Most people are familiar with lavender, the popular garden plant that features tall purple flower spikes which define the plant’s name. Many people mistakenly believe that there is only one kind of lavender, however, when the Lavandula family is composed of 39 different species. Another common misconception is that one species of lavender is much the same as another. Although the “true” species from which lavender oil is obtained is Lavandula angustifolia (formerly L. officinalis), there are several cultivars and hybrids. Lavandin is one of them, as indicated by the “x” in its botanical name of Lavandula x intermedia, the inclusion of which is in compliance with the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.
The primary difference between lavandin and lavender is that the former is not a true lavender. It is a cross between L. angustifolia, commonly known as English lavender, and L. latifolia, or spike lavender, which is referred to as French lavender since France is the largest producer. The flowers of this hybrid yield an essential oil called spike lavender oil. While this oil does have some similar properties to the oil obtained from English lavender, it has a different chemical composition and, therefore, different characteristics.
For example, lavender contains various sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes, and linalool. In combination, these constituents lend its oil a floral fragrance that can be described as both sweet and spicy. Lavandin also contains linalool, but much higher concentrations of terpenes, most notably camphor. This chemical arrangement produces an essential oil with a pungent odor similar to menthol or turpentine. In terms of what these two species have to offer to perfumery and aromatherapy, they stand a world apart.
Another significant difference between lavender and lavandin oils is their respective effect in treating burns. Even though they both possess antimicrobial properties, lavender oil helps with burns while lavandin oil does not. In fact, the latter can actually make burns worse, most likely due to its high camphor content.
Differences aside, there are some benefits to recognize about lavandin. It yields a greater crop volume than English lavender and the variety predominately grown in France today, known as Grosso, is more disease-resistant. It is also more weather-tolerant, making it a suitable landscaping plant in colder regions. In addition, it is cheaper to process the essential oil from this variety, which is why it is preferred over lavender for scenting commercial soaps and detergents.
Consumers should be aware that some manufacturers of so-called lavender oil are actually offering the more economical lavandin oil, or a combination of the two. Since quality matters when it comes to therapeutic purposes, it’s important to know what’s really in the product. The only way to know for sure is to determine the species from which the oil was produced.