Essential oils for aromatherapy come from three different sources; wild, traditional cultivation or organic/bio. There is quite a debate going on about which oils are the best. At the end of the day, the growing format is only one of the things that ascertain how good the oil will be. As I said before, other factors such as harvesting, distillation, transportation and storage will play its role as well.
- Traditional cultivation: Most herbs are grown this way. Usually in aromatherapy there is a demand for natural fertilizers and a minimum of pesticides. This is possible when it comes to growing herbs, since they have a built-in repellent-system. (essential oils) The plants are normally all the same in chemical make-up sometimes even genetically so.
- Organic or bio cultivation: No pesticides are used and only natural fertilizers. Weeds are controlled manually. The yield can be slightly smaller so the price is often higher. Again, the plants are more or less identical in chemical make-up.
- Wild: The plants are not cultivated at all, they are harvested in the wild where they normally grow. The chemical differences between the plants can vary and the plants are not identical. They are much harder to harvest, since the harvester needs to move over a large area to collect them. The plants are smaller than their cultivated cousins.
My absolute favorites are the oils from wild plants, they hold the very essence of their origins. They are organic from nature, they are not genetically identical and in some ways they have more of an intrinsic power. When I still lived in the forest I always preferred to harvest my herbs wild from the forest. The ones I couldn’t find wild, I cultivated as “wildly” as possible on my farm.
Some years ago I went to France, Provence, to study herbs and distillation methods etc. One day was spent harvesting wild lavender. This is incredibly hard work; August in Provence means relentless hot sun and dry, dusty air. (the soil is so dry as to turn to dust) We were given huge sacks which was tied over the shoulders (it was bigger than me), and a moon-shaped small “scythe” or “lavender knife” (I don’t know what it is called, see picture below). The final goal for the day was to each harvest 25kg of lavender. (This is for beginners such as myself) Wearing sturdy shoes, even sturdier gloves and a hat we set off up the hillside. You always start cutting from below, as it is easier to harvest going uphill. Wild lavender grows in tufts here and there that are rather small and hard to cut. You grab a handful of lavender-stems and cut the top 1/3’rd of the plant, then throw it over your shoulder into the sack as you climb for the next bush. Hard work indeed, and 25 kg is an enormous amount. At the end of my kilos, both my hands were sore, my whole body was aching and my head was spinning as if I had downed a bottle of wine!
Lavender knife (if anybody knows what it is called, please tell me)
Dried lavender on market in Provence
Finally: The best lavender grows on high altitudes. Wild lavender is often called “Alpine lavender” since it grows higher up on the mountain; 8 000-15 000 meters above sea-level. The bushes are smaller and carries less flowers the higher up on the mountain you come, which makes harvesting a real chore.The nicest lavender I ever met is a high-altitude lavender, lavandula augustifolia. It has an energy so high and pure that its scent truly carries the song of the angels. This is the only lavender I ever used for my children. The high-altitude wild lavender oil will always be more expensive than other lavender oils, but remember;
“You get what you pay for”.