Crete in Spring.. the most wonderful time to watch and experience the multitude of spring flowers blooming where ever you go.. in the plains, the hills and the mountains.. In April, Crete is an entire colour explosion.. the island is green in all shades and specked with colours.. The orangetrees and almond trees are blooming in the plains, the gorgous Gladiolus italicus is especially wonderful and abundant this year...

Gladiolus italicus just near the distillery, what an extraordinary sight this year...

In the last days of april now, we have been collecting Lavandula stoechas, Greek Lavender. On the way to our collection site we passed an abandoned orange orchard, carrying both fruits and flowers..

Orange trees, fruits and flowers..

Arriving at our populations of Lavender, the plants greeted us fully and healthy.. This year it seems that the biotope was safe, and the plants we had pruned last year did really benefit from the cutting, none of their habitats had been bulldozered, as we so often have experienced..

 

 

Lavender beauties in the hills above Vatolakkos, western Crete in april this year

These habitats are steep, as you will see in the next pictures, and collection involves a lot of climbing on steep slopes.. Now in late april, the Lavenders share the biotope with plenty of other flowering plants, amongst them the pink Cretan rockrose, Cistus creticus, the white flowering Cistus salviifolius and winter savory, Satureja thymbra. It is a truly splendid biotope, far away from everything, reached only by a long drive along narrow dirt roads.. The birds are singing, the bees are humming and we are climbing and cutting Lavender tops..

 

In these pictures you can see how steep the area is..

The hours pass by, we cut the flowering tops, crawling up the slopes.. always starting at the bottom, as it is much easier to climb upwards..

 

 

 

 We had parked our car up on the dirtroad, and each well filled box collected, had to be carried up the slope. Once collected, the flowering tops have to get into the shade and the plant material shared out, to avoid too much plants in each box which would induce heat. Then, at midday, its time for a lunchbreak...having a piece of cheese, some artichokes from our garden in Modi and  glass of ecological wine...

 

 

The first of May is a special day in Crete, it is a holiday and traditionally people go out into the countryside with family and friends to celebrate the arrival of spring in nature.. however, we spent this day as well, with our Lavender populations.. On the way back to the distillery, however, we stopped by the village of Fournes. Here, they hold a festival of orangeblossomwater on the first of May.. This village has a tradition to distill hydrolate from bitter orange blossoms (C. chinensis var. amara). For hundreds of years, the women of this village have distilled 'ανθονερο' , flowerwater, from bitter orange flowers to use mainly in cakes. It was interesting to see their stills...

 The still to the left, as the woman you can see told us, has been in the family for at least 100 years. To the right, a more 'modern' version can be seen, constructed of stainless steel. Interesting is, that the cooling system is just above the retort..no separate cooling system...

Finally at home, the lavender tops are spread on the shelves of the drying room. They will have to be turned every day until they are dry enough for distillation..Now, by the 10th of May, our drying room is full of Lavender tops, and we will have to wait with other collections which require drying of the plantmaterial, until we can distill the Lavender tops.

So, in the meantime we collect plantmaterial, that has to be distilled fresh. We had an order for a Pinus brutia (Calabrian Pine) needle collection and distillation from the forestry department of the university of Thessaloniki. The scientists needed fresh needles, essential oil and also spent plantmaterial for flammability studies. We haven't collected this plantmaterial or distilled this essential oil before, so it was an interesting experience..

    

Calabrian Pines near Skoniso, now they are flowering and having develloped small, soft cones. We cut some lower branches with the hand saw, and then cut the needle like leaves off the branches into our boxes.

 It was a pleasant collection, no crawling here! We were sitting opposite each other, with the boxes between us, cutting the leaves off the branches. The balsamic, resinous, fresh aroma of pine filling the air..

Back at the distillery, we started distillation immediately, as our experience with conifers tells us, that this is the best way. When the distillate was running, the first odour impressions where clearly from the eluting pinenes, later through the process, the oil became much more composed of sweeter underlaying oxygenated compounds.. We maintained distillation for 10 hours.. the oil was liberated slowly, after 3 hours not even 50% had distilled over. The final yield of the oil was approximately 0.5%. The final hours of distillation rendered the oil a complete odour profile, much more complex than the usual commercial pine essential oils, which have a very superficial scent dominated by the pinenes.

After the oil has rested, we will be able to offer a small quantity of this oil..

 

To be continued..