How Lavender Essential Oils and Hydrosols are Made

How lavender essential oil is distilled is an art. It requires the exact amount and type of plant material, pure water, and heat that reaches a precise sustained level.  It also requires a precise timing of the steaming process: too long and the product is weak with off fragrance characteristics; too short and your product is overpowering and you get less of the valuable, soothing hydrosols.

Monte-Bellaria uses a copper steam distillation unit that drives steam through 15 gallons of dried buds of lavender.  Lavender distillates needs to pass through copper in order to produce a high-quality product.  When lavender is distilled solely in stainless steel, it can produce sulfur-like tones that require long aging time to off-gas the unpleasant odors.

Our entire process involves just two items: Sonoma County (Russian River) well water and organic lavender.  As the steam re-condenses, it produces two products: Lavender Essential Oil and Lavender Hydrosol (a distilled water with many of the lavender’s fragrance components).  For each 15 gallons of lavender buds, we produce about 2.5 oz. of essential oil and about a quart of hydrosol.

At Monte-Bellaria, we specialize in a hybrid lavender called Lavendin Grosso, which is a cross between English (lavandula angustifolia)and Portuguese (spike) lavender.  We have nine acres planted to this cultivar.  This particular variety produces a distilled, essential oil that has a broader spectrum of fragrance properties than traditional (English) lavender.

In fragrance design terms, Grosso has the distinctive “top note” of traditional English Lavender, which is immediately perceived as a floral, but restrained scent.  Unlike traditional lavender (which possesses mostly top note properties) Grosso also has a middle or “heart” note that one perceives after the initial floral scent dissipates.

The “middle note” is more herbal with an earthy, grassy character that makes it less sweet and perfumy.  This characteristic also makes Grosso more generally acceptable to men (who tend to dislike overly sweet fragrances), while still strongly appealing to women.  We enhance this middle note by including a small amount of the stem (or haulm) in the plant volume in the still. The additional stem also helps the steam flow more evenly through the plant material—creating a more balanced oil with fewer harsh characteristics.

Finally, Grosso has a “base note” which adds depth and complexity missing from traditional lavender.  This base note is a naturally occurring form of camphor which helps to extend the therapeutic properties of the lavender by opening respiratory tracts and increasing blood flow to the scent sensing membranes of the nose.  It is usually not perceived as a primary scent, but rather as a “feeling” of breathing easier.

 

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