Making lavender oil, two methods: steam and infusing

Lavender oil

Lavender oil is a famous liniment. It’s used in perfume and to heal small ailments. There are two ways to make oil from lavender:

  • distill essential oils with steam,
  • or steep lavender flowers in another type of oil.

Both methods extract lavender oil, though the resulting product is different for each.

Two types of lavender oil?

Lavender flowers are strongly scented. For over a hundred years, people have been growing lavender mainly for the fragrance that’s in the violet blooms.

Essential lavender oil

Essential oil of lavender is obtained through steam distillation. It’s the most concentrated type of lavender oil. Producing it requires specialized equipment but some DIY solutions with kitchen utensils already yield a satisfactory result. You need to dilute such oils before use, they’re so concentrated!

Infused lavender oil

Making lavender oil by steeping flowers in oilThe easiest way to extract the scent and benefits of lavender flowers is to infuse lavender flowers in a “carrier” oil. This means that the flowers are steeped or soaked in oil from another plant. The lavender scent isn’t as strong as with essential oil, but the advantage is that you can use it directly, without diluting it.

Usually, scent-less oils are used, but it’s also possible to associate two fragrances together to make a liniment, like adding a lavender scent to coconut oil. Additionally, you get the benefits of the carrier oil along with those of lavender, too.

How to extract essential oil from lavender

The process to extract lavender essential oil is steam distillation. Usually, lavandin is used since it produces up to ten times more essential oils than other varieties. It’s usually propagated through cuttings to ensure 100% replication of the mother plant’s characteristics. Next best is Old English lavender and Portuguese lavender , whereas French lavender ranks among the lower-producing varieties.

Equipment for distilling lavender

Distilling lavender to produce oil requires four main tools:

  • Alembic used to distill lavender oil from the flowers to extract essential oila source of heat to steam the flowers in a large vat, called a Still.
  • a funnel to collect the steam. A technical name for this is Swan neck.
  • a tool to condense the steam from gas to liquid. This is called the Condenser. It has tubes in it, and a cold water inlet and hot water outlet so the water can wrap around the path the steam will take.

Sometimes the still, swan neck, and condenser are combined. This is then called an Alembic.

  • something to separate oil from water: the Separator. Usually this is just a clear container.

This technique is ancient, since even in Ancient times lavender extracts were prepared with steam.

→ These same tools work for other plants, too: damask roses, atlas cedar

Steps to get lavender essential oil from flowers

  • 1- Gather the cut lavender flowers in the still. Press it down to pack it well.
  • 2- Put water in the bottom part of the still. Seal the still to the swan neck to collect all the vapor that will come out. Connect it to the condenser and place the separator
  • 3- Heat the water until it boils (212°F or 100°C). Steam flows through the flowers, then comes out from the swan neck into the condenser.
  • 4- Adjust the flow of cold water in the condenser so that the steam cools down and turns liquid.
  • 5- This flows into the separator, where essential oil extracts float on top and water descends to the bottom.

It takes a lot of lavender to get a little bit of essential oil. Depending on the variety, in the worst case you’ll need about 30kg of lavender flowers to extract 100 ml of essential oil. Lavandin varieties offer the highest productivity, whereas other types of lavender yield less.

Infusing oil with lavender

An easier way to reap the health benefits of lavender oil is to infuse a “carrier” oil with lavender flowers. Oils from the lavender flowers will seep into the carrier oil.

Oils that will carry the lavender extracts are your choice. Many like to use olive oil or virgin coconut oil to add their health benefits to the preparation. Other less fragrant oils like argan oil, almond oil, or shea oil will let the lavender scent dominate instead.

Steps to infuse oil with lavender

  • Infusing oil with lavender flowers1- Pick lavender flowers. You’ll get slightly different results with very fresh flowers than with older dried ones.
  • 2- Bruise the flowers without turning them into mush. You can use a mortar and pestle, a board and rolling pin, or simply mash them a bit with a fork.
  • 3- Fill a jar with the lavender flowers. Press down to pack it. Pour your carrier oil all the way to the top, so that none of the plant material sticks out. Close the jar, it’s ok if it isn’t airtight.
  • 4- Wait. It helps to place your jar in a warm place, but don’t let direct sunlight hit the liquid. For instance place it in a small carton on your windowsill. Let the flowers steep in the oil for at least two weeks, at most one month.
  • 5- Filter the oil, discarding the plant material.
  • 6- If you want a stronger scented oil, repeat the process with the same batch of oil, but with fresh, new flowers.

These two different oils – essential lavender oil and oil infused with lavender – have several different uses. Discover them along with other lavender benefits here (here for lavandin).

Images: iStock: Kotkoa; Pixabay: Erika Varga, Devanath, Jean photosstock