Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Musings on Lavender

Lavender is a lovely thing. There are so many versions of it from different countries -- literally different soils. Then there are the hybrids and cousins. And different extraction techniques, too. At Snowdrift Farm, we sell 3 different kinds of lavender essential oils, plus spike lavender, lavender absolute and lavandin. I would love to stock more varieties, and we just may, if I have my way. We also stock the No. 1 lavender buds -- did I mention that? We really like lavender.

I like lavender. It has a clean, green scent with a touch of floral, but not too sweet. And yes, I do find it relaxes me. Not to the point of unconsciousness, but I do like to inhale deeply of it. Especially when I find a lavender with a wonderful bouquet.

Happily, I have found three examples of really nice lavender from three different countries. All three are L. angustifolia. My favorite is the English. We procure it from a co-operative distillery in Norfolk, England. The soil where it is grown is near sea level. A moist, peat-y soil gives the lavender a round, sweet note. It's used extensively in perfuming, and many local farmers distill lavender for sale in small amounts to the tourist trade. Just about everyone has heard of English Lavender. It's the only lavender oil I use in perfuming.

Our Bulgarian lavender is grown on higher ground than the Norfolk. It too has a rounder, sweeter note than the French, but not as sweet as the English. I like to blend the Bulgarian with the Norfolk in certain soaps and in most lotions. The Bulgarian is expensive enough, but if a private label customer asks me to quote on an English lavender batch, I always recommend using the Bulgarian, and maybe adding in a small amount of the English.

Our French 40/42 is our biggest seller. It's got a stronger camphorene note than the Bulgarian or the English. At around 7% camphorene, compared to 1-3% with the Bulgarian or English, it needs a little sweetening up, in my opinion. I use it as is in cold process and melt & pour soaps, and in some lotions. I like to blend it with other linalool heavy oils, such as basil or rosemary. I'm OK with it in a rose fragrance, but have a hard time justifying the use of rose absolute or otto with the 40/42.

Spike lavender (L. latifolia) has a sharper, more pungent scent than any of the other lavenders we sell. Personally, I find it inferior to the others. Still, it blends well and because it is a little bit less expensive (generally) than the others, it's cost effective. It's good to blend with green oils, as well.

Then there's lavandin. A hybrid between L. Officianalis and L. latifolia, lavandin can be grown at lower elevations than common lavender. I like the clean scent of lavandin. I use it in soap -- a lot -- and recommend it to my soap customers, too, instead of common lavender oil.

Finally, there's the absolute. A dark blue color, lavender absolute can add color to your perfumes. I doubt many soapmakers, including myself, would use it in soap, but if we did, it would add a lovely color to the base.

What's your favorite lavender?


Rurality said...

The best lavender I ever sniffed was called "high altitude" lavender. Very pricy though.

For soap I love Snowdrift's Lav 40/42. People will tell you that all 40/42 is equal, but it's not, not at all! Yours has much less of that camphorene note than others I've smelled.

Trina said...

Thanks for your comment. Our lavender 40/42 is supplied to us by the same distillery near Grasse for the past 12 years. Once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it : ) Trina at SDF

Michelle said...

I've always loved the English Lavender. Usually, locally, the lavender isn't very good. Hard to find the English Lavender here. I'll have to try your french lavender, I haven't sampled that yet.