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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

Propagating lavender by cuttings, is that really that easy?

Everywhere I read that propagating lavender by cuttings is not difficult. Easier than sowing and much better too, because you keep the original characteristics of the plant. But with my lavender cuttings this spring I went quite wrong.

Propagating lavender by cuttings, is that really that easy?

Propagating lavender in a cutting tray

I took extra precaution. I bought a cuttings tray to keep the temperature at a desired 22-25 degrees. And cutting powder, from two brands. I watched videos on the internet about propagating lavender by cuttings and made at least 100 cuttings, with and without two different cutting powders.

But the result was 0. Only 1 out of about 100 cuttings got significant root formation and eventually died.

What did I do wrong?

According to a friend here in the Alpujarras I had pampered them too much. Furthermore I read about the soil, potting soil was wrong. I had mixed the potting soil with poor garden soil, but it was fertilized potting soil, others were not available here.

Lavender cuttings in autumn in four ways

At the end of September I tried again. This time no cutting powder and no potting soil. And according to four different methods.

  • Outdoors in the ground, under a small tunnel against the still relatively warm Spanish sun.
  • Outside on the terrace in two planters in the shade.
  • Inside in the cutting board, but without heating because it is still warm enough.
  • And I have partly dug in a number of side branches of lavender plants, in the hope that they will form new roots.

Cuttings soil

In the planters and cutters I put 1/3 part sterilized soil of the land (sterilized in the solar oven) 1/3 part perlite (for better drainage) and 1/3 part coconut substrate (contains no fertilizers and retains water). Outside on land, the cuttings are simply in the ground.

Water, what is not too much and not too little?

Something I hadn’t thought of before is that it’s quite difficult to know when the cuttings need water. Larger lavender plants don’t need a lot of water, but cuttings shouldn’t dry out. What is neither too much nor too little water?

I use a handy device. It was for measuring the PH, but that doesn’t work at all. There are 2 positions more on it. Light and moisture. I don’t really see the point of the first one yet, but the second one works well. The moisture gradations are useful to keep track of. At position 4, the lowest position of moist, I give (a little bit of) water. Maybe it’s too late or too early, but it feels good to be able to measure something.

handy device for measuring moisture. Normaly with 2 legs but PH and light doesn’t work, so we cut of 1 leg.

Update: two weeks later

All the cuttings seem to be alive and looking good. Except for 12 cuttings in the cutting tray. They even started to mold. Apart from the mouldy cuttings I also removed the plastic caps from the plugs. That’s right, pampering lavender too much is not a good idea.

To be continued

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wild fennel pollen

Wild fennel flowers, a luxury in the wrong place

This week I removed some black plastic on the land of my future lavender farm. How are the weeds after 3 and 6 months covered with black plastic? The good news: the bindweed is gone. And even in the last few days, even with an unexpected rain shower, it did not occur again. But, I seem to have a new enemy. A plant that is apparently much more persistent. Namely wild fennel.

After six months of darkness, it’s still there

After six months of total darkness, it is still there. Small and white, but still. Even after weeding, they emerge again. 1st round: 42 pieces on 35 m2. 2nd round 13 pieces (that goes well!) But then the 3rd round again 21 pieces. Fennel, that’s just a tough one.

I am shocked to see that the field next door is completely filled with fennel. And in bloom. Fennel flowers everywhere I look. If all that seed comes loose, I have a lot of extra work.

The wild fennel may not go well with the lavender, but it is actually a fantastic plant. You can use just about every part of the wild fennel. On the dried stalks, fish is smoked at the chirinquitos on the beach, I understand.

The wild fennel flowers are delicious in a stew and the young leaves very good in a salad. The seeds you can put in your bread or make tea with it.

One part of wild fennel is even healthier than the other. Against gases, against high cholesterol…

And now they are in bloom, exactly on my future lavender field. It is actually too late to mow, because seed is already falling out. So I make a virtue of necessity.

Manually harvesting the flowers and seeds of the wild fennel

Today and tomorrow I spend a few hours manually harvesting the flowers and seeds. It smells wonderfully of fennel, on the land and now also in the house. It is a shame that they have to leave the lavender field, but luckily they are in many other places on the land and I don’t have to worry about whether they will manage there. They are realy strong, that has been proven.

Recipes and background about wild fennel on the website ‘eat the invaders’.

How to get rid of invasive weeds in ecological farming?

Of course no pesticides are used in organic agriculture and horticulture. But how am I going to get rid of invasive weeds on the lavender farm?

how to get rid of invasive weeds, looks quite beautiful, but bindweed is too agresive.
bindweed, very invasive

New innovative methods to get rid of invasive weeds

Wherever the law stipulates that pesticides may no longer be used, new innovative methods are created to remove weeds ecological. You can use use machines, that attack the weeds to the root with hot steam or hot water. Weeding itself, with the hoe or with hot water, is not necessarily an annoying job, but it is when we are talking about a large area and a very invasive weed.

No weed as persistent as bindweed

No weed grow so fast and is as persistent as bindweed I think. The plant speads with an extensive root branch that can go up to 10 meters deep. And each individual plant slums up through the stem of the lavender. My land unfortunately has a lot of bindweed.

Deep plowing and leaving the ground bare is a method used here. I suspect that the plant will only be multiplied. In addition to that it is bad for biodiversity and can lead to erosion.

Wherever there is water, the bindweed appears. I am quite sure that the seeds come in through the irrigation channels (asequias) here in the Alpujarras.

how to get rid of invasive weeds. Seeds of bindweed spreads by irrigation channel.
bindweed next to an Alpujarra asequia

Picking flowers to prevent them spreading seeds

Bindweed blooms in summer immediately after watering. I pick those flowers on my land where possible, to prevent them spreading even more seeds. And leave not even one dead plant on my land because the seeds will still ripen. I think.

Fortunately, newly sprouted seeds can easily be eliminated with weeding. The deep root system is another story. That doesn’t get exhausted. Also steam or boiling water does not get that deep.

Where other plants die because of pesticides, bindweed simply returns and now with no competition

Neighbors spray pesticides. That seems like an option in the short term, but in the long term it’s very bad. Where other plants do die, bindweed simply returns. And then you just killed the competition.

Mulching the soil, so covering it with compost or straw, is also not a solution. Precisely from underneath the mulch they come out even harder than elsewhere.

So I came up with black agricultural plastic

Black plastic is a permitted method in organic agriculture and horticulture. The black plastic warms up the soil and weeds die because there is no photosynthesis without light.

black plastic on my land to get rid of invasive weeds

Doing nothing makes the problem bigger and bigger

Plastic contributes to climate change and plastics in the sea are a disaster. See my blog about plastic. It’s not easy to do everything well. But doing nothing or waiting longer is not an option, because the root system grows at lightning speed.

So I went looking for plastic that had already been recycled and can be recycled again. After 1 month all weeds under the plastic were dead, except for the bindweed and another stubborn specie. Where I planted my first 40 lavender plants the plastic was only there for two months, but that was clearly too short. I still have to weed every day.

5 months later all bindweed is dead

Now 5 months later all bindweed under the plastic is dead. I am very curious if they will reappear when the circumstances improve. So when sunlight and water comes in again. I’m going to try that soon. Am I able to plant more lavenders in autumn or should I wait longer? Fingers crossed!

More about bindweed on wikipedia

Lavender harvest for the very first time

The first lavender harvest could never be great. The test field I started with this spring contains only 40 plants. Moreover, the harvest in the first year is simply not high. But still, the first results can be there.

first lavender harvest
First lavender harvest: an explosion of scents and colors

Explosion of scents and colors

Not all lavenders gave a good yield right away, but some varieties just kept on flowering. The smell of 13 different types of lavender comes to me as I descend the stairs to the basement. Because that is where I dry the harvest bunches. What an explosion of fragance!

The sweet scent of the lavandula angustfolia

Especially the sweet scent of some angustfolias is fantastic. And then the colors. Varying from white to the darkest blue. In comparison, the lavandin that I was allowed to harvest from a friend is a bit pale in color.

lavender harvest of lavandin
Lavandin, harvested in the Alpujarras at the foot of the Sierra Nevada

I was actually a bit late with the harvest. Within a few days the lavender flowers automatically felt from their stalks into the bed cover that hangs underneath the bundles. I think I should harvest earlier next time.

Sustainable lavender harvest

But what to do with all those buzzing bees above those beautiful flowers? Harvesting the flowers sooner is not necessarily in favor of the bees, who already have such a difficult time. If I have more lavender plants, I will leave them some flowers.

Lavender flowers, good for the bees
Next time I’ll leave more flowers for the bees. They have a hard enough time. Even in the nature reserve where I live, pesticides are unfortunately the most common thing.
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