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

  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan dismisses those who believe in global heating as ‘fanatics’ in resurfaced posts

    The new international trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, has been accused of rejecting the science behind the climate emergency after a series of tweets came to light showing her dismissing those who believe in global heating as “fanatics”.

    Labour has condemned the appointment of Trevelyan, who was elevated from junior business minister, which took in the brief of promoting clean growth, to replace Liz Truss, the new foreign secretary, as part of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle on Wednesday.

    Continue reading...

  • The Cop26 climate summit will be an opportunity to put fossil fuel companies on trial through the court of public opinion

    Fossil fuel companies bear as much responsibility as governments do for humanity’s climate predicament – and for finding a way out. Our planetary house is on fire, and these companies have literally supplied the fuel. Worse, they lied about it for decades to blunt public awareness and policy reform.

    There’s no better time for ExxonMobil and other petroleum giants to be held accountable than at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. The Glasgow summit is more than just another international meeting. It is the last chance for world leaders to limit future temperature rise to an amount that civilization can survive. Doing so, scientists say, will require a rapid, global decline in oil, gas and coal burning.

    Continue reading...

  • Minister reveals plans to change laws inherited from EU, with rules on medical devices also in crosshairs

    Rules on genetically modified farming, medical devices and vehicle standards will be top of a bonfire of laws inherited from the EU as the government seeks to change legislation automatically transferred to the UK after Brexit.

    Thousands of laws and regulations are to be reviewed, modified or repealed under a new programme aimed at cementing the UK’s independence and “Brexit opportunities”, David Frost has announced.

    Continue reading...

  • Despite protests from locals and Green councillors, wildlife haven will become hard courts at cost of £266,000

    A wildflower meadow containing 130 different flowering plants, dragonflies and rare bats that sprung up on Norwich’s last public grass tennis courts has been bulldozed.

    Despite protests from local people and Green councillors, all-weather hard courts with floodlights and fencing are being installed in Heigham Park, where species including whiskered and brown long-eared bats, pygmy shrews, hedgehogs and 18 species of dragonfly have been recorded.

    Continue reading...

  • Scientists say ozone hole is unusually large for this stage in season and growing quickly

    The hole in the ozone layer that develops annually is “rather larger than usual” and is currently bigger than Antartica, say the scientists responsible for monitoring it.

    Researchers from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service say that this year’s hole is growing quickly and is larger than 75% of ozone holes at this stage in the season since 1979.

    Continue reading...

  • Doctors say Mathew Richards’ life expectancy has been shortened due to exposure to hydrogen sulphide fumes

    The high court has ruled the Environment Agency must do more to protect a five-year-old boy from landfill fumes that doctors say are shortening his life expectancy.

    In a landmark judgment on Thursday, a high court judge said he was not satisfied that the EA was complying with its legal duty to protect the life of Mathew Richards, whose respiratory health problems are being worsened by fumes from a landfill site near his home in Silverdale, near Newcastle-under-Lyme.

    Continue reading...

  • Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, more than 1m tonnes of radioactive water has been building up at the power plant in central Japan. Soon the plant will run out of space to store the water, which is a big problem. The plan at the moment is to dump it all in the sea. So how do you go about making 1m tonnes of radioactive water, safe to drink?

    Continue reading...

  • EPA data reveals that one of America’s biggest PFAS-making plants is second largest polluter of highly damaging HCFC-22 gas

    A new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data has revealed that PFAS chemicals – often known as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment – are contributing to the climate crisis as their production involves the emission of potent greenhouse gases.

    In recent years, an ever-expanding body of scientific research has shown that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are among the most toxic substances widely used in consumer products.

    Continue reading...

  • They are essential for trapping carbon, and world leaders must commit to protecting them, write a group of conservationists

    News that the perilous plight of endangered grasslands is not fully recognised in a EU draft anti-deforestation law (Leaked EU anti-deforestation law omits fragile grasslands and wetlands, 14 September) brings into sharp focus the dangerous underappreciation of a global habitat that has a crucial role in the fight against climate change. Grasslands aren’t just crucibles of biodiversity, playing home to a wealth of wild plants, fungi, butterflies and bees, they also possess an as-yet underreported ability to lock down carbon. Given that up to 30% of the Earth’s land carbon is stored in grassland, these sites are every bit as important as other ecosystems in the fight against greenhouse gases.

    The Grasslands+ campaign, supported by some of Britain’s leading conservation charities including Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, is calling for international protections for our planet’s grasslands, savannas, plains, heaths, steppes and meadows to help mitigate the impact of climate change and increase biodiversity. The UK government, the EU and other world leaders must commit to restoring, enhancing and protecting these habitats at Cop26 in Glasgow.
    Ian DunnCEO, Plantlife;Gill PerkinsCEO, Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Julie WilliamsCEO, Butterfly Conservation

    Continue reading...

  • When residents in Union Hill, Virginia, decried the pipeline as a form of environmental racism, the energy company insisted it wasn’t

    As fracked gas fields in West Virginia boomed over the past decade, energy companies jumped at the chance to build massive new pipelines to move the fuel to neighboring east coast markets. The 600-mile Atlantic Coast pipeline would have been the crown jewel.

    But Union Hill, Virginia – a community settled by formerly enslaved people after the civil war on farm land they had once tilled – stood in the way. Residents fought against a planned compressor station meant to help the gas move through the pipeline, arguing that because Union Hill is a historic Black community, the resulting air pollution would be an environmental injustice.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds