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Lavender

Quick Summary:

True lavender (Lavandula officinalis) occurs as a small, sparsely branched wild plant in the north Mediterranean from Spain to Greece, where it grows wild or cultivated at medium altitudes (600 - 1500m) of mountain regions. It is cultivated as a garden ornamental in much of Europe. Smaller cultivations exist in Australia, England, Yugoslavia and Russia. However as sufficient concentration of essential oil is only produced in suitably hot dry climates, the bulk of production takes place in south east France where it is grown on a field scale usually at 700 - 1200 m altitude.
English Name:
Lavender
Latin Name:
Lavandula officinalis (True lavender), Lavandula latifolia (Spike lavender), Lavandula x intermedia (Lavandin)  (Lavandula angustifolia (True lavender))
Family:
Labiatae
Genus:
Lavandula
Species:
officinalis/angustifolia, latifolia, x intermedia

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General background on the plant

True lavender (Lavandula officinalis) occurs as a small, sparsely branched wild plant in the north Mediterranean from Spain to Greece, where it grows wild or cultivated at medium altitudes (600 - 1500m) of mountain regions. It is cultivated as a garden ornamental in much of Europe. Smaller cultivations exist in Australia, England, Yugoslavia and Russia. However as sufficient concentration of essential oil is only produced in suitably hot dry climates, the bulk of production takes place in south east France where it is grown on a field scale usually at 700 - 1200 m altitude.

True lavender is an evergreen sub-shrub with much branched woody stems forming a dense hemispherical clump. All parts of the plant have the characteristic scent of lavender. Woody stems are 20 - 30cm long and densely covered in opposite, small, green, entire, linear leaves. Flowering stems are leafless and unbranched and rise well above the leafy stems up to 60cm in height. Flowers are small, bluish and 2-lipped and are easily separated from the spike-like terminal panicles.

Spike lavender (L. latifolia) is native to the Mediterranean, and is cultivated internationally, with France and Spain being the main oil producing regions. It differs from true lavender in that the woody stems are longer and branching making the overall size of the clump larger, from 30 - 80cm height. Young leaves are opposite, woolly, whitish, narrowly spoon shaped and not linear. Flowers are purple and not easily detached from panicles. All parts of the plant have a camphor-like scent. Pure L. latifolia produces essence de spic or huile d’aspic but this is now almost entirely replaced by the essential oil of the more widely cultivated hybrid Lavandin.

A hybrid of L. officinalis and L. latifolia is L. intermedia, called Lavandin with characters intermediate between the two. Lavandin is by far the most widely grown of the three commercial forms, especially in the south of France where it is cultivated at lower altitudes (400 - 700 m) than true lavender. Lavandin yields four times more oil per volume of plants than true lavender, but it is of inferior quality with a distinct camphor scent. It is therefore not used in fine perfumery but to scent soaps, air fresheners and the like. Lavandin is also the source of commercial English lavender.

Details of quality characters

Lavender oil is produced by steam distillation of the freshly cut flowering tops and stalks of the shrub.

The typical constituents of lavender oil usually fall into the following range:

  • Linalool 29 - 46%
  • Linalyl Acetate 36 - 51%
  • 1,8-Cineol 0.1 - 2.2%
  • Caryophyllene 2.5 - 7.6%
  • Terpinen-4-ol 2.7 - 6.9%
  • Ocimenes 2.5 - 10.8%
  • Lavandulyl Acetate 3.4 - 6.2%

(Aqua Oleum, 1993)

The content of linalyl acetate increases with altitude at which the plants are grown.

Production yield for lavender oil is 1.4 - 1.6% of fresh plant material, depending on production method and origin, and for lavandin oil 1 - 2.5%.

Generally, wild-growing, high altitude lavender plants produce the finest, most expensive quality oil, this is largely due to the fact that the flowering tops of these plants cannot be harvested by machine.

Current production and yields

The yield of oil varies considerably from season to season, as the age of the bushes and weather affect both the quality and quantity of the oil produced. Approximately 50 kg of fresh flowers with 15 cm stalks will yield about 30g of oil. One hectare of lavender in its prime could yield in a favorable year 35 - 45 kg oil, but an average of 11 kg would be a reliable estimate (ADAS, 1980).

Propagation is undertaken by a selection of young shoots about 15 cm long from healthy plants in early spring. In commercial practice, bushes are seldom retained after the fifth year, and to maintain a supply, some planting must be done each year.

Constraints on production

High quality lavender oil is obtained from plants grown at medium altitude and Mediterranean temperatures. Lavandin oil can be grown much more widely, even in the UK (as English lavender), but is of lower quality.

Markets and market potential

Main applications of lavender oil is for perfumes, after-shaves and fragrances for cosmetics and toiletries.

Lavandin oil is more likely to be used where lower cost �rougher’ fragrances are required, for example in soaps, detergents and household products, also used as a flavouring agent in food and drinks.

Spike lavender oil can be used in the production of fine varnishes and lacquers. (Lawless, 1995)

Other information

See the following pages in the NF-2000 Database:

References

  • ADAS (1980) Culinary and medicinal herbs. HMSO.
  • Aqua Oleum (1993) The essential oil catalogue. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK.
  • Lawless, J. (1995) Essential oils. Element, Shaftesbury, UK.

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