I received the below message from a fellow lavender enthusiast. It seemed typical of the confusion that abounds when talking about lavender, so I thought that I’d answer it in a Jersey Lavender blog post…..
Hello. I have a problem. I am very confused about different lavender essential oils. I have tried a few from different sources, and they all smell way too “camphorous” to me. I want a sweet, floral smelling pure essential oil. Which type would I want to look for? I’m confused about officinalis versus angustifolia versus 40/42 versus french versus english versus bulgarian, etc. As I said, I want one that smells sweet and floral, not harsh and sharp and camphory, if that makes any sense. I would use it for aromatherapy as well as in making soap and air freshener. Thank you so much for any help! I think a lot of websites really don’t have all their info straight and it is confusing me even more.
Big question and alot to cover……..There are a few different species of lavender that are steam distilled to produce lavender oil. The main ones are Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula x intermedia and Lavandula latifolia.
Angustifolia is sometimes called officinalis – an old botanical name that should not be used now, though frequently is. Angustifolia is also sometimes called “true” lavender, lavender vera or “English” lavender. The oil from angustifolia is the one that is sweetest and most floral, and it should not smell camphory, and from what our question is saying is the type of oil that they want. Oil from French angustifolia and Bulgarian angustifolia (denoting the country of origin) should not be too different, though of course with climate variations, different varieties, harvesting, distilling and storage there will be some differences. With 40/42 you need to be careful, as I’ve said in a previous blog, 40/42 is more of a perfumery quality of angustifolia-type lavender oil. It may well be based on and contain a high proportion of natural lavender oil, but it has been “standardised” by the addition of additional (and synthetic) linalool and linalyl acetate. It may well small very nice, sweet and floral, but it is not a pure, natural lavender oil.
The Lavandula x intermedia is usually abreviated to lavandin. In England this is sometimes called French lavender as much was, and still is, grown in France. To confuse matters there is another lavender, an ornamental lavender – lavender stoechas – that is called French lavender in England. National names are not helpful as a name often means something completely different in different countries.
The oil from lavandin has a strong camphoraceous smell on account of it containing 7 to 11% of camphor. Because of this the fragrance is very distinct from that of angustifolia. Oil from the species Lavandula latifolia has even more pungent fragrance, containing approx 13% of camphor but also 25% or so of 1,8 Cineol (otherwise known as eucalyptol).
The trouble is that what is contained in a bottle of lavender oil is frequently not quite what it is supposed to be, with vague labelling and the contents varying from angustifolia oil to lavandin oil to latifolia oil, a blend of them, but also adulterated and diluted oils. This is where I suspect the issue is for our questioner – basically buying poor quality oils.
My advice is to read an earlier blog - Lavender oil: sometimes, all is not quite what it seems! . This post contains info on buying good quality lavender oils. I would also add my opinion that perhaps the questioner should try the lavandin oil in such products as the soaps and airfreshener. Being a stronger smelling oil, I find that the fragrance “lifts” from the product better than the angustifolia oil. The lavandin oil is also cheaper!