Lavender has multiple uses: the flowers can be used either fresh or dried for potpourri and sachets or to flavour vinegars, jams and sugar; and the essential oil, derived from steam distillation of the flowers, has a long history for use in perfumes, has antiseptic properties and can be used in aromatherapy.
There are two species of lavender farmed commercially: common, English or true lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and spike lavender (L. latifolia). Many of the cultivated varieties produced are hybrids between these two species and are referred to as lavandin (L.x intermedia). L. angustifolia occurs naturally at higher altitudes (800-1300 metres) with L. latifolia found at lower altitudes down to sea level.
English lavender yields the best quality oil, while spike lavender yields around three times the quantity of oil of English lavender but the oil is of lower quality. The hybrid lavandin, produces the largest quantities of oil for all species but the oil is of lower quality as it has a distinct camphor scent.
There has been some concern during the history of the lavender oil industry in Australia about the consistency of identification of species and varieties, and about the standard and consistency of the oil. As at 2013, these issues are being addressed by the Australian lavender industry.
Australia is a net importer of lavender oil, suggesting there is room for import replacement. However, it is important to identify potential markets for lavender before investing in the production of a crop.
The lavender oil industry is classified as an industry in the early stages of development in Australia. It has its own industry association The Australian Lavender Growers Association that is also a member of The Essential Oils Producers Association of Australia.
Facts and figures
- Lavender originates from the Mediterranean region
- Lavender has multiple end uses; fresh and dried flowers, oil, culinary uses, perfumes and cosmetics and in aromatherapy. Its production is also often linked with tourism activities
- Lavenders flourish best in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils in full sun; all types need little or no fertiliser and good air circulation
- Two species of lavender are commonly farmed in Australia, true lavender (Lanandula angustifolia) and spike lavender (L. latifolia), as well as hybrids of the two species (lavandin)
- Australia is a net importer of lavender oil
- The Australian lavender industry consists of many small producers and a few commercial farms, the majority of sales are directed to the domestic market
Over the 7 year period from 2005 to 2012, world lavender production has declined from 225 to only 90 tonnes due to an insect-borne bacterial disease prevalent in France, the main production area globally. Bulgaria has now overtaken France as the major producer of lavender oil.
As at 2011–12, oil production from true lavender in Australia was estimated at 3.5 tonnes, with a gross value of AU$1.3 million. In the same year, there was probably another 1–2 tonnes of lavandin oil and 5–10 tonnes of dried flower production consisting of bunches and stripped flowers.