Monday, August 31, 2015

Lavender Beauty

#Lavender beauty

Lavender oil has skin-regenerative properties that make it especially appealing for use in cosmetics and body products. It not only cleanses the skin, protects it from bacteria, fungi and microbes - but also helps to prevent scaring, which makes it ideal for acne-prone skin.

It's important to note that most skin conditions are an expression of deeper things that are going on in the organism's life... Stress of daily life included, but also tension (read: deeper, unresolved emotional issues - most of which are unconscious or subconscious). It's interesting to note that often people who have problems such as eczema or acne refer to their skin when experiencing a bad flare-up episode as "angry skin". So if at all possible - taking a mental note of what might be going on in our lives emotionally (and not just what we ate, drank or did to our skin directly) when we first experienced a breakout, and finding ways to express those emotions - might help to resole the issue, and make the skin problems also go away.

Essential oils work not only on the physical, cellular and molecular level in our body (lavender, for example, reducing tension and promoting peaceful, calm emotions). So incorporating these in your self-care works holistically, also supporting you emotionally and assisting the nervous system, not just the skin it touches. When you're applying a lavender-scented mask, bathing in lavender, or hydrating your face with lavender floral water - you're also helping your mind to be more at peace with whatever life might have thrown at you that day.

Here are a few ideas for how to incorporate lavender and its products into your skin care and beauty regime:


Lavender, Honey & Yoghurt Mask
This is a gentle, non-drying mask for acne-prone skin, as the antibiotic components in both lavender and honey help to kill off the bacteria that tents to intensify the severity of the breakouts. The friendly Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria in yoghurt will also help kick those breakouts off the face of the earth, while also adding nutrients to your skin from the milk's fat. Use full milk, thick Greek style yoghurt for best results.
2 Tbs full-fat plain Greek yoghurt, with no additives (avoid those with thickeners such as cornstarch, pectin, etc.)
1 tsp raw honey
1 tsp crushed lavender buds
1 drop lavender essential oil

Apply to your face and leave on for 5 minutes. Pat gently with a warm, wet cloth to remove the mask. Follow with a toner and a moisturizer. You can enjoy this mask 1-2 times a week.

Lavender Hydrosol 
Finding a good Lavender Hydrosols are far and few. Some are not made from true lavender but from Lavandin (L. latifolia), so investigate before you place your order. I had a lavender hydrosol many years ago that I suspect was one of those. It had more camphoreous and coumarin type of scent, and just did not feel vibrant enough. Also, there are two types of hydrofoils: those which are by-products of the distillation process, and only contain the water left off after the oil has been collected. And then there are hydrosols that were made exactly for that purpose, and have all the oils within them still. The latter have a fuller spectrum of the plant's therapeutic and beautifying benefits.

Important note: Hydrosols are a perishable product, and no matter which type of hydrosol is in question, it should be used up within 6 months, and preferably kept in the refrigerator (especially if you're living in a warm climate).

Benefits of full-spectrum lavender hydrosol (according to artisan distiller Dabney Rose herself): "slightly astringent toner for oily skin, but gentle enough for all skin types...other than face, I have used it for after too much sun to take the heat out of the skin, for First Aid spray on cuts and scrapes; it really helps take the edge off the pain (especially for children), and is safe for babies."

I've used up all that lovely hydrosol as a facial toner. I find that floral water are a wonderful way to hydrate the skin, either on their own or to layer facial oil overtop. The added moisture and gentle dosage of healing and beautifying properties in the floral water nourish the skin; while the facial oil seals that moisture and adds nutrient of its own. I usually do that only in the evening (I'm quite low maintenance when it comes to skin care; but if your skin needs more nourishment - a morning spritz of hydrosol will start your day with a reviving yet gentle scent.  You can either pat it dry with a soft towel, or just let it air dry. Layer with a lighter moisturizer, cream or facial serum if your skin is particularly dry or has other problems.

You can also combine lavender hydrosol with other hydrosols for a synergistic effect. For example, in her book "The Aromatherapy Companion", Victoria H. Edwards recommends blending equal parts of lavender, chamomile and artemisia arborescens hydrosols for sensitive skin; for acne equal parts hydrosols of llavender, thyme and orange flower; and for oily skin a blend of equal parts lavender, lemon verbena and artemisia hydrosols. These can be either sprayed on the face or applied with a cotton pad. Another interesting preparation by is of half a cucumber ground in a blender with 1/2 oz lavender hydrosol, 1 oz witch hazel and 2 drops rosemary oil, strained in a coffee filter and kept refrigerated. This is a perishable blend, which I would think needs to be used up within 2 weeks.

Lavender & Vinegar Astringent Toner *
Preparing your own lavender toner is easy, affordable and effective. Natural apple cider vinegar has many benefits especially for oil or problematic skin (i.e.: blackheads or acne prone).
1 oz lavender floral water or orange floral water
1 oz spring water or filtered tap water
2 oz apple cider vinegar
2 drops lavender oil
1 drop neroli

Note: If you can't find lavender hydrosol, you may substitute a lavender infusion for it. Steep 1 tsp of dried lavender buds (Lavandula angustifolia) in boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain and bring to room temperature. Add the other ingredients. Let sit in a covered jar for 24 hours. Filter through an unbleached paper coffee filter, and rebottle in a sterilized airtight bottle.
Apply with a cotton ball or cotton pad to tone your face, and follow with a moisturizer or customized face oil.

Nourishment & Treatment:

Individual breakout can be "zapped" by dipping a q-tip in neat lavender oil and dabbing gently each zit, making sure they stay intact and allow them to heal on their oil. Lavender oil will help speed up this process.

Lavender & Frankincense Face Oil (for oily to normal skin) ** 
15 mL (or 1 Tbs) non-comedogenic (non-clogging) carrier oil such as Sunflower, Argan, Rose hip or Hemp seed oils - or a combination of those
1 capsule Vitamin E
5 drops Lavender oil
1 drop Frankincense oil
2 drops Carrot Seed oil

Lip Care:
Lavender makes an excellent additive to lip balms, and helps to improve the condition of dry, chapped lips.
Here's a delicious recipe with added yumminess and nutrients from cocoa butter and honey.

4 Tbs. almond oil
2.5 Tbs. coconut oil
2 Tbs. beeswax
1.5 Tbs. cocoa butter
1 tsp. honey
1 capsule vitamin E
Up to 40 drops flavouring essential oil, i.e.: 20 drops of lavender and 20 drops of geranium essential oils; or 20 drops of lavender and 20 drops of peppermint. 

Melt the beeswax, cocoa butter and coconut oil in bain marie. add the almond oil and honey. Add the essential oils and pour into little jars or tubes.

Hair Care:
Lavender is renown for its anti-dandruff benefits. While most commercial anti-dandruff shampoos only make the dandruff stick to your scalp, and create a dependency on their product - making your own home remedies is going to at least reduce the symptoms, if not resolve the problem once and for all.

Dandruff, like so many other unpleasant skin conditions are more than likely the result of stress and tension (read: unresolved emotional issues), and possibly some elements that are lacking in the diet - including vitamin D if you're living in a place where natural sunlight is scarce, or other essential fatty acids (for example: including more flaxseeds in your diet might help).

Adding lavender (and other oils that work with it synergistically to eliminate dandruff) to your shampoo, scalp treatment oils or vinegar rinse. Aside from lavender, Valerie Anne Worwood (The Compelete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy) recommends the following essential oils to treat dandrfuff: rosemary, lemon, lime, birch, basil, thyme, allspice, cypress, eucalyptus peppermint, sage and carrot seed. Evening primrose, borage and jojoba oils are good base oils to support that, from you which you can blend an oil and massage into the scalp and leave over night.

Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Substitute 
4oz "Soap stew" or unscented liquid Castile soap. **
18 drops Rosemary
10 drops Lavender
8 drops Sage

Anti-Dandruff Vinegar Rinse
1 Tbs unfiltered and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
5 drops Lavender oil
5 drops Thyme ct. linalool 
3 drops Sage
5 drops Rosemary
Rinse your hair after shampooing with

Anti-Dandruff Overnight Treatment
Dip your fingertips into a mixture of 15 drops each evening primrose and jojoba oils, to which 3 drops of cypress and 5 drops of lavender have been added. Massage into the scalp before retiring.

Safety and Precaution
Recently, lavender has been under scrutiny by self-proclaimed expert Paula Begoun on the so-called "Cosmetic Dictionary". Incidentally, her website is dedicated to selling her own line of unscented skincare, so she's clearly not a fragrance lover. Now I'm all for keeping my skincare as pure as could be, but why punish yourself with a scentless world if some of the oils are actually greatly beneficial for the skin?
If you share her fanatics of anti-fragrance, knock yourself out. However, if you have a more pragmatic approach, read Robert Tisserand's response, which I find not only reasonable but also reassuring. Even the entirely anti-fragrance lobbyists Skin Deep seem to find lavender harmless.

* Adapted from Valerie Anne Worwood's The Compelete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, p. 124.

** Adapted from Valerie Anne Worwood's The Compelete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, pp. 130-131. This chapter has a thorough series of treatments for acne.

*** Use a liquid Castile soap or "soap stew" from boiling castile soap flakes OR soapwort in water.
Adapted from Valerie Anne Worwood's The Compelete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, pp. 164-165

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Perfumer's Purple

Lavender Soliflores

Lavender on the perfumer's palette provides for a range of purplish-blue hues, metaphorically speaking, of course. The oil itself is clear; and the absolute literally is a turquoise colour.

Lavender Toilette Waters
The earliest application of lavender in perfume is in the classic Lavender Waters - which the English perfected. Many historic recipes can be found for these type of eaux. Another sub-category of which is the lavender-amber waters, which include, in addition to lavender, either amber or ambergris.

Eaux de Cologne
Another important historic use of lavender oils is in the Eaux de Cologne type of fragrances. Here both lavender and lavandin are used extensively. Lavender imparts a softer, more floral nuance, where as lavandin gives a more herbaceous edge, often in synergy with rosemary or mint. Lavender can be found in countless classic eau de clone formulations, such as 4711, Guerlain's Eau de Cologne Impériale (1853) and Eau du Coq (1894) etc. Florida Waters are a New World interpretation of the Eau de Cologne in which lavender takes a more prominent role, and also includes lime, cloves and cassia bark. 

Lavender Soliflores & Gems
Lavender soliflores are a richer, more developed and rounded version of the lavender waters; or simply a more concentrated form. Classic examples are: Yardley's English Lavender (1873), Lavande Velours (Guerlain), Floris' Lavender, etc. Then there are some more sophisticated, layered and exciting renditions such as Jicky (Guerlain), the liquorice-velvety Brin de Réglisse (Hermes), my own Lovender (part of The Language of Flowers soliflore collection) and let's not forget the underrated, wonderfully vanillic Caron's Pour Une Homme.

The first use of synthetic aroma chemicals was marked by the creation of Fougère Royal, a concoction that used for the first time a laboratory-made coumarin. But coumarin is only one of four key components that are crucial for creating fragrances of this genre, the other three being oakmoss, linalool and lavender. One could argue that the bare bones of Fougère place lavender in an even more important place, if you strip it down to an even more simple accord of oakmoss-and-lavender, since the other two components (coumarin and linalool) naturally occur in lavender.
Other famous members of this family are Azzaro, Grey Flannel, Brut, Canoe, Amber & Lavender Cologne (Jo Malone's), Jazz (YSL), Xeryus Rouge (Givenchy), etc.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lavender Chemistry

Lavender distillation

Some 300 molecules were discovered in true lavender's essential oil, that are responsible for its fine, complex yet clear aroma - most of which are trace elements. The major constituents are (the ones in bold are the most dominant/famous ones):
Linalyl acetate (up to 40%) 
Lavandulol *
Lavandulyl acetate *
1-octen-3-yl acetate
cis-Linalool oxide  
Vinyl amyl carbinol  
trans-Linalool oxide  
Neryl acetate  
Geranyl acetate  
Caryophyllene oxide  
Hexyl acetate  

As we can see, it mostly contains terpenes, terpene alcohols and esters, and a few alcohols. According to Jeanne Rose "esters are soothing, calming, and fungicidal"; and linalool is an "antibacterial, believes discomfort, diuretic, tones without irritating, stimulates the immune system, sedating"; the latter actions similarly described as initiated by the terpene alcohols as well as toning (The Aromatherapy Book, pp. 158-160).

* Both lavandulol and lavandulyl acetate are insect pheromones, which might explain the abundance of bees observed around lavender shrubs.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lavender Nuances - Olfactory Profiling

Lavender Harvest & Steam Distillation Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

Lavender is a native of the Mediterranean basin first and foremost, but has such a flexible and hardy constitution, that it is now cultivated all over the world. Of particular interest is English lavender, which develops unique characteristics (sweet and warm) despite the lesser amount of sunshine than ideal that it receives than in its native Provence; and I've sampled some exceptionally beautiful lavenders grown in relatively mountainous areas in India (Kasmir) and also from Tasmania (Australia). And even the Canadian ones I've experienced, despite its relatively low yield, is lovely when grown with tender care in small organic farms. Whichever is the case, sample your lavender first before you cast an opinion based only on the stamps on its passport.

Not only the type of lavender grown, but also where it has grown and under what conditions - the resulting aroma profile would be noticeably different. The following are brief impressions of several specimens I've studied and worked with. Most of them (unless otherwise specified) are from Lavandula angustifolia. Lavender that was grown in higher altitudes develops a much finer aroma due to a higher concentration of esters. But that is not the one and only reason for the superiority of high-altitude lavender: in high altitudes, water's boiling point is only 93 celsius, which means that less components get ruined in the process, and the more of the delicate esters also remain in the finished oil!

The reason esters are so desirable? They form among the most pleasant-smelling (functional) group of molecules. Among the esters you'll find many fruity nuances, but not nearly in-your-face as the fruity aldehydes. Most of the esters found in lavender oil are terpene esters: Linalyl acetate, geranyl acetate, octene-3-yl acetate, lavandulyl acetate (which is an insect pheromone, and might explain why the bees love lavender so much!) and neryl acetate. I detect a hint of pear in the high-altitude lavenders I've smelled, which must come from the latter (it is described as a floral, rosy, sweet, soapy, fruity, dewy with orange blossom and pear-like notes).

The effects of terroir and the particular hybrid or type of lavender selected for distillation, as well as the method of distillation makes a difference in the finished raw materials. This could be either very subtle (as the difference between the same species, L. angustifolia, in various countries or elevations) or extremely different (as we'll see when comparing lavender that was steam distilled versus solvent extraction).

The following are my own impressions from specimens that are in my collection:

Lavender Hydrosol
Artisan distillation by Dabney Rose. Curiously, it was distilled from the Mailette variety, while immersed with an amethyst crystal. It has a pure, clean aroma and the coumarin content is noticeable. I use it as a facial toner, but high quality lavender hydrosol could also be used in small amounts in eau de colognes as well.

Lavender grown in high elevation (France)
Herbaceous, a little like rosemary. A hint of rose-geranium. Slightly musty undertones. You can kinda smell it had hard time growing on the Alps... Smells like a very short, struggling plant. Dry down: hints of musk & wood base.

Lavender Maillette (France)
A cultivar of L. angustifolia Dray, clean, floral, woody. Sweet, hint of bery. Crystalline. Clean, clear, almost rosewoody. Has a higher content of linalyl acetate than any other lavender cultivar.

Wild Lavender (France) - Lavandula angustifolia 
Opens sweet and soft and floral, almost rosy even. Dries down into a sweet and grassy, airy lavender.

Lavender Oil (Tasmania, Australia)
Berry, myrrh-like, soft, green yet spicy-herbaceous. Light yet warm & comex. A little like sage/clary sage?

Lavender Super (Bulgaria)
Heavy, dirty, earhty. Herbaceouse, very fern-like. Slightly wine-like. Clean-herbaceous undertones.

Lavender Kashmir
Velvety, suede, smooth, powdery, potent, powerful but soft. Slightly herbaceous, hardly medicinal. Floral, powdery like scented leather gloves. Woody, slightly musty undertones.

Lavender Jerusalem
Wild lavender from the mountains surrounding Jerusalem that I had many years ago and ran out of. A little more camphoreous and herbaceous than the others reviewed so far. It might have been lavandin, but the labeling (in Hebrew) did not have the scientific name, unfortunately.

Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)
A hybrid which was created in the 1950s, and therefore does not produce seed but requires slips to reproduce. Lavandin is a cross between "Spike Lavender" or "Aspic" as it's known in French (L. latifolia) and "True Lavender" (L. angustifolia), this variety has a very similar appearance to true lavender, except that it has longer, slightly winding flowering tops. It has a tremendously higher yield at 2-2.5% per hectare (compare to L. angustifolia at 1% per hectare). While this is a blessing for the farmers and distillers, from a perfumer's point of view lavandin is inferior to lavender. The higher yield is due not only to the longer flowering tops, but also to a higher content of components such as cineole and camphor. Lavandin in general is less complex and more rustic than lavender. Comparing to the highly resourceful lavender - lavandin is relatively useless in aromatherapy and for healing purposes; but has been enthusiastically embraced by functional perfumers, who use it primarily in soaps, candles and household cleaning products due to its low-cost appeal and less delicate constituents. Lavandin also makes wonderful sachets that repel insects such as moth from ruining natural fibres.

Lavandin Grosso (Lavandula x intermedia)
What is referred to by some as "French Lavender" is really lavandin - a cross between true lavender (L. anguvstifolia) and spike lavender (L. latifolia). It is what is most commonly used to stuff sachets that are used to scent linens and keep moth away from wool and silk. Perhaps that is why when I first encountered lavandin oil in Grasse, France - it smelled more like lavender to me on blind tests than the true lavender oil did.
Lavandin gross is one variety of lavandin with an earthy, more camphoreous character than that of true lavender.

Lavandin Super (Lavandula x intermedia)
Lavandin super has a more bright aroma than the grosso, and also more delicate almost fruity nuances - I'm guessing from a higher ester content. But smell it again, this time after you've smelled fine high-altitude French lavender - and it smells rather aggressive and herbaceous in comparison.

Lavender Absolute (Lavandula angustifolia) - France
Musty turquoise colour liquid. Penetrating. Musty, airy, etheral. Ambery base. Musty/musky yet clean & sweet, a little lemony even?

Lavender Absolute (Lavandula angustifolia) - Bulgaria
Dark green, almost opaque colour. Strong coumarin presence. Very similar to the real, living plant.

Lavender Concrete 
Olive green paste. Even more realistically plant-like than the absolute. It is wonderful is créme parfums. It reminds me a bit of lavender tea (either in a blend with other herbs or in a Lavender Earl Gray). 

Spike Lavender (Lavandula spicata)
"Spike lavnder (spica) is warm and dry, and its warmth is healthy. Whoever cooks spike lavender with wine, or if the person does now have wine, then with honey and water, and drinks it lukewarm often, soothes the pain in his or her liver and lungs, and makes his or her thinking and mind pure". 
(Hildegard von Bingen, "Physica"). In her entry on galangal in the same book (spelled galingale) she prescribes a remedy for palsy made of pulverized galangal, nutmeg, spike lavender, githerut (gith, AKA nigella or black cumin), lovage, female fern and saxifrage. I do not have any essential oil from spike lavender - and it is not much in use nowadays as lavender is far superior to it, and lavandin, its hybrid with spike lavender, has a much greater commercial success. 

Seville Lavender (Lavandula stoechas subspp. luisieri) - Spain
I have a L. stoechas bush in my garden, and it has an intensely animals, almost goat-like aroma, recalling herding on the Mediterranean hills. The flowers of this species also look very different than other lavenders - rather than a stem with many little tiny buds, they look more like a spikelet of wheat, with a purple flame of petals at the top.
The absolute I have smells like a non-lavender lavender. Raspberry, hay, almost like osmanthus and linden blossom. Sweet is not the right word but sour isn't either. Fruity in an odd, fascinating way. Dark like a herbal witch brew - over steeped rosemary and sage. Resinous and sweet, a little like fir absolute.

Seville Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lavender, The Healer

Senanque Abbey
Since ancient times, alchemists sought after the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life (to achieve immortality), and Panacea, the universal remedy that will treat all ailments and ensure that this eternal life is well-lived. As you'll discover in this article, lavender embodies that cure-all potential, if only utilized with skill, knowledge and respect to the plant.

This ancient medicine plant was mentioned in the writings of the great Greek physicians Dioscorides (also a botanist), Galen and Pliny. In the 13th and 14th Centuries, lavender has become one of the most popular herbs grown in the monastery gardens all over Europe. It is one of the key components of many Aqua Mirabillis formulae, including the classic Eau de Cologne (the basic accord for which contains petitgrain, neroli, lavender and/or lavandin, bergamot, lemon, orange and additional citrus oils, herbs and fixatives of choice), Chartreuse (which was originally a remedy; the ingredients remain a trade secret - but I suspect also contain lavender, chamomile and honey), and later on in the New World - the new interpretation of the cologne formula called Agua Florida - AKA Florida Water - with lavender, lime, cloves and cassia added to the original Eau de Cologne accord.

Un après-midi sous le soleil

"Lavender constrains many evil things, and evil spirits are driven by it".  - Hildegard of Bingen 

A few years ago, lavender oil prove to be a true friend to me. It was the peak of the summer, and I had to take an emergency flight to Israel to care for my then very ill mother. The experience was traumatizing, as to be expected. Add to that being eaten alive by the Israeli mosquitoes and attack of any bug imaginable (they've always liked me there in the countryside...) was the icing on the cake. Every night I smeared my limbs with neat lavender oil, sprinkled a protective circle of lavender oil around my bed, and a few more drops of both lavender and Roman chamomile on my pillow. That helped to keep both the insomnia, nightmares and bugs away for the most part. But whatever bites I did get were not too much of a big deal, because I would just dab more lavender oil on them when I woke up, and that prevents them from developing into an all-day misery, with scabs and all. It made the rather horrid time of my life (even though my trip lasted only two weeks) just a tiny bit more bearable. And for that, Lavender dear, I am forever grateful.

Lavender is as close to panacea as we'll ever get: No other aromatherapeutic oil is as flexible and useful as lavender. It is used to treat myriads of conditions including physical ailments fighting infections and wounds (it is a natural antibiotic and antiseptic) and mental and emotional challenges such as insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. Keep lavender on hand to treat ailments pertaining to skin, digestion, hormones, nerves, emotions, mood, and as a general first aid and household weapon to repel insects at bay and keep it clean and fragrant.

According to aromatherapist and author Julia Lawless (Aromatherapy and the Mind), small doses of airborne lavender oil have successfully improved the lives of patients in hospital in England; both improving their overall emotional well-being, reducing anxiety, helping patients find restful sleep, as well as preventing the spread of disease. And it was even used in hospitals for massaging patients. It is also utilized by midwives to calm and reassure the mother to be and ease her labouring process.

Lavender makes a wonderful travel companion for the many hurdles and discomforts that can come your way - from insect bites and sunstroke to insomnia. Below are but a few of the key qualities that can be harnessed for maintaining our well-being.

With all that being said, it can never be stressed enough that proper use of essential oils is paramount to their effective and safe outcome. Keep in mind that each drop of lavender represents many flowering tops: if we recall, to produce just 1 lb of oil, between 110 to 150 lb of fresh plant matter is required. To give you a more concrete idea: an acre of lavender can produce between 12-20 lb (5.44 - 9.07 kg) of oil (which, with lavender's specific gravity ranging from 0.870-0.898) translates to at least  6.25-7.89 L depending on how good was the harvest that year). Every time you're using up a 5 mL bottle of lavender, envision you've consumed an entire row of blooming lavender bushes, and be grateful for it!

According to the Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, lavender acts as:
Analgesic, antibiotic, anticonvulsive, antidepressat, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitoxic (detoxifier), carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, cicatrisant, cordial, cytophylactic, deodorant, diuretic, emmenagogue, hypotensive, insecticide, nervine, parasiticide, rubefacient, sedative, stimulant, sudorific, tonic, vermifuge, vulnerary.

Lavender should be included in any first aid kit: use it to treat burns, wounds, cuts and bites. It reduces the pain in those uncomfortable instances, and also promotes faster healing and reduces scarring.

It also repels insects, and smells much better than citronella but is just as effective in keeping blood-thirsty mosquitos away. When hiking, camping or traveling - there is no better companion than lavender!

Lavender is one of the few oils that can be worn neat on the skin (without requiring dilution) - which is how it should be applied when treating burns, cuts and insect bites. Please note that this method should not be misused to prevent unwanted reactions or side effects. 

Lavender harvest

Lavender oil can be used to treat many unpleasant skin conditions, including: acne, eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, inflammation, sunburn (dilute 1 drop of lavender in a tablespoon of aloe vera gel and apply to affected area), and as mentioned earlier - burns, cuts and wounds.

Lavender oil's restorative properties can be also harnessed for skin care and beauty products, to treat oily and acne-prone skin. Lavender hydrosol makes an excellent facial tonic.

Lavender is also a natural deodorant (try making your own, with baking soda and lavender oil!) and is also popular in talcum powders for the feet and the body. It can be used to treat athlete's foot, and is one of the most favourite additions to foot baths or foot creams, usually along with cooling peppermint.

Because of its antiseptic properties, lavender is a popular addition to soap bars and shower gels. It is also popular in talcum powders for the feet and the body and is an excellent deodorant.

Use lavender to prevent lice infections (especially good in synergy with rosemary), to keep mosquitoes and other bugs away, ringworms, etc. 

Like many other members of the mint family, lavender helps to alleviate nausea and treat abdominal cramps, colic, gas, etc.

Lavender can support women's PMS symptoms, especially when blended synergistically with clary sage. On the flip side: there has been a bit of a controversy a few years ago about whether lavender caused breast development in boys. I haven't found literature that is entirely reliable about this issue, so it could be that these was just anecdotal incidents.
If someone is in risk as a result of increased estrogen activities, it would be advisable to consult a doctor before exposing oneself to this oil (and perhaps also tea tree oil).

Lavender's reputation precedes it as a cure for headache and migraines. Applying the oil neat on the temples can help alleviate headaches. A foot bath with a few drops of lavender will reduce fatigue, and lavender sprigs placed inside the hat were supposed to prevent sunstroke.

Lavender has a positive effect on the mind in emotional situations such as shock, depression and anxiety and helps to get a good night's rest. It helps to reduce blood pressure, sciatica and vertigo.  All the more reason to bring it on in hospital and clinical environments, if you ask me... 

Lavender has both reviving and calming qualities. It's almost as if it knows what the person who takes it needs of it - soothing or stimulation!
In her book, The Fragrant Mind, Valerie Ann Worwood describes the "lavender personality" as a perfect balance between feminine and masculine: both nurturing, gentle and powerful. Indeed, lavender's power comes from having a perfectly balanced makeup of elements that like a mother perfectly perceptive to her infant's needs - seem to almost psychically tune into the patient's needs and give them exactly what's missing to promote their well-being. It does so gently but effectively.

Lavender is helpful in bringing a sense of peace of mind, serenity and calm; yet also can help to ward off mental fatigue. It reduces anxiety, and inspires sleep in a wandering mind of the insomniacs. 
But most importantly: it helps to self-regulation emotions, in situations such as mood swings, hysteria and bi-polar personalities, etc.

Visit our blog tomorrow for more lavender beauty tips and simple DIY applications. 

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lavender Lineage

Lavender Harvest Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

The name lavender originates in the French word "Lavandre", which is a mutation of the Latin word "Lavare" - to wash. This refers to the ancient costume, popular since Roman times, to scatter sprigs of blooming lavender in the bath, which makes the cleansing deeper an more effective, and of course - the bathing experience both relaxing and fragrant.

Lavender belongs to the Labiatae (AKA Lamiaceae) family, also referred to as the "Mint family", aludinig to the lip-like shape of the flowers.

There are several subgenus in the lavandula genus, and while the main group is native to the Maritimes-Alpes, there are also unique varieties that are native to Spain, North Africa, Arabia, Eritrea, Egypt, the Canary Islands and more:
Stoechas Mill.
Fabricia Adans.
Styphonia Medik.
Chaetostachys Benth.
Sabaudia Buscal. & Muschl.
Isinia Rech.f.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region. True lavender grows wild in southern France on the southern slopes of the Alpes, at 800m altitude and higher. Spike lavender (L. latifolia) is also a wild plant of that region, and grows in lower altitudes - from sea level and up to 600m altitude. Lavender must have travelled with the Roman conquerors all the way to the British Isles, where it has been very well received and has become an important part of the identity of British fragrance for many generations to come.

Lavender became a popular herb among the monasteries across Europe in the 13th and 14th Centuries, and used in many recipes for therapeutic alcoholic preparations called aqua mirabillis.
In her book Physica, the polymath abbess Hildegard von Bingen writes: "Lavender constrains many evil things, and evil spirits are driven by it". She describes its healing properties as stemming from combining the benefits of strength (of odour, I presume) and bitterness (which is how it tastes).

Lavender now grows all over the world, and is a popular fragrance in many preparations, and particularly for its aromatherapeutic properties. Its oil is used worldwide in skincare, soaps, home care products, and the buds and dried flowers make their way to many homes to impart a clean, relaxing scents to closets and shoe away wool-greedy moths in the forms of sachets, potpourri etc.

Lavender is a nostalgic scent to many, and usually brings fond memories. This may be because of its diverse therapeutic benefits; and also because it is so hardy and adaptable and can grown in many climates. Lavender is a popular garden herb and ornamental plant that attracts bees with its pheromone-like aromatic molecules.

Dried lavender buds are in use in many homes in potpourris and in sachets to scent linen and clothes, and for its varied functional uses (insect repellent, antiseptic, nerve tonic and with many other therapeutic properties), and is considered to be the closest thing to panacea - the cure-all remedy.

In her excellent book Aromatherapy and the Mind, renown aromatherapist and author Julia Lawless mentions that midwives would burn lavender over hot charcoals to ease a woman's labour; and mentions its association with the sorceress goddess Hecate. We've already mentioned its original use in Roman baths, but they were not the only ones - it was also used in the Turkish Hammams and Egyptian bath houses.

Lavender harvest
Lavender sprigs were placed inside hats to prevent sunstrokes; they were also believed to ward-off the "evil eye" and even prevent the plague by scattering their sprigs on the floor. Sprigs of lavender were also incorporated in the decoration of churches on special holidays. Sachets were sewn into the skirts of Elizabethan ladies. Lavender is curiously considered to be simultaneously an aphrodisiac, and an herb that promotes chastity and purity.

Lavender was also used to scent leather and in particular leather gloves, was placed in pillows of French royalty, a custom adopted fondly by many ordinary modern folks; and the oils is used effectively to scent hospital environments to promote patient's sense of well-being and prevent the spread of disease.

Tomorrow we'll discuss more of lavender healing properties and many therapeutic applications.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lovender Soap

Lovender Soap

Summer is preferably the time when I am busy in the lab planning the upcoming winter holiday season - and the most fun part of it is R&D for new products. One of those you've read about yesterday (Lovender deodorant).  Today I'm sharing with you the Lovender soap which I've created with Schuyler Corry of Open Source Soap. That is to say: I've created the scent, and he incorporated it into one of his wonderful, tried-and-true soap formulae.

With soaps, it's rarely possible to use the same formula as was created for the perfume, simply because of the costs. You need a whack load of raw materials to make a batch of soap, even if it is just at about 2% concentration. Lovender perfume included precious botanicals such as sandalwood oil (almost extinct at our day and age), vanilla absolute  (whose prices doubled this year due to low yield) and orris butter (one of the world's costliest raw materials, due to the fact that it takes 3 years to obtain the finished product from planting through meticulous processing and aging to extraction). To make up for their absence, I've used amyris oil (AKA West Indian sandalwood), a combination of other vanilla-smelling resins and balsams, and orris powder instead of the orris butter.

Lovender Soap

Using botanicals in soaps is always bound to produce surprises. For example: the bottom layer of the batch looked like it had two layers of colours. The lighter one at the bottom didn't have any of the orris powder in it at all. The orris gives it a gentle exfoliation, by the way. Also, despite the fact that it is with the same moisurizing formulae like we always had, this leaves my skin feeling cleaner but also a tad drier. Not so bad that I needed a moisturizer though. But it was noticeable.

I also wanted to create a somewhat tonka-bean like, foody effect by utilizing a brand new essence on my palette: bitter almond oil. This raw material is practically pure benzaldehyde. I had no idea how it would react to the saponification process, and I also didn't know how it will play out with the lavender essences. I smelled bitter almond in soaps before, and it was quite prominent, which was a hint to me that it would probably work. I was hoping it would also help to make up for the absence of vanilla absolute and also create an original combination. Turns out it worked quite lovely with the coumarin aspect of the lavender absolute. So it truly accentuates it. I may want to work more on this formulation for the next batch (we only make 14 soap bars in each batch, so that gives a bit of fiddle room and also makes mistakes not as grave as they could be). So I will likely fiddle with both the fragrance formula and also try it again with and without the orris root powder, just to see and smell what it would be like.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lavender Deodorant

Lavender Deodorant

Making your own deodorant is easier than a pie. And as skeptic as I may have been - it's also results in a very effective product. I tried this one when teaching two back-to-pack Pilates classes, and was absolutely sure my armpits will overcome the superficial layer of essential oils. But I was proven wrong. I use this now all the time, and am almost out of the 4 little jars I made; so figure once I dig out my recipe, why not share it on SmellyBlog?

It's especially relevant now, because: a) it's summer; b) it's a hot summer; and c) lavender, who is getting plenty of attention this month on SmellyBlog, is one of the best natural deodorants out there!

But lavender is not the only essential oil that will help your armpits smell nice and fresh throughout the dog days of summer; here's a list of oils that can be used individually - or better yet, synergistically. When you combine two or more oils that have the same properties, not only will they smell nice; their action and effectiveness will also be amplified.

Deodorizing oils:
Bay Leaf
Clary Sage
Orange, Sweet
Tea Tree Oil

The following recipe is for a cream deodorant - you will need to use your finger to apply it. It's a bit awkward if you're used to stick deodorants, but totally worth it if you've nailed down a scent that you really love, not to mention it works really well and costs very little compared to the fancy deodorants you'll find in the health food stores (some of which are not only expensive, but also rather useless).

The key active ingredients here are the baking soda and the oils. Baking soda absorbs odours and will keep the armpit scent away. The essential oils neutralize the activity of bacteria (they are most antiseptic oils, so they stop the action of the bacteria that produces armpit sweat odour). The starch's role is to absorb the sweat and also it helps with the consistency of the cream, making it less runny (which is particularly an issue on hot summer days - which is when you need your deodorant the most!).
The coconut oil is non-comedogenic, and its role is to carry all the active ingredients. The butter's role is to bring it to a more solid state at room temperature. I'm still experimenting with other butters and waxes to formulate a stick-deodorant and researching what to put in a spray deodorant. As you can tell, I'm my lab' most eager test bunny.

Lovender deodorant

DIY Deodorant 
3 Tbs virgin coconut oil
2 Tbs shea butter or cocoa butter 
3 Tbs baking powder 
2 Tbs powdered starch (I used arrowroot in lieu of corn starch) 
25-50 gtts (drops) of lavender oil, or any combination of deodorizing essential oils of your choice (see list above), or use the following combination, which totals 50 drops:

"No Sweat" - Ayala's Deodorant Scent:
20 gtts lavender essential oil
10 gtts geranium essential oil
2 gtts myrrh essential oil
5 gtts patchouli essential oil 
3 gtts vetiver essential oil

- Measure the oil and butter, and warm up gently over a bain-marie, until just melted.
- Remove from the heat
- Stir in the baking soda and starch, until completely incorporated
- Add the essential oils drop by drop, stirring well between additions
- Pour into clean, sterilized jars, and close the lid
- Refrigerate until set (this is especially important in the summer - otherwise you'll end up with a runny paste that never quite settles down).

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes

Lavender, Blueberry & Violet Cupcakes

Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes were an invention of a moment a few summers ago that got a hold in my baking repertoire as an exotic yet easy to whip-up pastry that looks pretty and impressive. The decoration is so simple: flowering tops of lavender (preferably fresh), and crystallized violets. Both are fancy, yet keep for a long time and create a memorable impression, both visually and on your guests palate. I've served them since in bridal stagettes and baby showers, and always got many complements!

If you can't get a hold of black currants (cassis), blueberries make a fine and delicious substitute. Keep in mind that the smaller the berries - the more flavourful they are, as most of the flavour is actually in their skin. The violet glazing is not what's going to make or break this recipe, so use it only if you have it - so if you can't find it, don't let that stop you from baking and enjoying these cupcakes .

½ cup sugar
¼ tsp. dried lavender buds
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs Créme de Cassis liquor
½ cup fresh or frozen blackcurrants (or blueberries, if you can’t find blackcurrants)

Violet jelly (optional)

5oz cream cheese
2/3 cup icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste

For decoration:
Lavender springs and/or Candied Violet Petals

- Preheat the oven to 350F (180c)
- Make the batter by creaming together the butter, sugar and lavender buds.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated.
- Sift together flour and baking powder, and add to the batter.
- Add the milk and liquor
- Add the berries, and stir gently just until incorporated (avoid bruising the berries!)
- Bake in paper-lined muffin tins for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the middle cupcake comes out clean.
- Place the cupcakes and wait till they have cooled completely
- Meanwhile (as they are baking and cooling), whip up the cream cheese icing, blending all ingredients until smooth.
- To decorate, brush each cupcake with the violet jelly, once it's absorbed into the dough a little bit, place a generous dollop of the icing (or pipe it if you like it to be more precise-looking).
- Right before serving: Top each cupcake with one blooming top of lavender, and one candied violet petal.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Lavender in the Kitchen

Lavender is a popular even if unusual and difficult flavouring component of both savoury and sweet dishes, pastries, liquors and teas. There are two major culprits to lavender: it's soapy associations, and it's bitterness. The latter would seem to makes it an easy addition to pastries and sweet preparations - but even then it can come through if not dosed carefully! Another way to mask bitterness is with a bit of salt. And, it also has a very big personality on the palate - which it does not have in perfume.  Consider this a warning!

Last but not least: the type of lavender used is of crucial importance. Lavandin is especially bitter, while true lavender (Angustifolia) has a more delicate and palatable aroma. You'd be amazed how much of a difference that makes!

Lavender & eggplant pizza

Lavender is surprisingly not that popular in its native France. The famous blend titled "Herbes de Provence" (along with rosemary, thyme, savoury, oregano, etc.) was a marketing invention of a spice merchant that was well received anywhere else but in its namesake region. Lavender seems all delicate and proper; but it really is a big, demanding monarch when it comes to flavouring. Pair it with other big flavours such as yeast dough and rosemary to create a more rustic feel, as in Pure Bread's fantastic lavender-rosemary-honey whole wheat bread. Perhaps that's why it works so well with chèvre (goat's cheese) and with honey - big flavours that instead of competing with each other (as they would with anyone else) - they create a complete, sophisticated if rustic flavour profile. 

In liquors, you'd find lavender to be a part of complex, medieval-times concoctions such as Chartreuse (with honey and chamomile). In soft drinks, it is repeatedly paired with lemon, which I find not only redundant, but also ineffective in reducing the bitterness, and definitely particularly counterproductive in eliminating the soap association. Lavender + Lemon make a very nice smelling soap, but not a particularly appetizing beverage. An exception to this phenomenon is Frostbites' Meyer Lemon + Lavender Cordial, which is quite fun, even if not my favourite of theirs. 

Lavender is a popular component in flavouring Earl Grey tea - it accentuates the bergamot (after all, they both have linalyl acetate in common). There is also a specialty Lavender Earl Grey with lavender buds and all. I only ever tasted one that was to my liking, at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. All others were painfully bitter, or unpleasantly soapy. Which is also my experience with any and all lavender-flavoured chocolates (whether in bars or truffles). The only exception was my very own, delicately spiced Lavender Milk truffles with lavender Maillette essential oil, and also included lavender and cacao in Cocoa Nymph's owner's signature perfume. Otherwise, to eat a lavender-flavoured chocolate is like being punished for your sins by with force-fed soap. 

Lavender Creme Brûlée

In sweets and desserts, lavender has become a mainstay in our local Gelateria - both as a standalone, and in Earl Grey Tea gelato.  At home, try to make your own lavender ice cream, and experiment with the flavour in créme brûlée, lavender-violet-blueberry cupcakes (a winning combination), shortbread cookies (most recommended of all!) or, even better: Pumpkin Pie with Lavender Orange Shortbread Crust. You can also visit Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm for more lavender recipes.
And, last but not least - my new favourite cake: Apricot, Walnut and Lavender Cake from Yotam Ottolenghi's latest book Plenty More (p. 308).

Apricot & lavender torte

Labels: , , ,

Friday, August 07, 2015

Lavender Harvest

Lavender Harvest Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm
Last month I had the pleasure and honour to witness (and micro-participate) in lavender harvest at an organic lavender farm on Saltspring Island, BC. No amount of photographs of lavender field in full bloom could have prepared me for the tremendous multi-sensory beauty that they bestow upon those who visit them in person. 

Lavender Harvest & Steam Distillation Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

Lavender Harvest & Steam Distillation Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

Lavender Harvest Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm 

This summer I had the pleasure and privilege to witness and micro-participate in the lavender harvest and distillation at Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm. Nothing could have prepared me for how wonderful the aroma of hundreds of lavender shrubs simultaneously blooming would be. It's an all-immersing experience that is hard to describe in words.

Everything about those bushes - stems, leaves, buds and petals - contributes to a whole experience of a living, breathing lavender, the reassuring presence of the essential oil content, like a whiff at a lavender sachet in one's linen closet, promising a good night's sleep; and the smell of wet twigs and coumarin that emanates from the rest of the plant. I won't lie to you: it smelled quite familiar, like a rich green, paste-like lavender absolute, or an all-natural Fougère fragrance which would at least have some lavender absolute.

The fields, even though relatively small in size (only 2 acres), stretch upon the hillsides of sacred Mount Tuam, and create a very impressive view of Mediterranean-azure against the natural habitat of Canadian. They really are more blue than any other lavender I've ever seen. So saturated with colour, they are almost fluorescent. Nothing like the dull greyish-purple I've been accustomed to seeing.

As expected, the lavender grows in neat rows of puffy blue shrubs, with plenty of space between the rows to stroll around and tend to the plants. The earth between them lined with black sheets to conserve moisture (a most important thing especially with the drought this year!). Another pleasant surprise: As you walk through the rows, golden honeybees are abuzz on every step you take. They are very friendly, and won't disturb your harvest as long as you don't squish them. It was such a rejuvenating experience, that even my daughter, who usually gets rather puzzled and distressed about any agricultural tasks, knew exactly what to do and walked herself gracefully around the bees and made a beautiful lavender bundle all of her own.

Lavender Harvest & Steam Distillation Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

This farm grows 60 varieties of lavender in their educational demonstration plots, including some less known cultivars, such as a "Melissa" white lavender, and Maillette. They had a "U Pick" which is how Miss T and I were able to scavenge the rows of buzzing angustifolia bushes (which they called "English Lavender" for some peculiar reason; their Lavandin, by the way, was called "French"). To be perfectly accurate, this lavender is about as Canadian as could be. And I'd also like to mention: this is not the first lavender farm I've come across. There was one in Quebec near my dad's country house; there's one I heard about in the Okanagan near Osoyoos, and there is also  the Montrose Family Farm nearby on Bowen Island, who comes to the market every August with their lavender bouquets, sachets and handmade wands which they weave on the spot.

What's unique about this farm is that they are fully dedicated to lavender and also distill the oil and hydrosol on the spot. Every year in mid-July they hold a Lavender Festival to commence the lavender harvest season (which normally lasts between July 20 - September 1), and I was lucky to be visiting Salt Spring Island with my mom exactly that weekend. They had live concerts and dance performances, and this year they had an Italian theme so most of the music was arias from Italian operas, and an Italian chef created an entire menu using fresh lavender flowers from the farm - there was pasta with peas, fresh mozzarella, lavender and basil; pizza with eggplant and lavender, and a Sicilian ricotta pie that was on the drier side (a little like a bar with a shortbread-like crust on the bottom and top), and had a ricotta filling dotted with candied lemon peel and the non traditional addition of lavender, of course.

Lavender Harvest & Steam Distillation Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm
There was a distillation demonstration for a couple of hours, in which you could see how they separate the buds from the branches (after they dry them) for filling sachets, etc.); and also how the freshly harvested lavender is being fed to the still and see a little bit of the oil forming on top of the water (see below).

The yield at the farm is about 0.4%-0.5% oil to fresh plant matter in lavender (L. angustifolia), which means you'll need between 200-250 lb of lavender to make only 1 lb of lavender essential oil and 1% for lavandin (L. latifolia), which will require 100 lb to produce 1 lb of lavandin oil. This is low in comparison to a good lavender yield (110 lb to produce 1 lb of oil - which is about 0.9%) and even lower than an average one (150 lb, or 0.66%). I'm guessing there could be a few reasons for that, one being the climate, which is perhaps Mediterranean in Canadian terms; but rather not in Mediterranean terms. No matter how you slice it, the sun pattern is not the same on the 49th parallel as it is at the 43rd (where the Maritimes-Alpes in France are, for example); and moreover, even if there is less rain on Salt Spring than in the rest of the Lower Mainland - it's still plenty of rain, even in a drought year like this year.
Lavender distillation
But more important is the terroir, and in particular the altitude. The farm is situated just a little above sea level. However, lavender that grows in high altitudes not only produces more esters, but also more of them make it to the finished product. The reason is, that in high altitudes, the boiling point of water lowers down to 93c. Therefore, the oils can get produced at a lower temperature, and without destroying as much as the delicate components (such as esters). This is the two-fold reason why lavender grown in high altitude has a superior quality. Nevertheless, the oil at Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm is quite lovely, with hints of an almost chocolate-like sweetness.

Lavender harvest

At the farm's shop you can get all their locally made lavender products, including lavender and lavandin essential oils and hydrosols, body butters and creams, culinary lavender products (herbal blends, lavender-scented teas and tisanes, etc.), and of course - lavender sachets. 

Lavender Harvest Festival at Sacred Mountain Farm

Lavender festival
Miss T and I are the king and queen of lavender, at least for the photo! 

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, August 03, 2015

Jasmine & Lavender

Bright Lavender

Last month was dedicated to jasmine, and in this coming month SmellyBlog will be paying extra attention to lavender as an ingredient in flavour, skincare and perfumes. I've been craving a perfume that combines both of these wonderful notes, and my lab experiments with this idea seem to be a befitting way to transition from one theme to the next.

I've approached this "brief" if you will, in a rather simple way: layer together jasmine perfumes and lavender perfumes and see if that works. I layered Brin de Reglisse over some rather dramatic white-florals to mellow down their headiness. And when I approached this in the lab - I began the day before by layering my two soliflores - Lovender and Yasmin.

I'm not a fan of layering, and I'll tell you why: what usually happens for me when layering one perfume over another on the skin is that the top one will dominate. It's a very rough way to blend two scents together, and on the way, the nuances of one are lost, and some things that are not necessarily desirable get amplified. In this case, the coumarin notes in Lovender were just too much to my liking and the mimosa in Yasmin just smelled sour and icky. That's why I hardly ever recommend layering scents... The results are so far from the original intent of the perfumer.

With those problems anticipated I set off to compose something that takes the best of both worlds (hopefully). I sort of amalgamated the two formulae, but decreased the amount of coumarin-rich components. My Jasmine & Lavender fixation was satisfied. And I got to play in the lab with some other ideas that kept me itching with curiousity. Such as another try at bringing out the tea qualities of jasmine, and rebatching limited edition Jasmine Pho - a refreshing, almost juicy-aldehydic, green-citrusy jasmine fragrance that is very enjoyable in summer.

Labels: , , , , ,