Summer evenings, after a day working in the field, one of my favorite things to do is to grab a glass of something delicious and sit out on our back shaded patio to distill lavender. The giant kiwi plant crawling up a very sturdy trellis gives me shade and the scent of lavender makes this not only a very relaxing activity, but a calming one as well.
Distillation itself is a quite magical process. You put a bunch of plant material into a metal cylinder, place that on top of a giant pot of boiling water, and watch in wonder as water and oil come out of the attached metal tubes.
Well I guess it’s a little more complicated than that...but not by much. Here’s the process in a little more detail:
The nifty oil separator I have has an opening on the bottom, so after the distillation, I just let the water out (which is hydrosol) and I’m left with a beautiful layer of oil that I then put into pint jars, ready to be used in soap, salve and all kinds of other great lavender-y things.
I’ve also started distilling some of the other plants we grow on the farm, like Rose Geranium and Rosemary, since I use these oils in several of our products. Interestingly, I don’t get nearly as much oil from these plants as from the lavender, but I’m grateful for any amount I get. And it just gives me an excuse to plant more of each.
It all seems so simple now, but I’ll never forget our first attempts at distillation. Essential oil distillers can be a bit pricey -- even a small tabletop distiller runs several hundred dollars, so when we first decided to give distilling a try, my engineer husband said “How hard could it be?” watched a few youtube videos and pieced together our own distillation contraption taking some of his beer brewing equipment, adding a modified pressure cooker, a few plastic tubs, a pasta strainer and some copper tubing. That should work, right?
Well, it did and it didn’t. We got some lovely hydrosol, but not much in the way of essential oils. I think with some tweaking we might have gotten it to work, but even from just the hydrosol we were able to get, I was hooked. And my birthday was coming up. So a shiny new stainless steel distiller was my birthday present that year and I was thrilled. Now all I have to do is attach a few hoses, start the propane burner, shove a bunch of lavender into the top container, grab a glass of wine, and inhale the sweet aroma of lavender as it distills. I’m pretty sure our neighbors are relaxing about as much as I am as the scent wafts through the trees and down the road. Alchemy at its finest, I’d say.
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .