With a host of holistic benefits, lavender has proven to be one of the most bountiful herbs in the garden for creating beauty products. No wonder it’s being added to so many lotions and potions on the shelves! The good news is the perennial, evergreen plant is easy to grow, and also easy to process to make your own homemade lavender oil — either for yourself, or as gifts for loved ones.
Though processing lavender as an essential oil requires some fancy equipment, it’s possible to process it yourself at home, with a carrier oil and using minimal tools.
In this tutorial, I’ll give you a thorough introduction to lavender’s vibrant history, its incredible benefits, things to watch out for when using lavender oil, and then I’ll take you through the process of making your own lavender oil, from harvesting and drying your lavender, all the way through to processing and straining your oil into a bottle to make a sweet homemade gift.
A short history of lavender oil
People have been enjoying the many benefits of lavender oil for over 2500 years, across the globe. The Egyptians used it for rituals and beauty therapy. The Romans used it for cooking, bathing, and even just scenting the air. The Ancient Greeks used it to help them sleep and ease their back pain.
The very name lavender is derived from the latin verb ‘lavare’, meaning “to wash”. During the French Renaissance, women who washed clothes for a living were known as lavenders. The clothes they washed were washed with lavender, and even laid out to dry on top of bushes of lavender.
Lavender was adored by royalty and aristocrats alike. Queen Elizabeth I required lavender to be scattered before her wherever she went — this saved her precious nose from the awful stenches of the period. Queen Victoria enjoyed dining on roast mutton with a touch of lavender jelly, rather than the usual mint. And it wasn’t just royalty — it was unheard of, during this time, for any respectable woman to travel anywhere without a flask of English lavender in her handbag.
Benefits of lavender oil
|Who would have guessed that these little purple blossoms could have so many health benefits?|
Looking at the many benefits of lavender oil, you might be left asking, ‘OK, so what doesn’t it do!?” Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of its incredible healing powers:
- Anti-anxiety: Lavender’s most potent superpower is its anxiety-reducing ability. Indeed, one study found it to have similar effects to Valium…in mice, anyways. Other studies have shown it to have similar relaxing effects in humans, including women going through postpartum, and people waiting for the dentist.
- Insomnia: Undoubtedly linked to the aforementioned anxiety-reducing benefits of lavender oil, many studies have shown how lavender oil promotes a better sleep, from onset to quality and duration of slumber.
- Anti acne: Perhaps down to lavender oil’s antibacterial qualities, lavender oil has a wonderful anti-acne property that clears even the most stubborn angry red bumps.
- Food and beverage flavouring: Lavender is used in all kinds of baked goods, like cupcakes and scones and icing, as well as added to mixed drinks and cocktails, to add an extra touch of complex flavour.
- Hair growth: Lavender has been found to speed up hair growth, particularly in combination with other oils.
- Mood enhancer: Turns out lavender oil isn’t only good at calming anxiety. It’s also been found to boost the mood of people suffering from depression.
- Menstrual pain: Inhaled as an aromatherapy oil, lavender has been found to reduce the intensity of stomach cramps and back ache in women suffering from menstrual discomfort.
- Anti-Inflammatory: Lavender has been shown to reduce acute inflammation in studies.
- Anti-aging: Lavender oil has been found to have not only aesthetic anti-aging effects, but also staves off neurological, or mental, aging.
- Anti-oxidant: Lavender is chock-full of ingredients that neutralize the free radicals in your skin, slow down the aging process, and protect and nourish your skin, making it an excellent anti-aging oil.
Possible side effects of lavender oil
Some forms of lavender essential oil can be abrasive and hearts on the skin. Making your lavender oil together with a carrier oil should solve that problem. Still, be sure to test your oil on a small patch of skin that’s particularly sensitive — like the inside of your wrist — before slathering it on your face, neck, hair, and/or body.
Lavender oil has also been found to disrupt hormone balance in the body of pre-pubescent boys, sometimes stimulating breast growth. As such, lavender oil should not be used on males under the age of 13.
Similarly, it’s best not to use lavender oil when you’re pregnant. Though you may have thought of using it to help with your morning sickness (as it is excellent for relieving nausea as I mentioned above), avoid doing so during your first trimester. It has been found to occasionally cause uterine contractions that may adversely affect the baby.
Why make your own lavender oil
|Lavender may be highly sought after, but be careful: not all lavender oil is created equal!|
You won’t be surprised to learn that not all lavender oil is pure or high quality. Indeed, much of the lavender oil on the shelves of your beauty or health shop has been made with low-grade oils that lack purity, having been diluted with synthetic ingredients. It’s important to note that there is a big difference between bottles labeled “essential oil” and those that aren’t — those that don’t bear the label do not qualify as “essential oil” and may not give you much indication into what oils and other ingredients have been used. Something labeled “lavender oil” may not even have any lavender in it whatsoever — it could very well just have synthetic perfumes that mimic the scent.
Furthermore, if you do manage to get your hands on the good (pure) stuff, chances are, it will carry with it a high price tag.
This is why making your own homemade lavender — although you aren’t making a pure essential oil — is the best idea. You’re in complete control over what goes in to your oil (and, more importantly, what doesn’t) before you apply it to your skin or even ingest it.
How to make your own homemade lavender oil
Making your own lavender oil is a relatively simple process, which requires very little equipment. With just seven items that you can almost definitely find around your house (particularly if you grow lavender in your garden), or easily source on Amazon (helpful links provided below — you’re welcome!), you’ll be massaging a fragrant, homemade lavender oil onto your skin in no time.
- Lavender sprigs or organic dried lavender — we like this 4 oz bag of Kyriad Lavender Buds
- Glass jar: I just used an empty bottle of lavender oil for this, but you can get fancier if you like — we like this set of three Bormioli Rocco Fido canning jars
- Medium-sized pot — we like this Cook N Home Non-Stick Saucepan
- 2 cups of a carrier oil like olive or fractionated coconut oil — we like this AmazonFresh Mediterranean Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Paper towel — we like this 12-count pack of Bounty Quick-Size Paper Towels
- Rolling pin or wine bottle — we like this Farberware Classic Wood Rolling Pin
- Garden shears — we like these Fiskars Steel Bypass Pruning Shears
- Harvesting knife: this is the ideal tool for cutting lavender, but garden shears will also work just fine. I get into how to use it in the first step, below. We like the Seymour Sod Cutter/Harvesting Knife
- Pestle and mortar — we like this H&S pestle & mortar set made with solid granite
If you’re hang drying your lavender
- Twine or twist ties — we like this Kinglake Gardening Twine
- Hooks or nails — we like these screw hooks for hanging
1. Harvest your lavender sprigs
|Snip lavender from your garden using pruning shears, being sure to include at least four inches of stem.|
Lavender grows in bushy shrubs, which, if you already grow lavender in your garden, you’ll be well aware of! In its infancy (years one and two), the bush will only produce one or two bunches of blossoms. However, fully grown, a lavender bush can yield as much as seven or eight bunches of lavender.
Pick a bunch of fresh lavender sprigs from your garden. Cut your sprigs with plenty of stem–I’ll
show you why to do this later on.
💡Tip: The best time for picking your lavender is in early spring, when they’re known to be at their most beautiful and fragrant. Not only that, but cutting them nice and early in the spring season means that the plant may just have time to re-blossom for a second harvest. Try to pick in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the sun has had a chance to draw out much of the plant’s essential oils (which is what you’re after).
When you’re cutting, gather enough lavender to comfortably fit into your fist — this is considered one bunch of lavender.
💡Tip: The best tool for cutting lavender is the harvesting knife, which is curved with a serrated edge. You cut your lavender with this tool by hooking it around the bunch and pulling the knife towards you.
2. Wash your sprigs
|Give your lavender sprigs a nice, cold bath, so they’re clean for processing.|
Next, you are going to wash your lavender sprigs in cold tap water. Swish them around with your hands a bit to be sure to clean them of any dirt from your garden.
3. Towel-dry your sprigs
|Take your lavender out of its bath, give it a good shake, and place it on some high-quality paper towel to dry (low-quality paper towel will split and stick to your sprigs).|
Now, if you live in a sunny climate, you can sun dry your lavender sprigs. Alternatively, if you have time to wait, tie them up in a bunch and hang them upside down in your house.
But if you don’t get a lot of sun and don’t necessarily have a few months to wait, don’t worry — you can easily oven dry them.
Get out four sheets of paper towel. Place two of them down on your kitchen counter. Shake your lavender sprigs as you take them out of the cold water basin, and place them atop the paper towel sheets. Cover the sprigs with the other two sheets of paper towel and pat dry.
4. Oven-dry your sprigs
|If sun drying your sprigs isn’t an option, your oven is your go-to tool.|
Turn your oven on to its lowest setting — usually around 100 degrees Celsius. Get out a baking tray, as well as a metal drying rack, and fashion them together. The space between the drying rack and the baking sheet will allow the lavender to dry from underneath as well as on top, which will process it more effectively and faster.
Place your lavender on the drying rack, atop the baking sheet, and pop it all in the oven for a good few hours. Be sure to check your drying sprigs every 30 minutes or so to see how they’re coming along.
💡Tip: If you have a food dehydrator, you can also use this to dry your lavender, instead of your oven.
💡Tip: If you prefer to hang-dry your lavender, tie it in bunches using twine or twist ties, and hang them upside down off hooks or nails. The stocks will shrink when drying, so you may need to retie your stocks once in a while if some start to fall out.
Once dry, if you’re not using your lavender right away, store it in a cool, dry place to make it last as long as possible.
5. Bruise your sprigs
|If you don’t have a rolling pin, anything cylindrical with a bit of weight will work for bruising your dried lavender buds.|
Once your lavender is nice and dry, remove it from the oven and place it on your kitchen counter. If you have a pestle and mortar, now’s the time to get it out and use it.
If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, get a rolling pin or even a wine bottle ready. Start picking off the tiny lavender blossoms into a bowl. Once you’ve picked off all the tiny blossoms, clear a clean space or lay down a large cutting board on your counter and pour them onto the flat surface. Use the rolling pin or wine bottle to bruise them gently.
💡Tip: If you’re up for it and have some plywood sheets lying around, give this method a try: lay your lavender in between two 1-foot X 2-foot sheets of plywood. Grind the plywood pieces together with lots of force to both crush your lavender and also to separate it from the stem. Pour the crushed lavender through a sieve to catch only the blossoms.
💡Tip: Save your lavender stems. They make excellent kindling for your fireplace, and will make your house smell absolutely amazing.
|Save these for your first fire of the winter. They burn easily and smell divine!|
|Your dried buds, once bruised, will look something like this. Pick out any remaining stems for a purer blend.|
6. Transfer your sprigs to your jar
|Stuff your lavender buds into your bottle before pouring in the carrier oil.|
Get out your empty glass jar and remove the lid. Fill it with your bruised lavender buds as high as you can. Now get out your carrier oil, and pour it in so that it covers the top of the lavender buds. Replace your lid.
|Pour your carrier oil into your bottle, immersing your lavender buds.|
If you live in a sunny place, put your lavender oil bottle out in the sun and forget about it for a good few months (but of course remember to check on it once a month or so).
If you don’t live in a sunny place, take a shortcut with a bain-marie. Here’s how:
Find a pot that’s large enough to hold your bottle and a good amount of water. Fill it halfway with water, and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat, and place your lavender oil bottle inside the hot liquid (standing up so that you don’t run the chance of any oil leaking out into the water), being careful not to touch the boiling water.
|Place the lavender oil bottle in your pot of hot water.|
Store the pot, together with water and oil bottle inside, in a place where it will be undisturbed for 24 hours. After a full day, take out your lavender oil bottle. Remove the lid and give the liquid a smell. This is the point when you can determine the potency of your lavender oil. If the lavender smell is strong enough for you, your lavender oil is ready.
💡Tip: Save a few handfuls of your lavender buds for tea and use in cooking or baking. Or just mix some into your Herbs de Provence jar (it is traditionally used in the mix, but isn’t often used in commercial blends) — this is a good way to test the waters and see if you like it.
7. Repeat process as needed
Whether you processed your oil in a ‘bain marie’ or left your lavender in the sun, this step is the same.
If your oil isn’t strong enough for your liking, strain the liquid from the processed sprigs, throw away the old sprigs, and pour the lavender oil back into the bottle.
Process your lavender as above, harvesting it from the garden, washing and drying it, drying it once again in the oven, picking out the blossoms, bruising them, and adding them once again to the oil.
Put the bottle back in a ‘bain marie’ for another 24 hours, or back in the sun for another month.
Continue repeating this step until you’re satisfied with the strength of your lavender oil.
Uses for lavender oil
|There are so many uses for lavender oil, from night cream to salad dressing!|
Lavender oil is an incredibly multi-purpose health and beauty product. Here are some great ways to make use of your homemade lavender oil:
- Night cream: Lavender oil, with its anti-aging, anti-acne, anti-inflammatory effects, is an ideal serum to replace your night cream. It even helps fade sunspots!
- Foot rub: Ayurvedic medicine calls for a self-administered foot massage before bed, and lavender makes the perfect oil for this, being easily absorbed by the skin, and promoting sleep.
- Eczema cream: Lavender has been found to treat eczema and psoriasis, making it an excellent topical ointment for those suffering from these conditions.
- Treat a burn or wound: Due to its anti-inflammatory and pain reducing benefits, as well as its healing properties, lavender oil makes an excellent topical ointment for burns, cuts, and other kinds of wounds.
- Insect repellant: Though citronella is most widely used as a go-to natural insect repellent, you might be surprised how often lavender oil is used in commercial insect sprays. Not only does it keep the bugs at bay, but it also eases itching after a bite occurs.
- Alleviate nausea and motion sickness: Placing a drop of lavender oil on the end of your tongue or behind your ears will help reduce nausea and motion sickness.
- Hair oil mask: Slather lavender oil on your scalp and strands, all the way to the ends, for a super nourishing, ultra-hydrating, dandruff-curing scalp and hair mask. For best results, leave on overnight.
- Treat or prevent cold sores: The antimicrobial and antifungal properties in lavender make it extremely effective at staving off these unsightly lip decorations.
- Fragrance: Lavender has a lovely, light, fresh floral scent, and makes a lovely fragrance to use during the day.
- Cooking or baking: Substitute a tablespoon of your lavender oil to your batch of cookies or as part of your salad dressing. Since it’s been processed with a carrier oil, it won’t overwhelm the flavour, and will instead add a delicate, complex taste to your dish.