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Everything you need to know about how to make lavender oil at home, including which types of lavender to use, how to make the oil and use it, and tips on harvesting homegrown lavender for use in lavender oil. Also includes an explanation of how lavender works to soothe the mind, body, and skin.
Lavender is probably the most well-known and widely used medicinal plant, and for good reason. It grows right across the temperate and semi-arid world, is very safe, and is a soothing treatment for anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and even depression. Unlike many other medicinal herbs, lavender is safe for most people, too, including children and pregnant women. Though many people use simple sachets of dried lavender, the scent and plant properties can quickly fade. To preserve both, you can make lavender oil from fresh or dried lavender flowers. It’s effortless to do and will create a skin-therapeutic oil that you can use neat or mixed into salves, creams, lip balm, or even poured directly into bath water.
What is Lavender Oil
There are two types of lavender oil; the one you may be more familiar with is lavender essential oil. Lavender flowers are rich in volatile oils we can extract using a few methods. That includes tinctures, infusions, glycerites, and oils. The type of lavender oil you usually find is lavender essential oil, a concentration of lavender’s fragrant volatile oils. It’s made by harvesting lavender flowers and extracting their oil using steam distillation. When I say oil, it’s different from a carrier oil such as olive oil. Most volatile oils have the consistency of water and are incredibly high in natural plant chemicals. Most people won’t be able to make it themselves because it requires a professional still and around three pounds (1.36 kg) of fresh lavender to get just 0.5 fl oz (15 ml) lavender essential oil.
The other type of lavender oil is lavender-infused oil, which I will show you how to make. You don’t need expensive equipment or ingredients to make it either – just lavender, a carrier oil, a sealed jar, and a few everyday kitchen utensils. Homemade lavender oil, made using the oil-infusion method, is not as potent as lavender essential oil but still contains many skin-soothing properties. Its main ingredient is vegetable oil, though, so you don’t want to get it on your clothes. You can, however, use it on your skin, in food, and in many skin care recipes.
Benefits of Homemade Lavender Oil
Lavender’s home is the sunny Mediterranean and the middle east, and it’s been cultivated there for goodness knows how long – at least 2500 years. We know that the ancient Egyptians used it – probably for fragrance and medicine as well as for funerary rites. The Romans used it too, and when they conquered Europe, they brought it north with them, even into England. However, in recent centuries, lavender has mainly been grown in France to be used in perfumery. It was there in 1910 that a chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé invented aromatherapy thanks to a rash decision. He badly scalded his hand and, having no water around, plunged his hand into lavender essential oil. It could have gone so wrong if it were anything else! However, his skin healed cleanly and quickly, without scars, and that happy accident led to the modern use of lavender oil in alternative medicine.
Lavender contains many active constituents that can benefit our skin and health. The flowers have up to 3% volatile oils containing over forty plant chemicals, including linalyl acetate, cineole, and linalool. Lavender also contains flavonoids, tannins, and coumarins (source: Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine). This blend and balance of active constituents give lavender its beautiful scent and healing properties. Lavender oil is highly antiseptic and antibacterial, aiding in healing insect bites, stings, and burns. It also reduces pain and muscle tension and is gentle as either essential oil or an infused oil. In skincare, it’s also a calming herb and can help treat inflamed skin and even rashes. Lavender also affects mood and your mental state. While English lavender is calming, lavender varieties high in camphor can be energizing.
The Best Lavender to Use
Not all lavender is equal when it comes to making homemade lavender oil. The best lavender to use is English lavender Lavandula angustifolia, and many cultivars are available. I grow ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead,’ both beautiful English lavender varieties that produce sweet lavender oil. However, most lavender essential oil is made with a hybrid lavender (lavandin) called ‘Grosso’ because it’s a big plant with flowers that contain more oil than other types of lavender. Grosso, like other hybrid lavenders, has a high camphor content which can change the scent. I think when people say that lavender gives them headaches, they’re smelling hybrid lavender, with that camphor hit, instead of true English lavender.
When choosing your lavender, use any English lavender or a Lavandula x intermedia cross. These types of lavender have buds that form at the end of long stems. Eventually, the lavender buds will bloom into tiny little flowers. Spike lavender, also called Portuguese lavender, also has lavender buds and can be used to make lavender oil.
You might be wondering about Spike lavender Spanish/French lavender (Lavandula stoechas). Although it is used to make essential oil, it’s inferior in medicinal properties to English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). So if your lavender has a little tuft at the top, like feathers, and no buds, leave it in the garden and instead search out English lavender to make your own lavender oil.
Tips on Harvesting Lavender
If you can grow lavender, you should aim to use this year’s summer harvest to make homemade lavender oil. The reason is that you know that it’s fresh and filled with active constituents. Often, herbs you buy from herbal suppliers are old; sometimes a year or more old! Although they’d be considered dried and shelf-safe, herbs’ scent and properties may diminish over time, which isn’t ideal.
With homegrown lavender, you know exactly when you harvested it, how you processed/dried it, and if the flowers are clean. Lavender can be grown on farms that use chemical sprays that you want to avoid using in personal care products. You can also control when to harvest it and aim to do so at the optimal time.
When harvesting lavender flowers to make lavender oil, aim to cut them once the first few buds have blossomed into flowers. At this point, the flowers and upper stems have the highest concentration of oils. Harvest the flowers in the late morning once any dew has had a chance to evaporate off and take them to a warm, airy place out of direct sunlight to dry. Try not to take all the lavender flowers from any given plant, either, since they’re a rich source of food for your garden pollinators, and they truly need our help.
What Part of the Lavender Plant is Used for Oil?
Before we jump to how to make lavender oil, you may be looking at your lavender plant and wondering just how to harvest it. What parts do you take? Where do you cut? I tend to take a handful of lavender stems and make a sweeping cut just above the first leaves. Although lavender leaves have the same beneficial properties as the flowers, it’s in a much smaller quantity, so it’s not worth harvesting them. Most of lavender’s active constituents are in the flowers, flower buds, and topmost part of the stem. Cutting the entire stem length has a couple of benefits, though. It makes the lavender easier to dry in bunches, and removing them will save you time pruning the plant later.
How much Lavender does it take to Make Oil?
As we already covered, you need a lot of lavender to make lavender essential oil, but that’s not the case with lavender-infused oil. That’s good news if you only have a single plant to harvest from! When making lavender-infused oil, you need to be able to fill a glass jar at least halfway with lavender – I prefer to loosely fill a jar all the way, though.
Now you might be asking which jar to use and what size. The answer comes down to what you’re planning on doing and making with your homemade lavender oil. If you need a lot of it to make lavender soap, use a jar that can hold double the amount of oil required for the recipe. If you want to make just a little lavender oil for use in the bath or to make lavender bath fizzies, then choose a small jar. What you don’t want to do is make way more than you can use before the oil expires. Carrier oils, like sweet almond oil and olive oil, can have a funky smell if it goes rancid. It won’t hurt you, but it doesn’t smell great and probably has reduced herbal function.
How to Make Lavender Oil
It’s pretty simple to make homemade lavender oil using the oil infusion method. All you need to do is loosely fill a glass jar halfway, to all the way, with dried or fresh lavender flowers. You can use just buds or entire lavender flower heads. Also, most sources will have you use dried lavender flowers/buds, but I prefer fresh ones! You can see the difference in the oil you make afterward, and if you follow one simple step, you won’t have any issues with mold.
If you use dried flowers, you may want to consider grinding the lavender a bit with a mortar and pestle. It will increase the surface area of the lavender pieces and allow them to make contact with the oil. Then fill a clean jar with the dried flowers and top it up with your choice of carrier oil. Fill the glass with oil to within half an inch (about 1.25 cm) of the lip of the jar. Oxygen and oil aren’t great companions, so you want to reduce the air in your jar while still giving room to shake the contents. Seal the jar with a lid.
Using Fresh Lavender to Make Lavender Oil
Because lavender is a relatively dry plant, you can make lavender oil using fresh flowers. If you do so, don’t use the oil for culinary purposes though since fresh plant material with oil can be an environment where botulism can thrive and it can make you sick. It’s fine for skin care and soapmaking though, and I feel that fresh flowers make a more potent infused oil than dried.
If you use fresh flowers, fill the clean glass jar with whole flower heads and place a preserving weight on top. You could also use a very clean and sterilized rock. Then fill the jar with oil to within half an inch from the lip. Ensure that all the lavender flowers are submerged under the weight before sealing the jar with a lid. You can use a skewer to poke the lavender down underneath. If you use fresh flowers and don’t weigh them down, the flowers can and will rot and mold due to their small amount of water. The oil itself will not mold over though — just the flower parts exposed to air.
Even with a preserving weight, lavender does float to the surface of the oil. You can poke it down with a skewer when it happens.
Cold Infusing Lavender Flowers in a Carrier Oil
The lavender flowers and oil need at least two weeks to infuse, but a full month is better if you’re using dried lavender. Store the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight, such as in a kitchen cupboard or a shelf in a dim room. Both light and air can cause oil to go rancid, so avoid storing oil with too much of either. If you‘d like to infuse the oil in a warm windowsill, you can place the jar in a thick paper bag before. It will warm up inside but will block out the UV light.
When using dried lavender, shake the jar every now and again. You could shake every day if you remember, or a couple of times a week if you don’t. Don’t worry about regularity too much. With fresh flowers, leave the flowers and oil to do their thing. You don’t want to chance knocking the lavender out from under the preserving weight, so don’t shake or swirl the jar. Preserving weights can also damage jars if you shake them together.
Straining the Finished Oil
After two to four weeks have passed, strain the oil from the lavender. You can use a fine-mesh sieve, a cheesecloth, or both! The benefit of using cheesecloth is that you can bundle it up and squeeze a lot of oil from the lavender. A sieve works fine, though, too. Leave the lavender in it for half an hour, and much of the oil will drip through.
You discard the lavender flowers now, and if they’re relatively well squeezed of oil, you can put them in your compost pile or bokashi bin. If not, throw them away. As for the homemade lavender oil, if you used dried lavender (especially old and dried), the carrier oil won’t have changed in color much. If you used fresh lavender, it should have a greenish hue. In the photos in this recipe, I used sweet almond oil as a carrier oil, which is a pale yellow color. By the end of the process, the lavender-infused oil looked as green as avocado oil. To me, that communicates more of lavender’s goodness in the carrier oil.
Storing the Oil for Optimal Shelf-Life
Pour the finished lavender oil into dark glass bottles or clear glass containers and store in a dark place. Keep it at room temperature and use it by the best-by date on the bottle of carrier oil that you used. If you’re unsure if it’s still good or not, have a smell of the oil. A faint (or strong!) scent of oil paints means that it’s unfortunately gone rancid, and you should discard it. If not, the oil is probably good to use!
Shelf life can be reduced if you use fresh lavender to make lavender oil though. I would recommend using that oil within six to twelve months of making it. I have a bottle in my hand right now that I made a year ago though. It’s perfectly fine. Any residual moisture sinks to the bottom and isn’t exposed to air and possible rancidity and bacterial action. Lavender is naturally antibacterial too!
Carrier Oils to Use for Lavender-Infused Oil
You now know how to make lavender oil, but one big question remains. What is a carrier oil, and which one should you use? Carrier oils are any vegetable oil that’s liquid at room temperature. They include olive oil, apricot kernel oil, sunflower oil, rice bran oil, and much more. Though it’s best to use high-quality oils from a cosmetic supplier, you can also use common oils from the supermarket — just make sure that the best-by date on the bottle is at least a year away. But which type of oil to get? The type you choose for your homemade lavender oil will be dependent on what you’d like to do with it.
If you’d like to use it to make lavender body balm (lavender salve), then any skin-nourishing oil that has a good shelf-life will do. Most people use extra virgin olive oil as their carrier oil for making salves since it lasts a long time and is relatively inexpensive. It can be heavy on the skin and have a distinctive scent that some might not like though. On the plus side, that heaviness can be helpful if you’re making a salve for treating eczema and dry skin.
If you’re planning on making homemade lavender soap with your lavender oil, use a liquid oil that makes up part of the original soap recipe. It could, again, be olive oil, but it could also be sunflower oil or even canola oil. I include homemade lavender oil in the lavender soap recipe in my book.
For lavender skincare and moisturizers, stick with light-feeling oils that won’t clog your pores. They include grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, or apricot kernel oil. For bath oil, you could use fractionated coconut oil, avocado oil, or most any other oil mentioned.
Ways to Use Homemade Lavender Oil
I’ve already mentioned a few ways to use lavender oil in skincare, but there are plenty more applications. It makes an excellent massage oil that will help soothe muscles and reduce tension. You can use it in lip balm recipes to help treat chapped lips and cold sores. Lavender-infused oil has many applications, even edible ones such as salad dressings or lavender cookies (replace butter). Again, if you use lavender oil in food, make sure that the lavender flowers you use are dried first. Here are some ideas that should help inspire you to use DIY lavender oil in your home and beauty regime:
How to Make Lavender Oil
- 1 Glass pint jar with lid
- Preserving weight if using fresh flowers
- English lavender flowers fresh or dried
- Carrier oil Your choice
- Loosely fill a clean jar with lavender anywhere from halfway to all the way. You can use lavender buds or whole flower heads.
- If you use fresh lavender, weigh it down with a preserving weight.
- If using dried lavender, it's best to grind the flowers with a pestle and mortar and then return them to the jar.
- Top up the jar with a carrier oil of your choice. Olive oil is popular, but the oil you use should reflect how you plan on using the oil.
- Seal the jar with a lid and place it in a warm but dim place for 2-4 weeks. If using dried lavender, give the jar a shake every few days or so (or when you remember!).
- Strain the oil from the lavender flowers using a cheesecloth and/or sieve. Discard the flowers and then pour the oil into dark glass bottles for storage.