Drying lavender is quite simple, but you can make mistakes that cost you a lot of time. If you dry your lavender right, you can enjoy the best smells. I tell you how I do it.
To dry lavender I first bundle the flowers with an elastic band. This rubber band is important because the stems become thinner during drying. I label the bunches with the cultivars name and time of harvesting. That matters if you have different cultivars and different moments of harvesting.
Dry lavender dark, dry, dust-free and with good ventilation
The bunches I hang in the basement just below the ceiling. In the cellar the window is always open. Dark, dry, dust-free and with good ventilation, these are the most important conditions. under the bunches of lavender, I’ve stretched a clean sheet to catch the flowers that are letting loose.
You will notice when the flowers are dry. The buds then release relatively easily from the stem. Check them regularly and do not let them hang too short or too long.
How to detach the lavender buds from the stem?
I have tried a lot of methods to detach the buds from the stem and this one works best for me: a clean pillowcase. I put a bunch of lavender in a clean pillowcase and then carefully roll the bunch back and forth. After a few rolls you pull the bunch of bare stems out of the pillowcase. Only the flowers are left behind. Which you then store in a closed bag or container.
Tip: remove leaves immediately from the stems when harvesting
Remove leaves immediately from the stems during harvesting and before you make bunches, this saves a lot of work later on. As well as pruning the plants twice a year. Last year I harvested lavandin from a friend. Because the plants were not pruned, it was impossible to harvest the flowers without leaves. And I didn’t know then that leaves are very annoying to separate from the flowers when everything is dry. Endlessly I had to get the lavender through the sieve before I only had the flowers.
This time I hung up the lavender bunches without the leaves, that’s going to save me a lot of work. 🙂
On our land grows a wild lavender. It is the lavandula pedunculata, or a lavender Stoechas. Here in the mountains of Andalusia the lavender stoechas or cantueso as it is called here blooms early in the year. While I start to harvest lavandula angustfolia, the stoechas has almost finished flowering. Today I’m going to prune the plant and harvest the flowers. The oil would be good for headaches and colds.
We found the stoechas two years ago between weeds and since then we clean the field. We don’t have to do much else because the stoechas doesn’t make a lot of demands. It sows itself, which we don’t find a problem because the result is there.
Lavender Stoechas, resistant to drought but not to frost
The lavender stoechas is resistant to drought. Only the very young plants we irrigate a few times and after that we don’t irrigate any more. The plant cannot withstand frost, but frost is very rare here.
Prune in time otherwise you will be left with bare stems.
As soon as the stoechas starts to make seed you will notice that all of the plant’s energy goes into it. The leaf at the bottom of the stem falls off. If you want a beautiful plant, it is better to prune it in time. If not, you will get long bald stems. Prune immediately in the first year and after flowering. This week I pruned the plant. It could have been done earlier, but luckily I was still on time. I left a few branches with flowers for the seed.
Lavender stoechas, good for headaches and colds
Just like the lavandula angustfolia, the lavandula stoechas is soothing. And also good for headaches and colds. With the pruning I have harvested flowers. They still smell delicious. A soft scent between lavender and rosemary. I’m going to make essential oil from it and fill an eye pillow with the flowers and see which of the two works best against headaches and colds.
When do you harvest lavender? That depends on what you’re going to do with it. Most lavender oil these days is made of lavandin. That’s a pity because only lavandula angustfolia has the soothing properties for which lavender is so famous. This ‘real’ lavender was already in bloom in May. Halfway June a lot of flowers opened already.
Time to harvest lavender depends on your goal
If you want to harvest lavender for bunches of dried lavender, you’re already too late. Opened flowers fall off the stem while drying. That does not matter if you want loose lavender flowers. This is also the right time to harvest lavender for making lavender oil. A maximum of half of the flowers should be open.
Harvesting real lavender starts in June
The real lavender, lavender angustfolia, blooms earlier than lavandin. At the moment of my first lavender harvest – mid June – the lavandin only begins to form a few colourless flowers.
With some of the flowers already opened I decide to harvest some. My goal is to make essential oil. For a big lavender farmer it is difficult to determine the right moment of harvesting, I suspect.
Even within the same plant the flowers differ from stage to stage
Not all flowers are at the same stage of development. Even within one and the same plant there are flowers that are much further ahead than others. On my small lavender farm it is not (yet) a problem. I harvest the ripe flowers and leave others standing.
Harvesting lavender till October
The advantage of this is that I can enjoy the blossoming lavender for a very long time and that the bees don’t pass by for nothing either. I also suspect that more flowers will come through. Pruning makes them bloom. In any case, I will continue to harvest for a long time. Some species remained in bloom last year until well into October.
What is the best time of day to harvest lavender?
According to Virginia McNaughton’s lavender growers guide, it’s best to harvest early in the morning. When the dew has dried, but before the heat. Harvesting lavender in small production also has an advantage here. In small quantities it is possible to harvest as much as possible in the morning, while large producers have to harvest all day long.
Harvesting just in the morning is fantastic. The sun is low, it’s not warm yet. And the bees, like me, are busy harvesting. The beautiful view and the smell of lavender; these are the best days of the year.
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.
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.
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 do you distil lavender oil?
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.
Fill the pan with water until just below the sieve. The plant material should not be in the water.
Fill the pan from sieve to lid with lavender flowers, very firmly pressed.
Close the kettle and connect the hoses for cooling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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