Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Lavender has been used for centuries and it is one of the oldest known essential oils.  Its high linalool and linayl acetate levels give it a unique fragrance and antimicrobial qualities.  Ratel Farming has two lavender varieties in production on the farm:  a lavandin (Abrialis ) and a true lavender (Mailette).  Harvesting of Mailette takes place in December, the lavandin being harvested in January.

Lavender falls within the family Labiatae (part of the mint family).  An important distinction must be made between the true lavenders (Lavendula augustifolia) and the lavandins (Lavendula x intemedia).  An example of the former is L. vera while examples of the latter would be L. abrialis and L. grosso.  There are significant differences between the plants, the yeilds and the oils they produce.  The defining compenents of lavender are linalool (a terpene alcohol that is non-toxic but has strong antimicrobial qualities) and linayl acetate (an acetic ester which gives lavender its characteristic sweet, fruity fragrance).  The oils are distinguished by the mix of these and other components (including camphor, cineol, pinene, limonene, geraniol, borneol and tannin).

LAVENDER MAILETTE:   Mailette (Lavendula augustifolia) is a true lavender, grown for its oil rather than as an ornamental flower, as the bush is unattractive and the plant grows best 700 m above sea level.  It is because of the elevation of Rockhaven Farm that we first experimented with Mailette.  We have found that lavender verathe plant can be temperamental, growing erratically at first.  However, once established, growth appears to become more consistent.  The first season of flowering was not prolific, but this has improved with successive seasons.  The plant is harvested once a year, in December, when the flowers are just beginning to wilt from the lower portion of the stalk bud.  The entire flower and stalk is cut, and stilling must take place within a short period of time.  

The oil of a true lavender like Mailette is distinctive: the fragrance is soft and floral, with little camphor on the nose.  The oil contains higher concentrations of linayl acetate (between 25 - 45 %) and linalool (around 30 %), with very low cineole (1,5 % maximum).  Camphor components are also extremely low in this oil.  Propogation of the plant from cutting is difficult without proper heating and temperature control.  Mortality in the field is relatively low, althouogh initial die-off of seedlings can reach 15 %.  The oil yield of Vera is high (we are currently at 1 %) and the price for organic true lavender oil is significantly greater than that for conventional oil or for the oil of lavandins. 

LAVENDER ABRIALIS:  Abrialis is a common lavender used to produce lavandin oil.  It is a hardy plant and a prolific flowerer.  We have abrialis - dec 09a field of Abrilais below the main house and but late December the entire field is a deep purple, giving off a subtle scent of lavender as you walk past.  The plant is more attractive than Mailette, growing in a more characteristic lavender bush.  The oil of lavandins is more camphorous than the true lavenders and this is immediately apparent on the nose.  Linayl acetate levels are lower (between 20 - 30 %), with cineole levels reaching as high as 11 % in some oils. 

As with Mailette, the entire flower head and stalk is cut and stilled.  The yield of Abrialis is particularly high, reaching over 2 % in the right conditions (although the agricultural authorities appear to expect even greater yields).  Although the price for organic oil is higher than conventional, lavandin oil does not demand a particularly good price.

LAVENDER GROSSO:  We experimented with some success with Lavandin Grosso : this is also a lavandin rather than a true lavender, but oil is generally of a higher quality, with a greater concentration of linayl acetate (between 26 - 38 %) and lower cineole.  Although this makes the plant an attractive option for cultivation, we have experienced mixed success with the plant: while propogation is easy and mortality in the field is extremely grossolow, flowering has proved to be erratic.  Certain individuals will consistently flower prolifically, while others will have only a few stalks, or not flower at all.  It is not clear what the cause of this might be, although we are assessing whether there might be some genetic variation.  The plant forms an attractive low bush and when flowering properly, the abundant flower heads sit on the end of long stalks.

The oil composition of our Grosso oil is as follows:

Pinene-alpha 0.70
Pinene-beta 0.49
Limonene 0.96
Cineole-1,8 5.14
Linalool 36.92
Camphor 7.27
Borneol 4.89
Terpinen-4-ol 3.63
Linalyl acetate 27.31
Lavandulyl acetate 3.09
Carophyllene-beta 1.28

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