Reviving Lavender

Published in Highlights

Hvar is known as the Lavender Island. After years of decline, lavender cultivation is happily enjoying a revival.

Lavender in the Ager on Hvar Lavender in the Ager on Hvar Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It was the crisis in grape production in the early part of the 20th century which led to increased lavender cultivation on Hvar. Until commercialized tourism became the island's top money-spinner, lavender was a main income source for many families. In 1974, lavender was grown over 910 hectares, and yielded 83,720 litres of oil. Then a combination of circumstances led to decline. Apart from the boom in tourism, the increasingly competitive international market made it harder to sell Hvar lavender products at profitable prices; forest fires devastated large swathes of lavender fields on the hillsides; and ever-increasing emigration from the island meant that re-planting on a commercial basis was unviable.

Bare burnt-out hillside where the lavender used to grow. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Hvar's lavenders

Lavender, Latin name Lavandula, belongs to the mint family, technically Lamiaeciae, and has some 47 known flowering species.

True lavender thriving on a Hvar hill. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Narrow-leaved lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), is known as true lavender (lavandula vera), also English lavender and common lavender. In Dalmatia it is called Vera. It thrives in the Mediterranean area, and used to be cultivated extensively on Hvar, doing best at higher elevations above sea level. Its essential oil is considered the finest of all lavender oils, with particularly soothing properties. It is said to help reduce anxiety and mental stress. A few drops on your pillow can help you sleep; massage with a true lavender oil preparation can help ease tired muscles. Because of its known medicinal uses, it used to be called Lavandula officinalis. Narrow-leaved lavender used to be cultivated in quantity on Hvar. The popular alternative is lavandin (Lavandula x. intermedia) a hybrid between narrow-leaved lavender and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). It forms a strong, large bush with its flowers on long stalks, and produces oil in greater quantity than true lavender. There are many species of lavandin. On Hvar there are two main types: one is known as 'levanda' or 'bila', the other as 'budrovka', 'čorna' or 'modrulja'. The essential oil of true lavender is considered to produce very fine quality oil, which is used in expensive lavender products, especially for skin care, and (sparingly, a few drops at a time) in its pure form to freshen one's pillow or bath water. Lavandin has a stronger scent, which increases over time, because the oil has a higher camphor content. Lavandin oil tends to be used in cheaper lavender products, but it is well appreciated in massage oils, as a natural antiseptic, and in lavender honey. Dried lavandin flowers in sachets provide long-lasting fresheners for household use, with the particular benefit of protecting clothes stored in cupboards and drawers against moths.

Jadran Lazić enjoying his lavender harvest, 6th July 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono.

The lavender revival on Hvar was stimulated a few years ago with a few EU-inspired enterprises, especially the Mediterranean Medicinal Herbs Project. Local people started planting or re-planting fields with lavender. Jadran Lazić, an internationally known celebrity photographer, planted over 300 bushes on his land on one of Hvar's higher points, known as Vorh. His long-term aim was to provide herbs for his daughter Tamara to use in her work as a dermatologist. Tamara was a student when Jadran began planting his fields, and her career has flourished in the intervening years. Jadran's first lavender harvest was in 2013, producing a yield of about 0.2 L, which gave him unbounded delight. The yield increased to some 4 litres in 2016, so there were great hopes for even more in 2017. The harvest date was set for Thursday 6th July, and an enthusiastic group of harvesters gathered in Jadran's lavender fields by 6am to get the work done before the sun and wasps became unbearable.

Harvesting in the early morning sun. Photo: Paul Bradbury

Some of us were first-time harvesters, so the main burden of effort fell to the experienced hands. Drago Barbić had arrived ahead of the main group, and had set to work with expert efficiency, aided by his young son Pjer. They had cleared an impressive number of bushes in the 30 minutes or so before our arrival, leaving neat bunches of lavender on top of the cut bushes. Seeing our ineptitude, Drago took time out to explain patiently how the cutting is done. The natural instinct is to take a handful of stalks and then apply the sickle; the correct way is to apply the sickle around a bunch, then grasp and cut. Easy when you know how. Once cut, the bunch is tapped at the bottom to bring the ends in line for neatness, and laid on top of the cut bush.

Drago cutting away the stalks, while Pjer holds the bag. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

There are two stages to the cutting process. First, the stalks are cut close to the main bush, otherwise the plants will turn woody as they grow. This was the part done by us amateurs. The second part requires expertise: the flower heads containing the precious oil are cut away from the stalks. Drago's preferred technique was to steady the bunch between his thighs and cut deftly vertically. Jurica, another expert, simply held the bunch up and sliced more horizontally. Their fingers are all present and correct after years of practice, so watching them at work was not the frightening sight it might have been.

Jurica cutting the flower heads away. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The star harvester was undoubtedly Jadran's mother Slavica. At 85 years old / young, she worked with a will from start to finish, as impressive example to us all. While younger volunteers paused with tiredness, boredom, over-heating, hunger or thirst, Slavica worked through with evident enjoyment. When the harvesting was over, she went around picking various wild herbs to take home.

Slavica (right) tirelessly at work. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jadran does not take an active part in the harvesting. He acts as overseer, and records the action as a true pro photographer.

Jadran at work filming the action. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

He also ensures that the volunteers are fed and watered. A great tray of pastries appeared out of the blue, and was offered to all with gracious elegance.

Jadran keeping the workers fed. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Eco Hvar is happy to report that there was plenty of drinking water on hand. Some of the hardier males also knocked back a dram of rakija, and many quenched their thirst with cool beers. Fortunately for them, some in the group were expert at opening the bottles without a bottle-opener. Naturally, Paul Bradbury, aka Mr Total-Croatia-News, Jelsa's renowned English blogger, kept his spirits raised in his usual style, the beer having arrived just at the moment when he announced he was getting bored. For those who think Mr T-C-N shirks physical labour in the great outdoors, remember he took part in the tree-planting project organized by Održivi otok / Sustainable Island in 2016; he has been known to pick olives with his in-laws; and he tends his lawn in Varaždin with the care of a true gardener. He claims the beer helps in all these arduous physical endeavours.

Paul Bradbury replenishing his enthusiasm. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Being in Nature provided some new experiences and discoveries. There was a small insect emerging from its skin (exuviae). Was it a bee? No, more likely to be a cicada, according to our bird-watcher and Nature-lover Steve, who had identified a similar insect with the help of expert friends last year. A bigger, fully formed insect attached itself to Jadran's shorts. Our local expert identified it as 'konjić' - a dragonfly - but Steve was convinced it was more likely to be some kind of cricket. Needless to say, the insects, whatever they were, were allowed to get on with their lives in peace.

Insects at large. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Accompanying the group was a most welcome canine spectator, Nola, whose rescue story we recounted earlier this year. It was a delight to see her looking so well, obviously enjoying her freedom in the great outdoors. And she was beautifully behaved.

Nola supervising the harvest in the shade. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The harvest completed, Jadran checked over the bushes to assess the quality of the cutting, pausing to pick some flowers which had been missed. He presented these with his customary gallant charm as a token of thanks to Eco Hvar - a much appreciated gesture.

Jadran picking his lavender. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Then the flower heads were bagged up, ready for transport to the distillery.

Jadran and Drago tying up the bags. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In true Dalmatian style, finishing the harvest signalled the time for a feast. Jurica was busy firing up the barbecue by the time the rest of us reached the 'farmhouse'.

The barbecue on the go. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Despite it being breakfast rather than dinner time, the abundant smoked meats, grilled lamb and fresh salads were devoured with relish, and conversation was animated.

Ready for the feast! Photo: Jadran Lazić

Once everyone was well fed, the lavender bags were taken to the distillery at Humac for transformation into golden fragrant oil.

The Humac distillery. Photo: Jadran Lazić

The result? A grand total of 2.5L, less than last year, but certainly of the finest quality. There were various possible reasons for the drop in quantity, offered by the experts on the ground: not enough fertilizer?  an effect of the extreme cold snap in January? harvest a few days too late? It goes to show how hard it must be to cultivate lavender for profit. No matter, Jadran declared that it had all been a lot of fun. He may not yet be able to supply Tamara with all the lavender oil she might need in her professional work, but he has plenty for personal family use, guaranteeing a year of peace and calm in the home(s). Slavica's participation in the harvest was undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of happiness for Jadran and an inspiration for the rest of us.

Jadran and Slavica after the harvest. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

© Vivian Grisogono, 2017

You are here: Home highlights Reviving Lavender

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Major review reports recovery of marine life but a redoubling of efforts is still needed

    The glory of the world’s oceans could be restored within a generation, according to a major new scientific review. It reports rebounding sea life, from humpback whales off Australia to elephant seals in the US and green turtles in Japan.

    Through rampant overfishing, pollution and coastal destruction, humanity has inflicted severe damage on the oceans and its inhabitants for centuries. But conservation successes, while still isolated, demonstrate the remarkable resilience of the seas.

    Continue reading...

  • Relocation of soil beginning at ‘completely wrong time’ for wildlife, says Woodland Trust

    HS2 is beginning an operation to remove soils from ancient woodlands at a catastrophic time of year for wildlife, according to the Woodland Trust.

    Undertaking the controversial “translocation” operation – which also involves felling numerous trees – in six woods in April and not during winter as the high-speed railway originally said it would, was a “betrayal of trust” said the charity’s ecologist.

    Continue reading...

  • Migration to European breeding grounds from Africa is harder due to evolutionary changes

    The nightingale was feted by John Keats as a “light-winged Dryad of the trees”. But the much-celebrated small bird with a beautiful song may be increasingly endangered because its wings are getting shorter.

    The nightingale makes an epic journey from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in Europe each summer but there are barely 7,000 nesting pairs left in England.

    Continue reading...

  • Experts say new evidence from Cretaceous period ‘shows us what carbon dioxide can do’

    Think of Antarctica and it is probably sweeping expanses of ice, and the odd penguin, that come to mind. But at the time of the dinosaurs the continent was covered in swampy rainforest.

    Now experts say they have found the most southerly evidence yet of this environment in plant material extracted from beneath the seafloor in west Antarctica.

    Continue reading...

  • As rivers and wildflower meadows in the UK struggle to recover from repeated flooding, the ecosystems they support are collapsing

    For 900 years, Lugg and Hampton wildflower meadows in Herefordshire have bloomed into a wash of colour in spring. These fertile meadows were highly prized, and the Norman lords who owned them used the hay crop to help fund Hereford’s cathedrals, churches and castles. The secret to their wonderful bounty was the River Lugg flowing through the middle, fertilising the valley floor with lime and silt each winter it flooded.

    But this longstanding system is broken. This winter the valley was submerged under several feet of chocolate-coloured water. It has been flooded almost continuously since October, turning the 120-hectare (297-acre) reserve into an inland lake, with just the tops of gates and fence posts peeping out of the water. Now, as spring approaches, the water is still several inches deep and swans and gulls frolic where mice and rabbits would have burrowed six months earlier.

    Continue reading...

  • Analysts say the coronavirus and a savage price war means the oil and gas sector will never be the same again

    The plunging demand for oil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic combined with a savage price war has left the fossil fuel industry broken and in survival mode, according to analysts. It faces the gravest challenge in its 100-year history, they say, one that will permanently alter the industry. With some calling the scene a “hellscape”, the least lurid description is “unprecedented”.

    A key question is whether this will permanently alter the course of the climate crisis. Many experts think it might well do so, pulling forward the date at which demand for oil and gas peaks, never to recover, and allowing the atmosphere to gradually heal.

    Continue reading...

  • Recycling Association warns of serious impact on supplies of food and medicine packaging

    The UK could be hit by a national cardboard shortage as more and more local councils suspend their regular recyclingcollections owing to pressures caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the industry’s trade body has warned.

    The Recycling Association said it has huge concerns about a looming European and even worldwide shortage of fibre – used paper and cardboard – which is used to manufacture millions of cardboard boxes essential for food and medical supplies distribution.

    Continue reading...

  • Analysis of underwater photographs has demonstrated what marine biologists have long suspected – seasonal fish migrations

    New research has finally demonstrated what many marine biologists suspected but had never before seen: fish migrating through the deep sea.

    The study, published this month in the Journal of Animal Ecology, used analysis of deep-sea photographs to show a regular increase in the number of fish in particular months, suggesting seasonal migrations.

    Continue reading...

  • Exclusive:Mass bleaching seen along Great Barrier Reef could mark start of global-scale event, expert warns

    Rising ocean temperatures could have pushed the world’s tropical coral reefs over a tipping point where they are hit by bleaching on a “near-annual” basis, according to the head of a US government agency program that monitors the globe’s coral reefs.

    Dr Mark Eakin, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Guardian Australia there was a risk that mass bleaching seen along the length of the Great Barrier Reef in 2020 could mark the start of another global-scale bleaching event.

    Continue reading...

  • Antarctica’s weather has worldwide impacts and can be a ‘canary in the mine’ for patterns of change elsewhere

    While the world rightfully focuses on the Covid-19 pandemic, the planet is still warming. This summer’s Antarctic weather, as elsewhere in the world, was unprecedented in the observed record.

    Our research, published today in Global Change Biology, describes the recent heatwave in Antarctica. Beginning in late spring east of the Antarctic Peninsula, it circumnavigated the continent over the next four months. Some of our team spent the summer in Antarctica observing these temperatures and the effect on natural systems, witnessing the heatwave first hand.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds