Lavender is perhaps the best known, widely used, and most adored essential oil. But initially, I never found it particularly effective for any of its exalted attributes. It was not until I smelled the aroma of an oil-infusion of a cultivar in my garden, did I sense why Lavender is so special. Understanding the chemistry of various types of Lavender essential oils reveals why Lavender is termed “The Universal Healer”.
Not so ironically, I have always had exquisite results when using just a decoction of fresh or dried lavender (even the hydrosol) verses inferior Lavender oil. Lavender oil is one of the most complex oils to steam distill, which makes it among the most likely oils to be of poor quality. Adulteration, impurities and shortcuts ruin the many healing properties that this essential oil affords! Hence, even when using the right type of Lavender oil, a low-grade product is unlikely to produce expected therapeutic results. Betrayal of Lavender can happen where it is grown (highland or coastal). It can happen in how it is grown (wild or cultivated) and when it is gathered (season & time of day). The essential oil can be adulterated with synthetic chemicals, extended with fixed oils, or rectified with isolated constituents. How the original plant is distilled is ultimately important in how much of its therapeutic constituents are actually harnessed.
“…During the distillation process of lavender oil, after twenty-five minutes, 75% of the essential oil is extracted. However, it is only after an hour and forty-five minutes that the remaining 25% of the oil is extracted. It is therefore very tempting for the less scrupulous distiller to reduce the time of distillation, saving time and money, but eventually producing incomplete and low-grade oil… The loss of any of these ingredients, through lack of purity results in essential oils with little or no therapeutic effect…” (NHR, 2007)
There are many species, cultivars and hybrids of Lavender, each producing its own unique oil. If one where to visit a garden nursery, upon casual observation one would think that all the Lavenders look and smell alike. Examine closer, each looks and smells unique. Each can be distinguished by the growing conditions it prefers and its flowering season. Each of their volatile oils has a different chemical make-up and therapeutic potential. There are over twenty-eight species of Lavender (Chu, 2001). Multiplying this by the number of chemotypes and cultivars, each with a different chemical make-up and energy, makes a medicine cabinet full of potential uses. With few exceptions, the Lavender oils are safe in pregnancy, with children, animals, the elderly and the infirmed. However, some unfortunate people have allergic reactions upon inhaling the aroma from even a lavender plant itself.
Part 2 contiues with the Lavenders most widely used for their therapeutic volatile oil.