Learn About Lavender: Distilling to Custom Blending
By Caryn Gehlmann
Lavender season is right around the corner! Lavender distilling and blending is one of my favorite topics and I’ve definitely found a kindred spirit in Julie Park. Julie and I met at a lavender class I was teaching in Southern Oregon last summer. Now I’m looking forward to teaching classes at her lavender farm, Park Place Perennials, in West Linn this summer. In our interview, Julie shares why she’s so passionate about lavender and all the ways it can benefit your health and wellness. And if you’re eager to learn about lavender, take note of how you can join me for the classes I’m offering at the end of this post.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to run your own lavender farm.
My background is actually in healthcare. I worked in radiology, specifically in Nuclear Medicine and PET/CT, which involved the diagnosis and treatments for cancer as well as cardiac and other emergency procedures. My husband is a commercial construction contractor and is a craftsman at heart. I very much enjoyed my career and miss my patients and co-workers, but this was always something I wanted to do, and with my husband on board, we decided to go for it!
My husband and I both love to grow, garden and landscape. We always wanted to have a small farm. When our 3 kids were finishing up high school and we were thinking about becoming empty nesters, we decided it was the perfect time to start something new.
We decided on lavender for a couple of reasons. First, I love lavender and always had this vision of being surrounded by lavender fields. There’s just something about it that’s so peaceful and uplifting at the same time. When my kids were little, I used to take them around to visit different farms for u-pick and one of the places we visited was a lavender and blueberry farm that also had honeybees. It was just beautiful. I always had kept that vision in my mind. We do grow some blueberry plants but only about 100 vs the 2500 lavender plants we grow now. We also have about 6-10 honeybee hives.
As you’ve come to learn about lavender more and more, what do you appreciate most about it?
Lavender is so versatile. It’s not only an amazing landscape plant, it’s a culinary herb, a beautiful fresh or dried flower, it has many health benefits, and truly, nothing compares to the fragrance of lavender.
You distill essential oils as well. Can you tell us about that process?
Yes! We love the oil! For distillation, we use a copper still. Copper helps remove the sulfur and the oil can be used earlier than stainless steel. We use two stills that were made in Portugal. One is a water sealing alembic and one is a column still. We use the column still for most of our lavender, it’s a larger still and is great for oil production. The water sealing we use more for roses and some other botanicals as well as lavender and we think makes a wonderful hydrosol as well as oil.
We harvest our lavender at 3/4 to full bloom. We harvest in the morning when it’s cool out but after the bumblebees have woken up. They tend to sleep on the lavender and if it’s too cold they won’t move off the flowers when harvested so we take care to protect them.
We fill the column part of the still with lavender blooms cut with just a short stem. The column sits above a large pot that is filled with water and heated to produce steam. As the steam travels through the lavender it extracts the oil and moves upwards and through a series of coils that are bathed in cool water. As the steam cools it condenses into water and drips out as both essential oil and Hydrosol. The oil and Hydrosol are separated out after distillation.
Do you have any tips for those who are just starting to learn about lavender?
I have several because it’s hard to narrow down! Lavender has so many health benefits. From promoting sleep to calming anxiety. It’s antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and oil dissolving.
One, in particular, is anxiety. Today, we have an epidemic of teenage girls with anxiety. Including, in my own family. It is a huge and common issue in our country. Using diffusers on desks, next to beds, in the car filled with pure lavender helps. Lavender also seems to help my veteran customers. I have so many veterans that are passionate about having lavender plants in their yard and using lavender in their house. I can look at the science and see all the data supporting lavender for anxiety, but seeing the results and passion of those who use lavender for anxiety is the most compelling for me.
I personally, use lavender for sleep. Lavender is wonderful for promoting deep and restful sleep. I use a plug-in diffuser and I set it up to run intermittently all night long. No sleeping pills needed!
How did you and Caryn connect?
Last summer we took a class from Caryn and we just hit it off immediately! Caryn is just a fun, vivacious and passionate person with so much knowledge! Her class was so fun and interesting! We also had an instant connection because essential 3 provides essential oils to hospitals as an alternative for patients who may not be able to take medications for sedation and other issues, specifically radiology which is what my background is in. Also, once you meet Caryn, you feel like you’ve known her forever! I just can’t wait to host her here on our farm this summer!
Any other thoughts that you’d like to share about lavender?
In my background, I worked many years with cancer patients, so clean and healthy living is very important to me. Lavender is a solid part of that. Growing lavender has given me a beautiful peace and joy. People are always genuinely happy to see my lavender and visit our farm. It has been so very rewarding!
Thank you so much Julie for sharing your story with us. I’m really looking forward to visiting your farm and teaching classes on how to blend and use lavender in daily living. If you’d like to join me, here’s more information about the classes I’ll be teaching:
Saturday, July 23, 2022, 10 am – 12 pm
Learn how to customize your own unique lavender essential oil blend that will leave you feeling relaxed, calm, and uplifted! This class also includes an overview of how essential oils are made, what to look for when buying essential oils, how to store essential oils, essential oil safety, and application methods. You will be able to go home with your own roll-on applicator with your own unique essential oil blend! Learn more and sign up.
Saturday, July 23, 2022, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Learn the many simple and easy ways you can use lavender in your daily life. This is a hands-on class where you will:
Create different lavender aromatherapy recipes to use at home
Learn the many simple and easy ways to use lavender
Discover why lavender is such a superstar plant
Understand the differences in lavender varieties and use
If you want to learn about lavender blending but can’t make the class, take a look at my blog, Blending Tips — Good Scents to Mix with Lavender. Or put “lavender” in the search box of e3’s education blog to find lavender health tips, DIY lavender recipes, plant care recommendations, and more!