Botany and Production
Lavandula stoechas belongs to the family of Labiatae or Lamiaceae and is a species within the genus of lavenders. It differs, however, from the commonly known lavenders, not only phenotypic by having two big sterile violet bracts on the top of the inflorescence and by the form of the leaves, being somewhat similar to rosemary leaves, but also chemically, mainly in the low amount of esters present, which are a quality criterion for true lavender oils. The ancient Greeks, over 2000 years ago, called the plant Stoechas, because it first came from the Stoechades, then Greek islands and nowadays called the Hyeres, islands off the French coast near Toulon. To the Stoechades, it is believed, it came from its native Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation in the West.
From these Greek islands, it is mentioned that L. stoechas was introduced into France only around 600 AD and to England and the US only by the 17th century.
This is, why we call the plant 'Greek Lavender', even though it often is called 'French' or even 'Spanish' Lavender by common names.
Interestingly, Linnaeus in his 'Species Plantarum' from 1753, recognised only 4 species in the genus Lavandula: L. stoechas, L. spica, L. dentata and L. multifida.
L. officinalis was first described by Chaix only around 1780, later named Lavandula vera by DeCandolle in 1848. L. angustifolia is thought to be a subdivision of L. officinalis. There have since come numerous hybrids and cultivars of Lavender, Lavandin, for industrial production.
What remains is, that Lavandula stoechas to us, is the most authentic lavender, the herb with a history of thousands of years in the service of humanity, and that is why we cherish it.
L. stoechas is the lavender which the Romans used in their baths and which have inspired the name of the genus, Lavandula, which is derived from the Latin lavare, to wash, as Linnaeus tells us. References to the medicinal use of lavender until the 18th century was almost certainly referring to L. stoechas, which also was the species used medicinally, mainly for wounds, in Europe until that time.
L. stoechas is widely distributed around the Mediterranean and North Africa. Six subspecies are today acknowledged within the species stoechas, whereof in Crete L. stoechas ssp. stoechas is found. The oil is not largely produced commercially.
We collect L. stoechas in the end of April from abundant populations in the sub mountainous area of the Kydonias district of Western Crete during flowering. The flowering tops are hand cut, always leaving enough flowers for the bees. Collection of this plant is a deeply balancing experience for us, we look forwards to this collections every year.
The plant material is dried and subsequently steam distilled. Distillation lasts approx. 4-5 hours and yields a fresh, slightly camphorous, strong scented oil quite different from other commercial lavender oils.
Lavandula stoechas in the mountains behind Babiolo, western Crete. We also captured a bee arriving . . .
The main components of our Cretan L. stoechas oil are fenchone (30%), camphor (14%), myrtenyl acetate (10%), a-pinene (5.5%), 1.8 cineole (4%) and a-cadinol (3.6%), followed by limonene (1.7%), camphene (1%), cadinene (1%), trans- and cis-carveol (1% and 0.7%), copa-borneol (0.9%), along with minor quantities of apo-pinene, a-fenchene, sabinene, p-cymene, fenchyl acetate, terpinen-4-ol, carvone, p-cymen-8-ol, and tetra-hydro-spirol (all 0.2-0.5%).
No formal testing, however, because of the high ketone content it should be avoided altogether in pregnancy, during breastfeeding and with babies and generally used moderately and appropriately diluted. The oil should not be taken internally, large doses might cause vomiting and convulsions. The oil should not be used excessively or over longer periods of time. It is an oil that demands some knowledge and experience by the therapist to be used.
Principle of Action
Stimulating, sedative, relaxing (CNS), energising and cleaning.
Powerful anti-infectious. Woundhealing. First aid for insect bites or stings. Analgesic. Antispasmodic (digestive system).
Cutting Lavandula stoechas flowering tops, and the tops in the box ready to go to the distillery
Since ancient times, Lavender is associated with cleanliness, purity both physically and spiritually. Lavender was useful, averting the 'evil eye', useful as a spreading in a sick person's room for its deodorant and anti-septical properties, in baths and soaps to purify body and mind, placed between clothes and bed linens to repel moths and insects and give a fresh and clean scent.
In ancient Egypt Lavandula stoechas was used for embalming, and later Dioscurides mentions 'Stoichas' in his work 'De Materia Medica' fra året ca. 78AD.
He tells, that 'stoichas' wine or vinegar dispels flatulence and thick mucus, is useful for nerve pains and colds, epilepsi and chest complaints. "It opens and relieves all the intestines and generally the condition of the body".
Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century mentioned the use of Lavender for lung complaints, "Lavender wine, or Lavender boiled in water and honey..eases the pain in the liver and lung and clears moisture in the chest". She also described the use of Lavender as washes for headaches. As mentioned, the species used medicinally until the 18th century was L. stoechas.
In Crete, L. stoechas is traditionally used in cases of chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, colds and coughs (mucolytic), as well as for otitis.
Though the oil of L. stoechas today is little used in commercial perfumery, because it is less flowery and sweet than the scent of true Lavender, Lavandula vera, since antiquity and even nowadays in Algeria and Greece it is used traditionally as an ingredient in soaps and body-care products. Its scent calms the nerves and it is said, that it counteracts negative thoughts and feelings. We find, that many people, and especially men, prefer the scent of Lavandula stoechas over the sweeter scent of true lavender, as it is more fresh, clear and invigorating as well as calming.
Lavandula stoechas has sedative, relaxing , antispasmodic and anticonvulsant effects. It can be used in cases of constipation, diarrhea with spasms and convulsions, diluted 3:100 in a carrier oil and massaged clockwise into the abdomen.
Lavandula stoechas has powerful antiseptic and analgesic properties.
An illustrious story is told from the days of the plague epidemic, the black death. During the heights of this epidemic in France in the 17th century, it was found, that the homes of plague victims were louted by a gang of thieves, which apparently did not succumb to the infection. They soon were highly sought after..
When they finally were caught, they traded the secret that protected them from the deadly infection for their freedom from robbery charges and their life. Their recipe became famous under the name 'four thieves vinegar'. They had prepared a vinegar extract of Lavender, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and washed with this extract before setting out for robbing. This was the original recipe of the 'four thieves vinegar', although later also garlic cloves and sometimes sweet smelling herbs like peppermint and melissa were added.
Lavandula stoechas, alone or mixed with any of the other oils mentioned in the recipe, is an excellent refreshing disinfectant in the house. You can add a few drops when washing floors, cupboards or kitchen surfaces, a drop or two to the washing powder when washing clothes by hand or in the washing machine..place a cotton ball with a few drops between your linen.
Lavandula stoechas is an excellent 'first aid' oil, in which cases it can be applied undiluted. A drop of the oil applied to bee or wasp stings, burned skin or smaller wounds immediately eases the pain, prevents swelling and scar formation substantially. The oil, diluted (5% in water, shaken and sprayed onto cleaning tissue), can be used to wash infected wounds and we have seen success even with difficult decubitus, pressure sores. In the latter case the washing should be accompanied by compresses. The wound-healing ability of Lavandula stoechas is so great, that one has to be careful treating very deep and infected wounds. Here one has to start with washings only, until the wound is completely free of infection, before starting treatment with compresses, as the oil can heal the top layers of the skin so quickly, that infection remaining in the depth of the wound might be enclosed.
Lavandula stoechas has a special place in our hearts, since it was the very first essential oil we distilled back in 1994. We started to distill in a beautiful traditional galvanised copper still from 1924. And the first drops of Lavandula stoechas essential oil, distilling over, never lost their magic for us. We still have a small bottle of this, our very first oil. To us, its scent still today, invokes memories of wonder and amazement, of humility and appreciation when we first started distilling, first experienced alchemy, the art of transformation from material to spirit..
Babis with our first still in 1994, distilling our first Lavandula stoechas
Then also, Lavandula stoechas populations here in Crete seem to be vulnerable. Often entire biotopes in the hills of western Crete seem to get bull-dozered to make place for olive plantations. We have described some of our experiences under Collection.
However, it is a strong, determined plant, and soon inhabits new areas.. so, every year we are roaming the areas to see, if the populations still are where they were last, or where the plants now have moved too, where they now are abundant and healthy.
Through the years, we usually have developed lasting relationships with our plant populations. We return each year, or every second year in some cases, and find everybody healthy and alive. Lavandula is an exception, its populations reincarnate more often.. sometimes we find a developing biotope, with small plants starting to appear everywhere.. then we remember the place, because many years later, we might come back...
Collecting in an abundant Lavandula stoechas biotope in 1994, and a developing biotope on a steep slope in 2008, working with a security line...
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