Over the years I’ve come across all sorts of unjustified statements comparing these two species of lavender – Lavandula angustifolia (sometimes called “English” or “true” lavender) and Lavandula x intermedia (conveniently shortened to lavandin).
Curiously most English people have never heard of lavandin, whereas most French have – I be interested to know what the situation is in the US, Australia, Canada. The purpose of this post is to clear up some of the differences.
Lavandin is simply another species of lavender – L. x intermedia is a sterile hybrid between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia (Spike lavender). I think that a good analogy is the relationship between a horse (the angustifolia) and a mule (the lavandin)!
As with L. angustifolia there are lots of varieties of lavandin, but a particularly common one for oil production is “Grosso”. Others for oil production are Super, Sussex, Soumian, Abrialis. Some of the differences between the two species are:
- As with our horse & mule, there are visual differences. The lavandin tends to be a larger plant with longer, larger, more pointed flower spikes. You often get lateral shoots up the stems with additional, smaller flower spikes. The lavandin generally flowers later than the angustifolia.
- Being a different species it is no surprise that lavandin oil is different from L.angustifolia oil. There is much in common but one key difference is that lavandin typically contains about 7-ish % of camphor. Camphor has a strong, penetrating scent and gives the lavandin a bit more of a gutsy, medicinal scent, and is certainly less refined, less sweet-floral as the angustifolia oil. Some people prefer it, but most don’t. I suppose that this fragrance difference is one reason why people “look down their nose” at lavandin – in some ways similar in our horse/mule analogy! I have recently read about lavandin oil causing burns to skin because of the camphor. I have to say that I have never heard this before and an internet search of the properties of camphor did not reveal any particular risk of burns, though it does give a “cooling effect” that makes the skin tingle.
- Lavandin produces more oil than angustifolia. The same weight of lavandin flowers as L.angustifolia flowers (from roughly the same acreage and roughly the same amount of work) produces three times more lavandin oil. It is therefore no surprise that lavandin oil is much cheaper. In many people’s eyes cheaper = poorer quality. It isn’t. It’s just a different quality. Because it is cheaper, lavandin does tend to be used by perfumers in cheaper perfumes (soaps, detergents, air-fresheners etc), because they can afford to use it in those sorts of perfumes. This again rather lowers the perceived “quality” of the oil.
In my opinion it is much more sensible to consider lavandin as a different oil, rather than compared it to the oil from L.angustifolia. In the garden, lavandin has it’s own special look – it is great for the back of the border, standing above the angustifolias, and extending the flowering display to later on in the summer.
It is true that L.angustifolia is the most commonly used type of oil in aromatherapy and most books on the subject devote considerable page space to it’s properties, whereas lavandin is lucky to get a mention. However it does have it’s own properties. If you have a cold, I would suggest that the camphor in the lavandin would help clear your nose better. I would suggest that lavandin is a better insect repellent (moths, mozzies, carpet beetles, ants). I personally find lavandin better in a burner to freshen the atmosphere in a room. The point is that lavandin is not a substitute for angustifolia. It has it’s own unique properties, and is no less valid in the toolbox of a therapist than L.angustifolia.
As well as L.angustifolia, lavandin is also subject to the attention of the essential oil traders in blending in synthetics – see my previous blog Lavender oil: sometimes all is not quite what it seems for more info. Lavandin itself is quite cheap, so there is not much need to blend for the sake of a cheaper lavandin, but what does happen is that lavandin is taken as a base fragrance, and synthetics are blended in to make it smell more like an angustifolia oil. Possibly this can be done well enough to pass the blend off as a L.angustifolia oil. As I’ve said before, this is fine when kept within the perfumery industry, for a perfumer’s needs but I have no doubt that sometimes these blends make their way, through crookery or ignorance, into small bottles labeled lavender oil, and pretending to be L.angustifolia oil. For the “person on the street” this creates an awkward situation – how do you know what you are buying? Well, there are some rules that reduce the risk. Read my Lavender oil: sometimes all is not quite what it seems blog for my top 5 tips for buying the right quality of lavender oil. These tips apply just as much to lavandin oil as to angustifolia.
At the Jersey Lavender Farm we grow both L.angustifolia (5 varieties) and lavandin (Grosso). During the summer the lavender flower crop is harvested and steam distilled to extract the oil. After maturing, the oil is used to make our own range of fragrant products. The pure lavender oils are available to purchase for you to use at home. We also have some excellent lavender books that detail creative and therapeutic ways of using lavender.