On a gloriously sunny day earlier this week, Michael and I joined our friends Gail and Brad and perfumer David Falsberg for a day of lavender distilling at Mesha Munyan’s farm out on the Olympic Peninsula. Mesha has been growing and distilling lavender for many years and has recently established a natural perfume company, Meshaz. She won numerous gold medals at the Seattle Artisan Perfume Salon earlier this summer.
The lavender bloomed early this year, so we were lucky to get in on the tail end of distilling season. Mesha grows many different varieties of lavender and when we arrived we found the one she was going to distill that day drying on cloth sheets on the porch, next to where the still is set up.
We got to participate in the entire process, from start to finish. To begin with, we went out in the fields to smell the different varieties of lavender plants and learn how to harvest it with a curved, serrated knife. We gathered one type that was currently in bloom into bunches that would be hung to dry once we were back in the house. For distillation, it would just be spread out in mass on a cloth to dry.
Mesha uses a simple alembic-type still, fired by a propane gas burner. As the water heated, we took turns stuffing the dried lavender into the still until it was full. She then put the onion-shaped top on and sealed the neck to the condenser component, basically a metal coil submerged in a bucket of circulating water.
We all waited in anticipation, and it wasn’t long until the first drops of liquid began to appear, followed by a thin stream that was caught in a tall container that slowly released the heavier, aqueous phase into a bucket below while allowing the lighter oil phase to collect on top. We all took turns smelling the oil as it came out of the still. Delicious!
Once all of the oil was collected, it was put in a separatory funnel to finish removing the aqueous phase and the small layer of dark colored stuff at the interface between the oil and water. The oil was then bottled and put aside to age. At this point the spent lavender had to be extracted from the still and collected in a wheelbarrow to use as mulch on the lavender plants.