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The Differences Between Lavender Essential Oils

This article has been excerpted from The Lavender Guide, a new book by Erin Stewart. The excerpt has been adapted for use here and was also featured in the August issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

I've never met a Lavender plant I didn't love. When they pop up in garden shops around here, they are quickly snatched up by adoring plant-tenders and whisked away to their new homes where they're lovingly planted up and made a part of the family. My German Shepherd even loves them. There was a house on our block in CA that had a large, vibrant, seemingly ever-blooming Lavender plant in the front yard and it spilled over the picket fence into the sidewalk. Every day on our walk, my pup had to stop and stick her nose into that Lavender plant and just breathe it in for a moment before we continued on our way. Every time. It's rather adorable, really. She's a smart one.


Did you know we made a film with the lavender farmers of southern Oregon? Click on the image below to watch it - it’s free! You’ll get to go behind the scenes at working lavender farms and learn directly from the farmers as they teach you how to grow, care for and distill lavender!


Lavender is a flowering shrub in the Lamiaceae (mint) family and boasts over 40 known species with an ever growing count of over 400 cultivated varieties. While it's native to areas near the Mediterranean, Lavender is now grown all over the world and the various species provide us with several different essential oils. While they are all "Lavender" essential oils, the different species (and varieties) yield essential oils with slightly differing chemical compositions that might make one more suitable for certain issues than the others. Let's focus in on some of the differences between some of the most commonly available Lavender oils.

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TRUE LAVENDER

Botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis

The main Lavender used for therapeutic purposes in both herbalism and aromatherapy is Lavandula angustifolia. There are many cultivars of L. angustifolia, with flowers ranging in color from light purple to dark purple, white, and even pink. This Lavender is sometimes referred to as English Lavender. I have also heard some people call it French Lavender, but since that term has also been applied to Lavandin (L. x intermedia) and to L. dentata, it is best to refer to it via its botanical name, L. angustifolia, to avoid confusion.

 
 

L. angustifolia plants produce less essential oil than the hybrid Lavandin plants do. A friend who distills Lavender daily has found that 6 to 8 plants' worth of L. angustifolia flowering stalks will fill the basket of a 15 gallon copper alembic still and will yield about 70ml of essential oil per distillation.

While not considered ideal for florists and designers because of their shorter stems, the angustifolias have a sweeter, softer aroma than other Lavender varieties and are considered superior for therapeutic use. The plants themselves are much shorter and smaller than Lavandin varieties.

My favorite L. angustifolia cultivars include: 'Bowles Early,' 'Buena Vista,' 'Hidcote,' 'Loddon Blue,' 'Miss Katherine,' 'Opal Rain,' 'Royal Velvet,' and 'Sachet.'

The essential oil of L. angustifolia plants is rich in linalol and linalyl acetate, among many other constituents (possibly as many as 450 or more) and is considered the choice Lavender oil for use in aromatherapy. Professional aromatherapists will rarely use a Lavender oil produced from another Lavender variety, except, perhaps, for Spike Lavender (L. latifolia / spica) in cases where 1,8-Cineole and Camphor are preferred constituents for application. The different varieties of L. angustifolia produce similar, but still subtly different essential oils. ('Buena Vista' and 'Hidcote Pink' are two of my current favorites.) A discerning nose will be able to notice slight differences in aroma between the different oils, but in general, L. angustifolia essential oil is not sold with the variety name included unless it is being purchased directly from a small farm that distills their own Lavender on site. Most larger distillers, even if they grow several varieties of L. angustifolia, will co-distill the different varieties together and sell the finished product labeled simply as 'Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia' essential oil.

I have found that L. angustifolia essential oils consistently boast the following therapeutic properties (among others): analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, emmenagogue, nervine, sedative, and uplifting. They are generally useful for any kind of skin ailment, nervous tension, anxiety, lack of restful sleep, aches, pains, and spasms, and a variety of more serious complaints [covered more thoroughly in the full chapter found in the book].

While Lavender is safe for even neat use on the skin, some clinical aromatherapists now recommend using it undiluted only for acute ailments (like a bee sting). When used regularly over time, it may be best to dilute even the friendly Lavender essential oil in a carrier.  

True Lavender essential oil is costly to produce and is often adulterated with isolated (or synthetic) linalol or linalyl acetate, synthetic Lavender oil, and even Lavandin essential oil. Know your source well to be sure you're purchasing a true, 100% L. angustifolia essential oil.

 
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LAVANDIN

Botanical name: Lavandula x intermedia, Lavandula hybrida, Lavandula x burnati

Lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a Lavender species that is cherished by growers and distillers around the world. Lavandin plants are created when a Lavandula angustifolia and a Lavandula latifolia plant are cross-pollinated. The resulting hybrid is a much larger plant than the L. angustifolia varieties and yields a great deal more essential oil. Lavandins make beautiful garden hedges because of their impressive size and color. They bloom later in the season than L. angustifolia varieties, so adding Lavandin to your Lavender garden is an easy way to extend your blooming season.

A few of my personal favorite Lavandin varieties for the garden include, 'Fred Boutin,' 'Grosso,' 'Impress Purple,' 'Jaubert,' and 'Lullingstone Castle.'

Like the L. angustifolia essential oil varieties, Lavandin essential oil is usually offered as simply 'Lavandin - L. x intermedia' or 'Lavender - L. x intermedia' essential oil, though you may be able to find specific varieties like 'Grosso' and 'Super' labeled individually, especially if purchasing directly from a farm that distills onsite. Lavandin essential oil is not as commonly used in the aromatherapy industry, but it is produced worldwide for the fragrance industry. It is a common ingredient in soaps, laundry detergents, skin care, perfumes, and cleaning products. It's far less chemically complex than L. angustifolia essential oil and is considered to be somewhat inferior therapeutically, so not many professional aromatherapists use it. Still, the aroma is lovely - a bit sharper than an angustifolia, due to its higher Camphor and 1,8-Cineole content. Some people prefer its aroma because it's more similar to the traditional Lavender smell they're used to while others, who think they don't like the smell of Lavender until they smell a true L. angustifolia, shy away from the Lavandin scent.

Therapeutically, Lavandin essential oil is used for its antibacterial properties and to support the respiratory system. [Further therapeutic uses are covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 
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LAVANDULA STOECHAS

Botanical name(s): Lavandula stoechas

L. stoechas is sometimes called Spanish Lavender, but since that term is also applied to L. dentata and L. stoechas is also called French Lavender (a term also applied to L. angustifolias and L. x intermedia varieties), it is best to just refer to it by its botanical name: L. stoechas.

L. Stoechas makes a stunning compact hedge in the garden and tends to bloom continuously beginning in late spring. My absolute favorite variety is 'Kew Red,' but I also love 'Cottage Rose,' 'Otto Quast,' and 'James Compton.'

The essential oil is not as easily found, but it can be sourced. Generally speaking, it is not well suited for use with little ones and comes with a few safety contraindications. It is rich in Camphor (even more than Spike Lavender), 1,8-Cineole, and Fenchone, and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Since it is so rich in ketones and oxides, it should be used with caution. [Further therapeutic information covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 

SPIKE LAVENDER

Botanical name(s): Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula spica, Lavandula spicata

Spike Lavender grows at a lower elevation than the L. angustifolia plants and is sometimes called Aspic. The essential oil has a sharper, more camphoraceous aroma than the essential oil from Lavandula angustifolia, with a camphor content that can vary based on where the plant was grown, sometimes reaching concentrations up to about 35%. It also contains higher amounts of 1,8-Cineole. Its aroma hints at its antiseptic qualities and smells quite medicinal. It is often utilized in respiratory support blends and is especially useful when you're feeling a bit stuffy. It can be helpful for pain and inflammation. While not nearly as calming as a True Lavender oil, it does stimulate circulation and effectively gets stagnant energy moving through the body again.

Because of the camphor content, it is recommended that this oil be avoided when pregnant.

Therapeutically, Spike Lavender essential oil is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, circulatory, and expectorant. It is sometimes used in skin care preparations and is often included in blends that support skin ailments, cramps and spasms, headaches, and minor wounds. [Covered in more detail in the full chapter of the book.]

 
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CONCLUSION

There are many other Lavender species and varieties that are grown around the world. Our personal collection has many beautiful varieties. Some of my favorites that aren't listed in this particular article include L. multifida and L. x christiana (pictured above).

There's just something so special about Lavender. Once you've spent some time with it, you can't help but want to be around it all the time. Plant one or two varieties in your own garden. Before long, you'll probably be growing your collection too!

Are you growing any Lavender in your garden? Which varieties? Let me know in the comments below. =)

Much love,
Erin

 

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It's Lavender Season! A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at Lavender Farms

When you ask an herbalist or an aromatherapist to choose a favorite herb or essential oil, most of them preface their response with a statement somewhat like, "What!? How could you ask me that!? I could never choose just one!" I'm the same way. But if you were to ask me what my favorite herb to grow is, I would say Lavender, without hesitation. Walking out into the garden and seeing her happy, purple-topped stalks makes me feel so at home and so peaceful and so joyous that I would choose her first for my garden every time. I always come home with a batch of new varieties when I visit our local Lavender experts (I just can't help myself!) and Jon and I dream of planting at least an acre of it after we purchase our land. Since I'm fairly certain that I'm not the only one who feels this way about this special plant, I thought I would set aside a day to take you on a relaxing, behind-the-scenes stroll through some of our local Lavender farms here in the PNW. Here are a few of the photos I've been taking at some of our dreamy, purple hot spots this season.

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If you're ever able to visit the PNW during Lavender season, try to visit near the end of June or the beginning of July. We have Lavender festivals and events most weekends during that time frame throughout both Oregon and Washington!

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I could get lost in these rows for hours and be quite content. I recently told a friend that if I were a mouse or a fairy, I would want to live in a Lavender garden.

Every plant in a Lavender garden is alive with pollinators. Thousands of them flit about throughout the fields, happily working the day away. Wouldn't you like to have their job?

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One last photo, from my own garden. It's not a field of blooms, but I just love this dark variety. <3

I'm currently knee-deep working with lavender spikes and with some of these beautiful dreamland locations to bring you some extra special Lavender surprises very soon, so stay tuned! If you love Lavender too, make sure you're on our email list so you'll be amongst the first to know when we're ready to share more info. <3

Much love and wishes for Lavender-filled days,
Erin

A Personal Update + A Giveaway: Enter to Win a One-Year Subscription (Closed)

Note: This is a personal update post, not an educational post like the ones you're used to seeing around here. If you're not interested in those kinds of posts, feel free to skip this one. =) I do have a giveaway to share with you at the end of the post, though, so you may want to stick around for that. *giveaway closed*

Our home is currently a mess of boxes and packing paper and bubble wrap and all manner of half-organized mess. My closet has a suitcase in it instead of its usual drawers or hangers and the kitchen now has a stack of paper plates in the cabinet. Our family is moving from our little studio in southern California to a home in the Pacific Northwest and our POD was delivered today, so we've been making trips to and from the parking lot and our third floor apartment for the past 12 hours. (Thank God for my strong husband and brothers and their muscles!) By the time you're able to read this post, it'll be Tuesday morning and we'll be loading up the last of the boxes and looking at a very empty studio.

When my husband and I were married almost 8 years ago, we started out in a little apartment in the middle of the desert and we've since moved 5 different times. I won't lie - the moving process is always exhausting. But this move is pretty special for us. We're moving into a house for the first time. We're moving to a brand new, wilderness-filled state that we love, complete with GMO-free counties and fluoride-free water. Our new town is peaceful and comes with a generous dose of charm and friendly people. A stark contrast to our traffic-at-all-hours busy city street and the chronic smog cloud that seems to ever loom around the freeways here. Don't get me wrong - we love our beautiful coastal state - but we crave fresh air and the quiet stillness of nature. We've been working toward being able to buy land and build a life on it (growing our own organic food and cultivating an herbal sanctuary, among other things) and this is a huge step in that direction for us. It's feeling a bit crazy and a lot scary at the moment, but mostly, it's exciting. It also doesn't hurt that our new home will have a dedicated apothecary room from which I can work on AromaCulture and blend and write to my heart's content!

We decided to make this move after we visited the Pacific Northwest in August and fell in love with it. We visited several herb farms and hiked through forested, fern-filled trails with waterfalls and wild herbs and our hearts sang right along with the fullness of nature's melody. We're moving just in time to get our spring garden planted and I can hardly wait for all of the fragrant herbs, cheery blooms, and vibrant veggies to greet me every time I step outside the back door!

With all that moving entails, please be patient with me if I'm a bit slow to answer your emails over the next week or two. This is a huge transition for us and there will be days when we don't have internet access or are just too tired to think about turning on the computer. =) But, that said, I did want to do something special so that you all could celebrate with us as we transition into this new life stage, which leads me to the giveaway!

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I'm giving away a one year subscription to AromaCulture Magazine to TWO lucky winners! If you haven't read the magazine yet, it focuses on herbalism and aromatherapy and features educational articles, case studies, and recipes from practicing herbalists and professional (certified) aromatherapists. To enter the giveaway, you must:

  1. Be a subscriber to our mailing list. (It's free - you can sign up through the form at the end of this blog post.)
     
  2. Share this post with your friends on social media. Use the hashtag #aromaculturegiveaway so we can see your post (you'll need to make sure that post is enabled as a publically viewable post; if your settings have it set to private or friends only visibility, we won't be able to see that you shared it).
     
  3. Leave a comment below to let me know where you shared your post.

NOTE: This giveaway is closed. Our winners are Shannon B. and Cassie B. I'll be emailing both of you with more information. Thank you to everyone who entered and for all of your kind words of support in the comments!

Much love,
Erin

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Visiting Organic Herb Farms in the PNW

My husband and I just returned from a 10 day road trip through the Pacific Northwest - the first real vacation we've taken together in our 7 years of marriage. We like each other pretty well so confining ourselves to the car off and on for days at a time is actually enjoyable for us. =) One of our goals for this particular vacation was to visit as many organic herb farms that we purchase products from as possible. I'm so glad we did! Each place we visited was so lovely and more beautiful than we expected. We also stopped at a few more touristy spots, which filled in those empty spaces in our schedule nicely. I'd like to share some of the things we saw with you.

One of the first farms we visited was an organic herb farm I purchase my fresh and dried bulk herbs from. The owner of the farm prefers not to have images of their farm posted online so I won't be sharing any from that location but it was the most peaceful place I think I have ever been. The farm was about 150 acres of beautiful, quiet land tucked back into the forest so you don't even know it's there until you arrive. The gal I normally speak to when I order in a batch of freshly harvested, not yet dried herb gave us a small tour and spent some time talking with us up on the viewing deck that looks out across the farm. It was wonderful to learn about how responsibly and sustainably they care for their land. We were able to watch as they harvested fresh Tulsi and to look out on the fallow, resting fields blanketed in usable cover crops [oats & red clover] and wild Queen Anne's Lace. We left with a greater appreciation for the work our organic farmers do and a renewed commitment to be mindful of where we source our own products and ingredients from. Large commercial farms and distribution centers may sometimes be able to offer more competitive prices, but often at a cost to the land, the organic farmers, and the quality of the products. We've long been passionate about sustainable sourcing and supporting small organic farms and visiting this particular farm further inspired us to continue being advocates for responsible lifestyle and business choices.

The next company we visited was Herb Pharm. I love their organic tinctures and enjoy using their products in various herbal remedies so it was a blast to visit them at their home base. When you visit Herb Pharm, you check in at their main location and they give you directions and passes to visit their Botanical Sanctuary. It's not far from the main office but is tucked back in a hidden corner of the forest away from the noise of traffic. This day of the trip was one of the most fun! Being able to see such a wide variety of herbs, some of them at risk, felt like such a blessing. It was almost surreal! Many of the herbs we saw don't grow where we live, so it was even more special when we would 'meet' herbs we'd only learned about in classes or books or seen in their dried, packaged forms. I still think the trees full of Usnea were some of the most beautiful botanicals I have ever seen.

One of the things that the Botanical Sanctuaries do is commit to restoring and preserving the habitats of our native medicinal herbs and the plants themselves so they will still be around for future generations. Walking through the gardens at this particular sanctuary was a lovely experience. Every plant we saw was valuable medicinally / therapeutically and many of them were plants that are already on the "at risk" list [meaning that they are at risk of being put on the endangered plant species list] because they have been so wildly and unsustainably harvested. When you purchase an herb that is on this list, always purchase it from organic farms that use sustainable harvesting methods - know your farmer, talk to them, be careful about your sourcing. Be mindful of where your ingredients and products are coming from.

I'm of the opinion that everyone with room to grow anything ought to be growing milkweed for the butterflies. Every time I see it, I smile. =) My parents' house has a unique variety of milkweed in the front yard and I often find myself checking it for Monarch butterfly caterpillars - last time I was there I found two!

Aspen was one of my favorite trees to meet. I can't recall ever seeing one here in southern California [they tend to like the cooler growing zones]. Her flower essence is one that I find particularly lovely when working with people lately and being able to take a moment to connect with the living tree was wonderful. She's such a strong, graceful tree with a calm, steady presence [even if some have unfortunately mis-nicknamed her 'quaking'].

Borage is another favorite because our pollinators are such fans of it. We're really responsible as humans for taking part in our ecosystem - we care for the land and cultivate the plants, the pollinators work with us and the earth yields its food and medicine for us. When we fail to care for the earth or our pollinators [by not growing their food or contaminating it with chemicals], the whole process of nature is set off balance and we begin to feel the results of it in uncomfortable ways: lack of pollinators, poor soil quality, less nutrient-dense food, more illness and disease...it's a nasty cycle. Choose responsibly - take part - be involved. You'll find that simple practices that care for our ecosystem are incredibly fulfilling.

The St. John's Wort was another herb I was so excited to see in person. It's on our noxious weed list here in California so we're unable to grow it ourselves. This particular patch of it was one that we found near a waterfall in Oregon [more on that later].

We also came across a whole flock of turkeys at the Botanical Sanctuary! They could have belonged to the owners of the property, but we really don't know if they did or if they were wild. Either way, it was amusing to hear them converse and, at times, argue with each other.

After a few days of falling in love with Oregon [we're probably moving there in the near future to start our own little farm], we drove up to Washington to visit some family there. We were able to stay in a lovely little guest house on an organic farm! What a peaceful place. It was up in the hills in an area without any street lights, cell phone reception or internet and the owners graciously allow their visitors to wander through the gardens and the apple and pear orchards. We were allowed to pick anything we pleased and to feed their flock of social free range chickens. They even stocked the guest house fridge with fresh multi-colored eggs! The herb gardens were especially lovely.

One of the last places we visited was a series of waterfalls in Oregon. We found wild St. John's Wort, Bittersweet Nightshade, Arnica, dozens of lichens and more while we were there. As all of the other tourists were scrambling over each other to take selfies at the falls, we were exploring the surrounding forested areas like children at Disneyland. I couldn't get over how green it was there! Ferns that we pay for at our garden centers here were literally covering the forest floor there! What a lovely sight.

We came down the coast on our way home and stopped at a sweet Elk Reservation along our route. This was such a beautiful place, full of Cattails, nightshades and bird nests. We even found colonies of Usnea growing along the wood of the viewing platform!

Have you visited the PNW? Do you live there? We're going back soon - please leave your recommendations for places to visit in the comments below. =)

Much love,
Erin

For educational purposes only. All photos and graphics are copyright Erin Stewart. May not be distributed, copied, or published without express prior written permission from me.

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