Washington Island Day Trip – Lavender Distillation

2018-08-21T12:04:05+00:00August 16th, 2018|Door County with Kids, Featured Articles|

The beautiful lavender blooming season is coming to an end, however, that does not mean you should skip a visit to the Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm on Washington Island in Door County! By no means! The lavender distillation is occurring daily, and the process is not only fun to watch but is educational for kids as well. And, you will love the heavenly scent!

If you missed my first article on Fragrant Isle, please check it out here. For those unfamiliar with Washington Island, you’ll need to take a car ferry to the island, or you can bring your bikes and hop on the Island Clipper (the passenger ferry) both leaving from Gills Rock. It’s only about 3 miles from the dock to the farm. Need to rent a bike? Check out Annie’s Island Mopeds and tell Alida that Door County Mom sent you!

Lavender Distillation

The lavender distillation process is pretty cool to watch. Head on over to the sweetest smelling barn you will ever visit!

The barn is open to the public during lavender distillation and often you will be able to see everything up close and ask questions. The team is working but happy to answer questions. They take pride in sharing their passion with visitors. 

Lavender distillation starts with a harvest. At Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, each row of lavender is harvested either by a lavender harvester machine or by hand depending on the field layout. The result is about 50-60lbs of plant product which is loaded into the still: the flowers and part of the stems. The base of the plant is left in the ground to regrow and bloom the following year.

Left: harvested lavender. Only the flowers and parts of the stem are needed for distillation. Photo courtesy of Fragrant Isle. Right: Look for this sign to know when the distillation is happening. It is open to the public.

In the barn, you will find two handmade copper stills purchased and delivered from Portugal. Copper is used for its antimicrobial and anti-fungal factors. It also reacts with and neutralizes the sulfur and yeast (typical of flower distillation) which can give the oil a foul smell. Plus it’s truly beautiful. As the copper ages, it develops a beautiful patina as you can see here.

Two copper stills are set up in the barn. Photo courtesy of Fragrant Isle.

This handcrafted copper still has a beautiful patina.

The harvested lavender is placed in the upper column of the still.

Below the lavender is a giant vat of water. It is heated by a propane burner.

As the water is heated, steam begins to flow through a pipe into the sizeable sealed copper column. During the lavender distillation, the steam causes the lavender plants to release their oil. The still has low-pressure and low-temperature settings. The temperature is monitored to about 212 degrees F to obtain the purest grade of essential oil. At Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm this process takes about 2 hours (110 minutes to be exact.). A slower process allows the flowers to release all the constituents that make a therapeutic-grade oil.

In the last condensing tank, the steam travels thru a copper coil immersed in cold water that turns it back to a liquid— lavender oil and hydrosol (lavender water).

The oil and lavender water come out of the still, cooled by the water of the condensing tank, and fall into a glass separator.

Essential oil from the lavender plant and the lavender water, called hydrosol, come out of the condensing tank. Oil is lighter so it rises to the top of the beaker.

A petcock valve at the bottom releases the lavender water. The liquid is drained until there is only oil left in the separator. The oil is then drained into a glass bottle and taken into cold storage for further filtration. 

The lavender oil floats to the top because it is lighter than water.

No part of the process produces waste. The water is called Hydrosol. A variety of products in the Fragrant Isle Shop use the hydrosol.

Left: This stainless steel bucket holds the hydrosol (lavender water) that has just been separated from the lavender oil. Right: The hydrosol, also called lavender water, has some of the same therapeutic benefits of the essential oil.

The oil is further filtered and will be refined. The expended plant is taken to a compost pile. Local residents pick it up to use as mulch in their gardens. While the “waste” does not smell the same as lavender oil, it still has a pleasant grassy scent.

Don’t be shy about heading into the barn to watch this amazing process with your family. The growers welcome you to see this operation first hand.

A crowd watches the lavender distillation. Visitors are welcome to step up for a closer look and to ask questions.

Take a look at the various products you can enjoy with this pure therapeutic grade lavender oil. It’s organic; sprays or pesticides have touched never been used on the plants. All the weeds on the farm are picked by hand!

About Fragrant Isle lavender

80% of the lavender grown on this farm is English Lavender. It’s produced here because it is a hardier variety, able to withstand Wisconsin winters, especially Door County cooler temps! English Lavender has less camphor and smells and tastes sweeter than the hybrid variety also grown at the farm. The culinary world uses this type of lavender. Yes, lavender is edible! It is an edible herb, part of the mint family. Other herbs in the same family are rosemary, oregano, and basil.

Door County Boy enjoys a double scoop of Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream made with Fragrant Isle Lavender oil!

Fragrant Isle also partners with local companies to create a tasteful blend of culinary products.

20% of the lavender on this farm is French Lavender, a variety known as Lavandin or Lavandula × intermedia, a hybrid plant that has the hardiness of the English lavender and the yields of the French Lavender.

This lavender plant produces a more “clean” scent to it due to its higher content of camphor. It is used for bath, and home cleaning products sold in the shop.

As you can see, even as the farm begins to harvest the plants, there is much to see on a visit to Fragrant Isle. See my previous post to read about the whimsical truffles, pastries and light lunches you can enjoy here. The gift shop is like stepping into France, a cross between the Provencal shops and the high-end stores in Paris.

The Fragrant Growers

If you think this is a passion of a wishful American couple, think again. Martine and Edgar Anderson are the owners of Fragrant Isle. Martine was born and raised in the South of France. She had a career in high fashion with Neiman Marcus as an haute couture buyer and now has brought her childhood memories of living in France to life with color, flavor, and taste. Edgar was born and raised in Honduras and has a degree in architecture (as you might be able to see when you look at the layout of the gardens and fields) and worked for McDonald’s Corporation. Together, they make a very savvy dynamic duo of lavender growers. Martine handpicks the items brought into the shop, and together she and Edgar create branded products made from the farm’s oils. The products are high quality, contain no additives and are amazing for your skin. The hand soap, for instance, will have your kiddos begging to wash their hands!

Left: Grower Martine Anderson in her field of dreams Right: Fragrant Isle Foaming Hand Soap made with their essential oils. Your kids will finally WANT to wash their hands!

Edgar is often roaming the grounds. When you head to the barn, you may get a personal demonstration by him as you watch the lavender distillation.

Edgar Anderson, Grower at Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop

Then there’s Randy, the farm’s manager. He’s a hard-working “Harley-looking” dude who has the most beautiful skin you will ever see on a man with a long white beard! He certainly breaks the mold of burly bearded men and is just as knowledgeable and passionate about the lavender as his employer. And he is the friendliest person I have met on the whole island!

Randy and Edgar take a break from weeding the fields in the warm afternoon sun.

One last thing, if you happen to be reading this when the harvest is complete, do not fret! The shop is still open, and there are enjoyable activities planned into September such as a Brazillian outdoor dining and music event. Check Fragrant Isle’s calendar to view upcoming events.

NOTE: A big shout out to the helpful and friendly staff at the Fragrant Ilse Lavender Farm!! Thanks for giving me an all-access pass to get these great shots for this article and for supplying me with a few extra shots!

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