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

  • Exclusive: major supplier to brands including KFC and Nando’s used offshore companies allowing them to reduce UK tax payments, investigation suggests

    The global megacompanies supplying some of Britain’s most popular meat brands, including KFC, Nando’s chicken and Sainsbury’s organic range, appear to have been using offshore companies that allow them to avoid paying millions of pounds in tax in the UK.

    An investigation by the Guardian and Lighthouse Reports has found that two companies – Anglo Beef Processors UK and Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation (owned by Brazilian beef giant JBS) – appear to have reduced their tax bill by structuring their companies and loans in a way that allows them to take advantage of different tax systems, in what one expert has described as “aggressive tax avoidance”.

    Continue reading...

  • Nature protection rules in proposed investment zones would in effect be suspended

    There was little room for doubt about the reaction to the prime minister’s plans to scrap environmental regulations this weekend. “Make no mistake, we are angry. This government has today launched an attack on nature,” tweeted the RSPB, its most forceful political intervention in recent memory.

    Liz Truss’s proposals to create investment zones, where green rules on nature protection would in effect be suspended, represented a step too far for some of Britain’s biggest environment charities. “As of today, from Cornwall to Cumbria, Norfolk to Nottingham, wildlife is facing one of the greatest threats it’s faced in decades,” the RSPB went on.

    Continue reading...

  • Prominent members of farmers’ union express dismay after comments by Minette Batters

    Farmers are threatening to quit the National Farmers’ Union after its leader said she supported the UK government’s apparent move to scrap post-Brexit nature subsidies.

    This weekend, the Observer revealed that the government was poised to abandon the “Brexit bonus”, which would have paid farmers and landowners to enhance nature, in what wildlife groups have described as an “all-out attack” on the environment.

    Continue reading...

  • Stars of film about 500-mile trek to Scotland for Cop26 hit the road again for Bristol premiere

    There will be no red carpet, no designer outfits and definitely no limousines. In fact, the stars of the film have shunned any sort of mechanical transport and instead walked 135 miles from London to Bristol for the premiere, and are asking their audience to accompany them by foot on their last leg before the screening.

    The film, which is being premiered on the harbourside in Bristol on Tuesday evening, is Of Walking on Thin Ice (Camino to Cop26), which tells the story of a group of climate pilgrims who hiked 500 miles from the south of England to Scotland for last year’s climate conference in Glasgow.

    For more details and tickets visit the Encounters film festival website.

    Continue reading...

  • Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire:It feels like sitting in a crypt – I am surrounded by the skeletons of dried perennials

    I try not to make excuses so I’m just going to tell the truth: everything in my garden is dead. The drought was fierce and I was sick, distracted. I couldn’t bear to look at it but I’m trying to look now.

    It feels like sitting in a crypt. I’ve pulled up a damp chair and I am surrounded by skeletons, the limbs of my perennials dried, bent and snapped. The hydrangea’s flowers have turned to ghostly brown lace too soon, drooping leaves turned almost black like prayer flags. There is copper, rust and blood; piles of viburnum leaves dropped early in fright. The penstemon looks as if it has been set alight then frozen, its orange flames still and hellish. When the rains finally came, too late, the parched snails came out of hiding and ate everything that was left. Talk about overkill.

    Continue reading...

  • Movement aims to make the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems a prosecutable, international crime against peace

    California winemaker Julia Jackson has long grasped the threats posed by the ongoing global climate change crisis, from more intense wildfires and hurricanes to rising sea levels. But for her, those ideas crossed over from the abstract to the tangible when her home was razed by the Kincade wildfire that devastated her native Sonoma county in 2019.

    “I lost everything – all my belongings,” Jackson said. “It shook me to my core.”

    Continue reading...

  • The deaths within days of 11 sturgeon, a species unchanged for thousands of years, have puzzled scientists

    When the first spindly, armour-clad carcass was spotted in the fast-flowing Nechako River in early September, Nikolaus Gantner and two colleagues scrambled out on a jet boat, braving strong currents to investigate the grim discovery.

    Days later, the remains of 10 others were spotted floating along a 100km stretch of the river in western Canada.

    Continue reading...

  • Defra accused of ‘all-out attack’ on environment by wildlife groups

    The government is to scrap the “Brexit bonus” which would have paid farmers and landowners to enhance nature, in what wildlife groups are calling an “all-out attack” on the environment, the Observer can reveal.

    Instead, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sources disclosed, they are considering paying landowners a yearly set sum for each acre of land they own, which would be similar to the much-maligned EU basic payments scheme of the common agricultural policy.

    Continue reading...

  • Super Typhoon Noru tore its way out of the northern Philippines on Monday, leaving casualties, floods and power outages. Government work and classes at schools have been suspended in the capital and beyond

    Continue reading...

  • David Malpass apologises after saying he ‘doesn’t know’ if he accepts climate science

    David Malpass, president of the World Bank, faces an uncertain future this week, after the White House joined a chorus of influential figures in condemning his apparent climate denialism.

    Malpass remains in post for now but under severe pressure, despite issuing an apology and trying to explain his refusal last week to publicly acknowledge the human role in the climate crisis.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds