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

  • Survey of 600 people finds some parents regret having offspring for same reason

    People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse, according to the first academic study of the issue.

    The researchers surveyed 600 people aged 27 to 45 who were already factoring climate concerns into their reproductive choices and found 96% were very or extremely concerned about the wellbeing of their potential future children in a climate-changed world. One 27-year-old woman said: “I feel like I can’t in good conscience bring a child into this world and force them to try and survive what may be apocalyptic conditions.”

    Continue reading...

  • The best of the week’s wildlife pictures from around the world, including desert-dwelling sheep and a plant that has evolved to hide from humans

    Continue reading...

  • With nearly 400,000 crew members trapped at sea by Covid restrictions, it’s time for retailers like Amazon to help press for key worker status

    This weekend is one of the planet’s busiest shopping sprees, with an estimated £66bn to be spent in the UK alone over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, much of it online. Yet as shoppers click and wait to collect, there is a crisis at sea among the people whose work brings us these goods.

    It is no exaggeration to say that without shipping the global marketplace would collapse. It is responsible for the movement of 90% of all global trade. Even in normal circumstances, more than a million seafarers labour daily on the vessels that make up the world cargo fleet, their work barely noticed by consumers. As Covid-19 has ravaged the world, they have helped keep the global economy functioning, unseen.

    Continue reading...

  • Amitav Ghosh, Margaret Atwood and Emma Thompson are among 20 activists and cultural figures to speak at Writers Rebel event

    Writers and activists including Emma Thompson, Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh are to speak about their favourite endangered animals as part of a remembrance day for lost species.

    The snow leopard, pangolin and vaquita porpoise are among the endangered animals that will be championed by participants at the free online event, On the Brink, organised by Writers Rebel, which is part of Extinction Rebellion.

    Continue reading...

  • Public accounts committee says ignorance, incompetence and weak oversight to blame

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has a perpetual lack of knowledge about the state and location of waste on the 17 sites it is responsible for making safe, a powerful committee of MPs has found.

    This results from decades of poor record keeping and weak government oversight, the MPs said. Combined with a “sorry saga” of incompetence and failure, this has left taxpayers footing the bill for “astronomical sums”, they said.

    Continue reading...

  • Industry promotes materialism and lifts sales of climate-harming products, study says

    Advertising needs to be controlled and changed to reduce its impact on the climate, according to a report released as consumers prepare to spend billions on Black Friday.

    The report by the New Weather Institute thinktank and the charity We are Possible examines how advertising indirectly contributes to climate change and the ecological emergency.

    Continue reading...

  • The winning images of the 2020 British Ecological Society photography competition, taken by international ecologists and students, celebrate the diversity of the planet’s flora and fauna

    Continue reading...

  • An investigation into the Queen Hind sinking a year ago is yet to be published and the live export trade continues to boom

    Romania has been accused of “complete silence” over its investigation into the sinking of the Queen Hind last November, which resulted in the deaths of more than 14,000 sheep.

    Rescuers who rushed to the sinking Queen Hind vessel, which left Romania’s Black Sea port of Midia a year ago, managed to save just 228 sheep out of a total 14,600, but only 180 ultimately survived the ordeal.

    Romania’s prime minister Ludovic Orban vowed on television last year to end live exports in the “medium-term”. However, since the Queen Hind disaster more than 2 million live animals have been exported from Romania – mostly to north Africa and the Middle East.

    Romanian authorities have claimed the vessel was 10% below capacity and that the animals were “clinically healthy and fit for transport”. But campaigners say the vessel was overloaded and this ultimately led to the thousands of sheep drowning in the Black Sea.

    The only information to emerge since the sinking has been the discovery of secret compartments onboard with dead animals inside, by the company hired to remove the ship from the water.

    Romania’s transport ministry told the Guardian this week that investigations are concluded and said a summary of the report will be published on the ministry’s website. They also said that the purpose of the technical investigation was to establish maritime safety issues and to prevent future accidents, and “not to establish guilt in people involved”.

    EU law stipulates that investigations into maritime accidents should be reported in full within 12 months, but that if a final report is not possible in that timeframe, then “an interim report shall be published within 12 months of the date” of the event.

    Continue reading...

  • Report suggests tree growth will not store nearly as much carbon as scientists hoped

    Global heating appears to be making trees drop their leaves earlier, according to new research, confounding the idea that warmer temperatures delay the onset of autumn.

    The finding is important because trees draw huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and therefore play a key role in managing the climate.

    Continue reading...

  • Oyster Clough, Derbyshire: A decade ago, I wouldn’t have mentioned it in print, but now the number of visitors has soared

    The true start of winter is often debated, but none of the definitions I know include mid-November. That didn’t stop a razor-edged northerly blowing off the moors from knifing me in the ribs. I stopped to put on my spare jacket, but it seemed hopelessly unequal to the job. “Is that all you brought?” my companion asked. Luckily for me, by the time we emerged from the woods above the Snake Inn into bright sunshine, the wind had moderated. But the sky above was still cold-forged with that intense blue of winter, tinged pink in places in the low-angled light.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

Feed not found.