The Future of Lavender
Agricultural challenges meet growing consumer demand.
Giles Bovill, Earthoil
France produces more than 30% of the world’s lavender; visitors flock to the south of the country each summer to see the lavender fields.a However, the industry has
been facing many challenges over the last 10 years, and there
are growing fears about the plant’s future. Drôme, in particular,
has seen production reduced by 15%, due to a number of
environmental, plant health and climatic issues. Nevertheless,
consumer demand for lavender remains high, and the industry
is making progress to ensure a consistent and reliable supply.
Steeped in History
Lavender is the common name for a flowering plant of the
genus Lavandula, which consists of 39 species. Originating in
Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia, Southeast
Asia, Northern and Eastern Africa, and the Cape Verde and the
Canary Islands, lavender grows particularly well in hot climates.
It is grown as an ornamental plant and commercially for the
extraction of essential oil.
To produce lavender essential oil, the harvested lavender
plants are first placed in a distillation tank. As the tank is loaded,
steam travels through the plants and drains out the essential oils.
The steam is then cooled in a condenser, whereby the mix of
water and essential oil becomes a liquid. The mix is separated
in a Florentine vase; the oil floats to the surface of the vase and
Organic fine lavender is a sought-after quality. It delivers
flowery, fruity notes with aromatic tones. The main chemical
components of organic fine lavender oil are shown in T- 1.
Lavender oil is popular among consumers thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. The plant has been used
for these medicinal purposes for more than 2,500 years, with
the Romans using the strong, sweet-smelling herb for bathing,
cooking and scenting the air.
Lavender, along with other fragrance, aromatic and medicinal
plants, is well-adapted to the geographic and climatic conditions
of the South of France, thanks to its Mediterranean setting. An
important industry within the region, it brings both tourists and
revenue to the area. In 2000, lavandin—a hybrid between fine
lavender and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia)—made up
80% of fragrance plants in the area, with lavender accounting for
20%. While lavandin and lavender are part of the same genus,
their differing chemical compositions mean that lavandin has a
stronger, medicinal smell, which is less refined than lavender.
Manufacturers may prefer to use lavender in their products,
thanks to its more classic aroma.
By 2009, however, lavandin made up nearly 90% of fragrance
plants, to the detriment of lavender. The industry became
extremely concerned as a result of the diminishing availability
of lavender, which has caused prices to increase significantly.
Lavandin ‘Grosso’ (Lavandula x hybrida), the main variety
of lavandin, represented 85% of its growth. Lavandin ‘Grosso’
is an extremely hardy variety. It provides camphoraceous, aromatic notes, with some flowery and amber notes. T- 2 depicts
the main chemical components of lavandin ‘Grosso.’
France would be well placed to continue to provide a high-quality
lavender yield, thanks to its warm Mediterranean weather. The
impact of climate change, however, has caused a decline in rain-
fall over winter, which has affected the quality of the lavender
yield. Rainwater is an important part of the irrigation process
for aromatic plants—and lavender, in particular. While aromatic
aFor a perfumer’s view of formulating with lavender, see: N Urbanowicz,
Lavender: a Perfumer’s Perspective. Perfum Flavor, 38( 8) 36-39
T- 1. Main chemical components of organic lavender oil
Chemical Name Levels
Linalyl acetate 25.0– 45.0%
Linalool 25.0– 38.0%
Total ocimene 5. 5–16.0%
Terpinen-4-ol 0. 1–6.0%
Cineole 0.0– 1.0%