Lavender Harvest for Organic, Biodynamic Essential Oil Distillation

Lavender Harvest

Lavender grows slowly during the first year, and many farmers cut the flowering stems when the first buds open during the first growing season. Harvest during summer (June-July in most areas of United States). Knowing when exactly to harvest lavender requires extensive experience and constant “trial and error” effort. Most farmers harvest when the buds have formed but most of the flowers have not yet opened. There are two rules of thumb when harvesting lavender. The first is that we must choose a sunny day with mild weather and no wind in order to harvest. Asecond rule of thumb, we harvest lavender for essential oil about 5-10 days earlier than when we harvest for floral stems. However, these are just common patterns that should not be followed without making your own research.

Lavender flowers

There are several harvesting techniques, depending on which part of the plant. If we are interested in dried floral stems, as a rule of thumb we harvest longer lavender stems. If we are interested in essential oil, first we have to decide if we plan to produce essential oil only from flowers and/or from leaves. Essential oil from flowers is of higher quality.
In developing countries, farmers harvest lavender by cutting with a scissor just under the first set of leaves. In major commercial lavender farms of USA, France and Spain, lavender is harvested mechanically via machines attached to tractors. Those machines cut the stems in predefined length in order to promote new growth.

Oil Distillation

The first step in the production of Lavender essential oil is to harvest the plants. The ideal time for Lavender harvest is when the flowers are in full bloom. The highest quality oil is extracted from only the flowers of the plant.
After the Lavender flowers have been harvested, they can be distilled in their fresh state or left to dry for several days. The Lavender essential oil that is extracted from the fresh flowers retains a fresh and green note in its scent while dried Lavender possesses a deeper floral aroma. Distillation of fresh Lavender has become the more widely used method.

Purpose-built distillery allows the precious oil stored within the lavender plants to be separated and collected.

Lavender essential oil is extracted from the plant matter through a process called steam distillation. This process is highly important in determining the quality of the resulting essential oil. The temperature and pressure that the flowers experience during distillation can alter the fragrance molecules’ structure, affecting the final scent and chemical constituents of the essential oil. The steam distillation process involves steam passing through the plant material, the steam extracts the essential oil from the flowers. After passing through the plant material, the steam carrying the essential oil goes to the condenser. The condenser cools the steam back to a liquid state. The distillate is a combination of essential oil and water. The distillate is fed into an “Essencier” or Separator where the essential oil and the hydrosols are separated.

Distillation process

The Lavender flowers are packed tightly into the still. In a separate chamber, water is brought to a boil and the resulting steam is forced into the still containing Lavender flowers. The vaporized essential oil and water rise to the top of the still and are forced into the condenser. The condenser is made up of either vertical tubes, or coils. The outside of the tubes or coils is surrounded by cooling water. The steam enters the condenser and is cooled back to a liquid state.

The main stages in the production process of lavender essential oil

The liquid is called the “distillate” which is a mixture of essential oil and hydrosol. The condenser tube feeds the liquid into a separator, where the essential oil will rise to the top of the hydrosol because of the difference in density between the liquids. The specific gravity of Lavender essential oil is lower than that of water. The essential oil is then siphoned off the top, either manually or through a faucet in some systems, and collected for packaging. The Lavender hydrosol which is left contains only water and water-soluble Lavender components, which may also be used for many purposes.
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