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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

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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.

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

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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