black irrigation hoses are usually first filled with hot water from the sun. That water is too hot for the plants, but now very useful. I use it to rinse the wool for a short period of time. The sun dries the wool again. Five weeks and a few short rinses later the wool doesn’t feel so greasy any more and doesn’t smell so strong.

Homemade woolpicker for cleaning

Cleaning sheep's wool with a handmade woolpicker
handmade wool picker made out of an old cabinet drawer

Today I put some of this wool through my homemade woolpicker. Just after 5 weeks washing it two times seems to be enough. Soon carding and felting. And see if this is the solution to clean the wool without a lot of soap or water.

A small other experiment is if the sheep poop that come along with the water do the bamboo next to it well, because they can use some manure. And whether the bindweed under the wool still likes it so much with manure and hot water.

Somewhere I read that the invasive bindweed is doing very well on poor soils and that fertilizing would be a solution. See my post about getting rid of invasive bindweed. A test, free of charge and for nothing. I keep on rinsing the rest of the wool, hoping that the wool will be sufficiently clean with one soap washing and the mechanical cleaning with woolpicker. More about that later.

Open post
making your own lavender soap

Making your own lavender soap with olive oil

Today I made real lavender soap. Making your own lavender soap is not difficult, but something can go wrong. As I wrote yesterday. The problem was mainly in the right temperature and the NaOH, which didn’t get warm, so it wasn’t good anymore.

The recipe is the same as yesterday, but with less water. A tip from the website thenerdyfarmwife.com if you don’t use palm oil.

The recipe to make your own lavender soap is made in this soap calculator

  • 276 grams of olive oil
  • 184 grams coconut oil
  • 67,55 grams NaOH (sodium lye)
  • 151.8 grams of water (lavender hydrolate, tap water or distilled water) 33% instead of 38%
  • 10.5 grams of essential lavender oil, this should be 13.8 grams. But I don’t have that much at my disposal today. Soon I will be distilling lavender.
  • Dried lavender

I have the pan au bain Marie set up with the olive oil and coconut oil and heated to about 54 degrees. About the same time I added NaOH to the water. Stir well until everything is dissolved. Note: in a sturdy plastic container or in heat-resistant glass. Then the heat doesn’t disappear and the material won’t be affected. The first time I made soap, a few years ago, I used a wooden stirring spoon, which I could then throw away. Now I stir with an ordinary spoon and that goes well.

Making your own lavender soap is an accurate job

Now we have to wait until the temperature of the sodium caustic soda drops back to about 54 degrees Celsius. While the temperature of the oil mass rises to about 54 degrees. I have already mixed the oil a bit. If both are about 54 degrees, you can carefully add the lye to the oil. And then mix it.

trace in making your own soap
I think this is a real trace

Yesterday nothing happened after 45 minutes. And now the ‘trace’ was already visible after 10 minutes. That means you can draw a line in the mass. Then you can add the lavender oil and mix briefly. Then pour the mixture into the moulds. A clean and cut-up pack of soy milk will do just fine and there was enough left over to fill three silicone soap moulds.

I smoothed out the mass in the moulds, which looks the most like a thick vanilla lettuce with a spatula and added the dried lavender flowers. A lovely smelling and beautiful blue colored lavandin called Heavenly scent.

making your own lavender soap
A clean and cut-up pack of soy milk will do just fine

Sodium lye that doesn’t sound very nice in a natural soap

The NaOH with water or sodium lye is necessary for the saponification, without which it will not succeed. Fortunately, the substance will disappear from the soap by itself, at least if you do it right. NaOH is a natural product, but during processing it can burn a hole in your skin. So be carefull. If the saponification goes well and you let the soap dry long enough, I keep it for at least 6 weeks, all NaOH will have been disappeared from the soap.

How to make sodium lye safely?

Weigh the right amount of cold water and put it in a sturdy container. Then add the right amount of NaOH to the water. Never the other way around. Work with safety goggles, gloves and a face mask. And make sure that nothing can fall over during the process. So work with sturdy pots and pans and a clean countertop. The sosa, as they call it here in Spain the NaOH, got quite hot today. The temperature rose to over 70 degrees after it was added to the water and stirred.

By mixing at the right temperature, the saponification should start relatively quickly, now after 10 minutes. The ‘soap’ from yesterday of which I suspect that the saponification did not take place properly, is hard today. Tomorrow or the day after I will cut and dry both. Then the test. When in doubt you can taste whether the NaOH has disappeared or not. If the NaOH is still in the soap it will tingle. So you can’t use that soap for your skin, but maybe you can still use it as a base for a detergent for your clothes.

Soap making: first aid for soap problems

Soap making always went well, but maybe it was beginner’s luck. Since a few years I make my own soap with laurel berry oil. And a basic olive oil soap. I had excellent results. Until today.

I wanted to make lavender soap, but it already went wrong in the base

Because I wasn’t sure how dried lavender would keep in the soap, I made half of what I was up to. Luckily. The soap calculator had calculated for me:

  • 276 grams of olive oil
  • 184 grams coconut oil
  • 67,55 grams NaOH (sodium lye)
  • 174.8 grams of water (lavender hydrolate, tap water or distilled water)
  • 14.26 grams of essential lavender oil
  • Dried lavender

Luckily I hadn’t added the lavender oil yet.

  1. Add NaOH to the water (not the other way around).
  2. Heat olive oil and coconut oil au bain Marie.
soap making so far so good
Heat olive oil and coconut oil au bain Marie.

The temperature of the lye turned out to sting at 30 degrees. I should have stopped by then, because that’s not good. If you add NaOH to water the temperature rises enormously.

The mixer overheated but no ‘trace’

According to the recipe, both lye and oil had to be between 30 and 40 degrees when they were put together. And that’s what I did quickly. (stupid!) The lye a bit colder than the oil, but between 30 and 40 degrees. Earlier I always had both at exactly the same temperature, between 40 and 50 degrees.

  1. I added oil and lye together and started to mix. The mixer overheated, but the mixture didn’t get thicker, no trace of the so-called ‘trace’. You should be able to put a mark trace the mixture before adding essential oil and pouring it into the mould.

After three quarters of an hour I gave up. And I could have done that after just fifteen minutes, I now understand.

what went wrong with the soap?

I searched in Dutch on the internet. After all, that’s my mother tongue. But couldn’t find any help with soap problems. Apparently everyone in the Netherlands immediately makes good soap. 🙂

Still, I needed to know: was it the sink unblocker NaOH, which didn’t get very hot and, on closer inspection, only consisted of 90% NaOH?

In English I came a lot further. On this great website with answers to a lot of mistakes you can make. It became clear to me right away that my lye is not good. I’d better buy others. And I also read that if you don’t use palm fat (who still uses palm fat? I hope no one else does) it’s better to use a lower percentage of water.

You can change that percentage in this soap calculator. From 38% in my recipe to 33% or even lower, which is recommended according to the Nerdyfarmwife.

I’m going to make another lavender soap soon. With new lye and less water.

Throw away olive oil and coconut oil? That’s not so sustainable.

And what do I do with this mix of olive oil and coconut oil? Disposal is not very sustainable. After browsing the internet I found out that my temperature was also very low. I came across the tip on the internet to possibly use unsuccessful soap as a basis for a detergent for clothing. What exactly I had to do was not clear.

Is this a real trace or not?

I reheated the au bain Marie pan and when it came above 50 degrees and I kept mixing the contents pulled a kind of trace. Is this a real trace or not? It would be more logical if the oil became thinner instead of thicker.

Is this a real trace or not?

I have put the thicker mass in an opened milk carton. Let’s see if it hardens and if it can eventually be used to wash clothes. I can always throw it away. What is certain is that I will not use this batch for the skin. This is only possible with guaranteed successful soap.

Scroll to top