1. What is the difference between lavender and lavandin?
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia spp.) and Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia spp.) account for the majority of ‘lavender oil’ produced worldwide. L. angustifolia is the traditional lavender and produces the essential oil from which lavender’s high demand is derived. Lavandin is a hybrid produced by the cross pollination of L. angustifolia and L. latifolia (spike lavender) and because of its larger size and higher oil yield is the plant best suited to industrialised farming and for commercial reasons has come to dominate world production. The key qualitative difference between Lavender and Lavandin essential oil is the presence of camphor and 1,8 cineole (a key compound of eucalyptus oil). Lavender essential has none, or negligible levels (< 1%) of these compounds, whereas Lavandin essential oil has between 6 – 15% of each. The presence or absence of these compounds marks out both aromatic and end use differences. Lavender is generally sweeter, richer, more floral and more aromatically complex. Among its many qualities, is its ability to balance, soothe and calm. Lavandin is aromatically fresh, green, and stimulating. The presence of the ketone, camphor, and the oxide, 1,8 cineole, makes it a helpful essential oil, among other things, for wound care and as a muscle rub. Both have significant restorative and anti-bacterial properties.
2. Why are there so many lavender oils, isn’t a lavender oil a lavender oil?
Lavender is naturally a genetically varied species and this genetic scope means that there is potential for considerable diversity in the essential oils produced by different lavenders even within the same species. Under modern agricultural practices lavender essential oil production has been directed towards specific high yielding cultivars which naturally conform to market expectations for a specific aroma and chemistry. Because the bulk demand for essential oil is from industrial level manufacturers of ‘natural’ cosmetics and personal care products, much of the potential diversity in the Lavandula species has been subverted in the standardised commercial product we know simply as Lavender Essential Oil. This level of standardisation means interest is largely lost for what is further possible.
As boutique producers of lavender essential oils Snowy River Lavender seeks to respect and promote the botanical diversity of the Lavandula species we grow; and, to maintain the integrity of this diversity in the essential oils we produce from them. This aim is achieved by way of growing a diversity of cultivars and distilling these as single cultivar distillations. We also have an extensive seed lavender program from which we are; developing new field cultivars; and, also distilling Snowy River ‘population’ lavender oil which places genetic diversity at the very heart of what it is.
3. Why does Snowy River Lavender not promote their lavender oil as therapeutic?
Any product claiming therapeutic properties in Australia has to be registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is an expensive process which is mostly undertaken by large companies participating in the pharmaceutical/ cosmeceutical production and related ‘natural therapies’ industries. As small scale producers of essential oils and botanical care products we focus more on promoting the authenticity of our products and the transparency of our production processes, letting those who use them to cast their own value on their efficacy to achieve the results for which they are using them.
4. What is hydrosol?
Hydrosol is the pure co-product, with essential oil, of distillation processes. As distillate leaves the still’s condenser and settles in the collection vessel, the essential oil rises to the top and the hydrosol, as the heavier aqueous portion of the distillate, settles on the bottom. The volatile chemistry which was complete in the plant now is two separate products. Hydrosol has minuet residues of essential oil and of itself more of the soluble chemistry of the plant. It follows that hydrosol has its own aroma, chemistry and unique value of use, therapeutically, cosmetically, and aesthetically.
A bottle of lavender hydrosol has the appearance of crystal clear water, but it bears a honey rich aroma and an acidity (pH<4.5) close to the acid mantle of the skin. Used on the skin it has a soothing, toning and protective potency. Lavandin hydrosol has a fresher more stimulating aroma but similar properties of use. We sell hydrosol as the pure distilled product but also use it as a key ingredient in the formulation of most of our care products.
5. What is GC/MS analysis?
Essential oil is volatile plant chemistry and every essential oil has a signature pattern of compounds which shapes both its aroma and active potential. Some key families of volatile compounds found in essential oils, are, esters, monoterpenols & sesquiterpenols (alcohols), monoterpenes & sesquiterpenes (terpenes), ketones, oxides and so on. Because of the high levels of linalool and linalyl acetate in lavender, typically between 60 – 80% of the total oil, it is predominately and jointly an ester and monoterpenol essential oil. However, within this general framework of lavender chemistry, and within the further 20 -40% of plant chemistry, much diversity exists. This is due to it being a naturally derived product of the plant world, subject to climatic, geographic, ecological, agricultural and genetic variations which speak through the plant and what it produces as sources of variation.
GC stands for Gas Chromatography and is a sophisticated laboratory process which registers the presence of different compounds within an essential oil as a peak on an area graph. MS stands for Mass Spectroscopy and is the way the GC is read, presenting each compound as percentage of the total essential oil by reading the area under each peak representing a compound. Every essential oil presents an individual graphical profile of its chemistry and these profiles have become a primary way of understanding the potential of an essential oil. Commercial Standards (ISO & others) are based on these technical readings and normalize these profiles as species specific balances, where the presence of key compounds, are notated within an acceptable maximum, minimum range. These chemical ranges and balances are generally perceived as universally accessible indexes of essential oil quality.
At Snowy River Lavender GC/MS profiles and the Standards are viewed as necessary tools for understanding both the balance and diversity of our essential oils. Standards show a normative range and balance of compounds distinctive to the lavender, or lavandin, species from which we make comparisons to our own varieties. Annually samples of our essential oils are sent off to a laboratory for GC/MS testing. Whilst phyto-chemical variations occur each year, reflecting mainly the shifting effects of climate, after many years of looking at these profiles it is obvious that each cultivar has a genetic fingerprint reflected in distinguishing balances of compounds which consistently repeat themselves. In areas where a cultivars’ chemistry consistently deviates from the normative balances set out in the Standards, these markers guide us to an understanding of biodiversity and the potential for different characteristics within the essential oils of the Lavandula species.
6. Do you sell wholesale?
Wholesale prices for lavender essential oil are low and realistically can only be commercially met by highly industrialised farming and distilling, or by the centralisation of production within cheap labour economies, and sometimes a combination of both. Snowy River Lavender does not conform to either of these cultures of production and is working to create a marketing platform by which we, as an ecologically organised farm operating under the fairness of Australian industrial relations law, can nevertheless survive as a commercially viable enterprise. If we were to sell our oils on the wholesale market we would not be able to do this. Also because we have focused our production at a boutique level we do not actually produce a generic Lavender Oil which would easily fit into this standardised market. We sell our oils direct to the end users which includes individual clients and some small scale botanical personal care producers, concerned to obtain an authentic premium essential oil for their own premium products. Our main aim is to vertically integrate our farm production into our boutique production of skin, personal and home care ranges of products. After all no-one knows the beauty and diversity of our essential oils and hydrosols like we do, an issue which will be reflected in the quality of our products.
7. Why are you an ecological and not an organic farm?
Fundamentally, ecology and organics work within the same framework of understanding. Both denote living and self sustaining systems, continuously capable of developing out of themselves through living processes of growth and decay. We use the term ecological farming over organic for two reasons.
Firstly, ecological actually describes best the complex context of our farm which is set within a distinct wilderness framework. Ecological styles of farming see farm production as part and parcel of a custodial relationship to land which is ecologically complex. From this perspective the farm production resides alongside an understanding and nurturing of the biological diversity that already exists in the ‘natural’ environment (topography, flora and fauna) and the farm is acknowledged as part of a much larger living system. This is a bespoke attitude to farming, not a ‘one size fits all’ model where farming is strategic, designed through observation and adaption with the aim of building resilience into the natural systems of fertility (the workings of a living soil) and hydration, away from a dependency on external inputs including fertilisers and irrigation. Our farm and our agricultural practice have developed around the key concepts of a ‘living soil’, farm ecology, biodiversity and low inputs.
All these things can and do fit into an organic farming framework, however, this leads to the second and pragmatic reason why we are not organic. Organic is now mostly used as a legal term commercially associated with specific certifying organisations and their respective standards for agricultural and industrial practice. We have not gone through certification, so it is not legal for us to tag our farm ‘organic’ or ‘bio-dynamic even though we use these systems of practice. Key organic certifiers are Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA). They are also mediate bio-dynamic certification. Certification is not something we are against but we are a small operation and it has not been a priority in how we are currently deploying our limited resources. For those who are interested in, and care about, the provenance of our essential oils our processes are transparent.