Friday, June 28, 2013

Lavender Lessons

I had extended family from out of town visiting this week, and Thursday we took a day trip to San Juan Island to see the sights.  Even through the gray skies it's beautiful to ferry around the islands.  And Hotel de Haro / Roche Harbor dressed up to the nines in 4th of July holiday bunting looked so dandy!

We stopped at Pelindaba Lavender Farm too - strange that I had never been there before, even though I've seen their products in all kinds of places.

It's a beautiful place and I learned a ton of new information about lavender.  Not that I was an expert before, but I use a lot of lavender in my products and thought I knew a little bit of stuff. Now I know more :)

As we wandered the cutting field and display gardens, I read about the differences in plants.  I knew a little bit about the varieties, but did not know that the distinctions between what is known as English or French or Spanish lavender is not really correct.  The cultivar of the plant doesn't really hail from any one country or another - it's the plant itself that's important - and they explain the varieties and their true latin names.  Not that I memorized all of those - but I understood the distinctions.

The French Lavender that I use in my sachets is actually imported from France, so that is correct.  But the plant is referred to as an "intermedia" plant - rather than just a French lavender.  It's the one with the long, skinny stems, medium purple color, and sweetest fragrance (to me anyway).  That is the same essential oil type I use in my soaps too.

And they also had information about when to pick lavender for specific uses.  People ask me that all the time, so they can use the lavender in their own gardens.  I usually tell people to pick it as it first blossoms - but that's true only if you are interested in drying it for looks.  If you want to cook with it, pick it when it's about mid-way through the blooming season.  And if you want to pick it for sachets and fragrance, you should pick it at the end of it's blooming season, when most of the blossoms have already opened and it has developed the most essential oil in the buds.  I never cut and collect the lavender in my own garden because I like to smell it blossoming and brushing against my legs when I walk by.  I wait until it's totally spent to prune it back.  But now I'll have better answers for the people who want to make good use of it.  And just maybe I'll be inspired to utilize all the glorious plants in my own yard too.

They have their steam distillation barn open for viewing, describing how the essential oils and hydrosols are collected from the plant material.  It's a full experience, with more displays about lavender uses, a nursery full of plants, a gift shop jam-packed with all of their items, picnic areas, and cutting fields to chop your own.  They have such a huge selection of things, from foods like chocolates, jams, vinegars and mustards, to bath and body stuff, to every kind of fragrant and decorative lavender thing you can imagine.  Fun place to stop if you're on the island.