How A Lavender Plant Becomes Lavender Oil-Part 2
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
In our last blog, we covered the first part of turning lavender plants into oil, which was harvesting. There are 400 varieties of lavender that each excel as either oils, culinary uses, or as garden decor. At Carriage House Lavender we grow and harvest the cultivar Riverina Thomas that is ideal for making our lavender oil-based products like our amazing soaps and aftershave lotion. Lavender oil has soothing, relaxing, and medicinal purposes, as well as just smelling so darn good - which is why we love to use it!
But how does this beautiful and fragrant plant turn into the lavender oil base for our soy candles, creams, and even lip balm? Distillation--yes that same process used to make your favorite gin or vodka.
Lavender Distillation Process
According to Chemical Engineering World, there are four main distillation processes: simple, steam, fractional, and vacuum. Lavender oil extraction uses steam distillation. Unlike other distillation methods, steam provides a high heat transfer rate without needing a high temperature. That makes the process a bit easier and a lot safer.
We place a steam tray just above the bottom of the still and pour water into the still just to the steam tray line. Next, we pack the lavender plants on top of the tray all the way to the brim of the pot, leaving as little room for air as possible. We can squeeze about 120 pounds of lavender into our brand new still that we just imported from Portugal. It’s 300 liters and we have been dying to use it. We also continue to use our tried and trusted s/b 60L still. The stills we use are copper. Besides looking beautiful, copper is what has been used for centuries to make lavender oil, and who are we to argue with tradition.
With the still full, we put the lid back on and attach the swan neck from the still to the condenser and turn on the heat. There’s a science to the process that combines heat, pressure, the right equipment, and a whole lot of patience. Distillation takes time, and getting it right is a skill. Fortunately, at CHL we rely on experts with years of experience to help us know when to raise the temperature and at what speed to get to the peak degree that turns the water to steam that rises through the still. The hot steam builds pressure and the combination of steam and pressure causes the lavender buds to release their oils.