Start to Finish Lavender

July 26, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Volunteering at the Wenatchee Farmer's Market provides me the opportunity to get to know some of the people who produce the goods sold at the market.  Purchasing a product directly from the person who grew or made the item feels so efficient.  Joseph Downs and his business partner, Stephanie Brook, make products out of lavender.  They make health care/hygiene products, culinary products and gift/craft items.  When I first met Joseph I did not know the depth of their operation The Lavender Boutique.  They are involved with every step of the process from the growing, selection, extraction of essential oils and hydrosols, product and recipe development and crafting those into a finished product.  Having sampled a couple of their spice blends, salt and lavender blend and a refreshing lavender flavored lemonade, I can say their products are excellent, flavorful and well balanced.

 

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After the market this last Saturday some of the other vendors and staff from the farmer's market and I were invited to see the Lavender Boutique operation, learn about their process and more about the big guy who sells lavender products at the market.  Joseph is originally from rural Central Washington, but spent a number of years playing professional basketball in Australia.  It was there that he became interested in growing lavender.  As he learned more about lavender he became interested in exploring the many uses for the blossoms and extracts from the plant.  Upon his retirement at the end of the 2012 season, Joseph moved back to The States and began getting involved with large scale lavender growing and gaining more knowledge about the biology of the plant and learning about the different varieties.  Some lavender is good for making soap and other grooming products, but not as good for culinary applications.

Wanting to move in the direction of developing and promoting lavender based products Joseph teamed up with Stephanie to establish The Lavender Boutique.  Joseph is in charge of product marketing, packaging and label design, managing the website, setting up shows and participation in farmer's markets and other selling events.  Stephanie, who is also a massage therapist, has developed the majority of the formulation of the products and recipes.

The farm/venue is located amongst orchards overlooking the Rock Island area and the Columbia River Valley just south of Wenatchee.  They are just establishing lavender gardens organized by the specific end use of the plant.  They will have separate gardens for craft, culinary and health/beauty varieties of lavender.

Young lavender.Young lavender.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   The barn has a couple of copper stills and fruit bins filled with different varieties of lavender. Bins of different varieties of lavenderBins of different varieties of lavenderOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Taking a dried blossom and pinching it between your fingers yields a very strong fragrance.

 

Joseph demonstrated the process with the new still where he extracts the essential oil and hydrosol from the lavender.  The essential oil is what is used for producing soap and it is very potent.  The hydrosols are used for producing body washes, fragrance sprays and other applications not requiring the concentration of the oil.  For each gallon of essential oil produced, twenty gallons of hydrosol is also produced.  This is done by using steam to extract the oils and hydrosols from the blossom and then condensing the products out of the steam.  Joseph can process about five pounds of blossoms at a time.  After the extraction process is complete the lavender is uncannily dry and devoid of fragrance   - only smelling like damp grass.

 

Here Joseph packs five pounds of lavender into the basket. 

Packing the basketPacking the basketOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Joseph and Troy (Still Master) clamp down the lid to the still.

Clamping down the stillClamping down the stillOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The condenser coils are cooled with water.

The condenser coil cooled by waterThe condenser coil cooled by waterOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oil and hydrosols exit into a glass separator.  The essential oil is floating on the top and the hydrosol is on the bottom layer.  Each is drained off into separate containers.

 

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They have big plans for his property to make it into an event venue for weddings and other gatherings as well as offering a place for other lavender enthusiasts to learn more about this versatile plant and to learn how to make various products, crafts and cook with it in a commercial kitchen.  If you ever happen to be at the Wenatchee Valley Farmer's Market, stop and visit with Joseph.  He always has samples to smell and taste, and a lot of information to share about lavender.

 

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