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How to harvest lavender for real essential oil

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.

harvesting hidcote blue lavender
Hidcote Blue

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.

bunch of harvested Siesta lavender

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.

Provence lavandin
Lavandin Provence with only a few pale flowers in June

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.

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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