Making Lavender Oil in the Rocky Mountains of Montana
It is an understatement to say we love lavender oil. We search the globe for artisan distillers making lavender oil and hydrosol from Lavendula angustifolia plants. In our travels to and fro, in search of the best essential oils and natural aromatherapy products we can find, we have hundreds of conversations with distillers and producers, and when we meet a kindred spirit we come away feeling energized and blessed. The intentionality of these dedicated folks is the reason responsible essential oil sourcing is currently viable and achievable - they also hold the keys to continued success as the conversation of plant sustainability increasingly gains urgency and the need for thoughtful, creative planning. Feeling inspired by these incredible growers and distillers, we eagerly decided to undertake the project of making lavender oil of our own!
Lavender Oil & Lavender Hydrosol
In case you would like a quick refresher on some of the more technical aspects, essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic and volatile plant compounds. They are typically used with a carrier or used by inhalation. Hydrosols distilled from freshly picked, optimally harvested organic plants, are energetically vibrant water-based distillates that bring a gentle richness to the practice of aromatherapy. Hydrosols are often used as refreshing room sprays, revitalizing tonics, natural first aid remedies, as well as carriers in aromatically beautiful aromatherapy blends. Vibrant hydrosols are distilled from freshly picked plant material whereas equally beautiful EO’s often are distilled from dried plant material. Essential oils contain naturally occurring chemical components that are used by aromatherapists to help further inform or verify the blending process. These chemical components can be identified using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry testing. It is immensely valuable to consult a current, batch-specific GC/MS report for each essential oil you work within your practice of aromatherapy. Having knowledge of chemical components and how to blend using these components, can take your work with essential oils to an entirely new arena and help reassure that the blends you are formulating not only smell incredible but that there is science and research to back up your methodology and rationale.
In our search for the highest quality products possible, we have seen countless fields, orchards, groves, and wilderness areas for wildcrafting and are always humbled beyond words at our luck in being witness to the art and craft of essential oil distillation. No two batches of essential oils or hydrosols are identical. Even oil produced from the same plant crop, harvested and distilled days apart, is ever so slightly nuanced from the others. The same plant grown and distilled in different countries can vary wildly in aromatic profile and also somewhat in percentages of crucial chemical components. Because plants are the poetry of our world, they soak up the energy and environment where they grow translating to the essential oils crafted from these plants – they speak energy, passion, and the very essence of the climate where produced.
Making Lavender Oil
As it turns out, loving and sourcing incredible lavender oil and then making lavender oil of our own – is a wildly different kind of experience. That first spring and summer developing our new lavender farm brought our family together in both tangible and intangible ways. We prepared our field by asking Mother Nature’s blessing on our new project, plowing up the rich, dark chocolatey earth, driving to Oregon and filling a horse trailer with hundreds of organic, tiny lavender plants, making circles in the dirt and spending hours and hours planting. Young lavender plants require a lot of water. We took turns every day watering each plant by hand. We cut the blooms when we were supposed to, excitedly watched them grow back with enthusiasm, and spent time keeping the weeds at bay.
The intoxicating flowers of the Lavendula angustifolia plant, rich in the naturally occurring chemical components linalyl acetate and linalool, create a sweet, floral, slightly fruity lavender oil that is one of the more universally loved oils in aromatherapy, as it is so profoundly calming to every aspect of the system. Lavender oil often used when formulating blends to help support pain and inflammation relief, as well as to encourage skin healing and overall skin health and radiance is the most popular essential oil used today. Emotionally and energetically, lavender oil is so balancing, soothing, and nurturing, primarily when working through situational fear, anxiety, and depression. We choose this variety of lavender specifically for all these reasons.
Our lavender field sits high on a mountain, overlooking the Missoula Valley. This field surrounded by conifers, larch trees, wild arnica and balsamroot in the spring is the backdrop of an array of wildflowers throughout the summer, a rich plethora of native grasses, a herd of elk, an ambling bear or two, and countless deer. This field has been home to us for over 20 years and inhabits an extraordinary place in our hearts. We love traveling and sourcing incredible aromatherapy products – we also love home. We love this field.
Thanks to some Canadian farming experience in his early years, our lead farmer, and my father, Larry, directed this first planting and growing season with a sense of humor and grace. We invited our friends, admin team, and workshop crew to help us with our lavender harvest and then things got REAL during that first distillation. We had Ann Harman, friend and author of From Harvest to Hydrosol, on speed dial, which was so helpful as we had completed several excellent foundational distillation courses a few years prior with Ann. We were in good hands and highly recommend studying with Ann Harman if you are thinking of undertaking hydrosol or essential oil distillation yourself - you will be prepared!
That summer we learned so much about lavender farming and even more about distillation. We also learned about ourselves and fell in love all over again with the concept of what an essential oil and hydrosol are. An essential oil is so much more than just essential oil – it encapsulates the energy of the place, the growing environment, the spirit of the people involved, the energy and beauty of the plants, and the awe-inspiring potential of the GOOD essential oils can provide for our world. We were stewards of this precious lavender, grown in our new field on our favorite mountain surrounded by familial woods and forests. The immense responsibility we felt of honoring these lavender plants and orchestrating their transformation into essential oil and hydrosol was enormous and we were so, so pleased with the final results.
We are now in our fourth growing season on our lavender farm here in Western Montana. We have learned so much about ourselves, growing lavender, and distilling these precious plants for essential oil and hydrosol. We will continue to learn the valuable lessons nature has to teach, the tangible and intangible, and we will continue to aspire towards perfecting our craft. Plants are nature’s poetry, and we could not be more honored and humbled to play a small role in sharing these lavender poems with those around us.