Understanding Wholesale Lavender Essential Oil Terms

Lavender growers must occasionally purchase wholesale lavender essential oils for making value added products to supplement their own supply. However, the terminology used in the advertisements for these oils can be very confusing and misleading. Some of the oils on the market appear to be authentic until you dig deeper and understand the code words used in the industry to hide the fact that they are adulterated, blended with cheap carrier oils, or synthetic. Part of developing a lavender industry in Ontario that is based on local, high quality and authentic ingredients is ensuring that the products produced here are exactly what you say they are, and that begins with ensuring your raw ingredients are listed properly on your ingredient list. Below is breakdown of terms commonly used in the wholesale lavender market.

40/42 Lavender Oil

One of the most common essential oils on the market is called “40/42” essential oil. The numbers 40 and 42 refer to the percentage of linalool and linalyl acetate, respectively. These are the two main components of Lavandula angustifolia essential oils with linalool providing a floral scent and linalyl acetate providing a sweet, fruity, citrusy scent. 40/42 oil is standardized to ensure that it is consistent from batch to batch. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for nature to provide an oil that is composed of 82% of these components combined. Occasionally, one of these components can exceed 40% but invariability that means the other would be lower. In fact, this oil would not meet ISO standards for L. angustifolia essential oil in many cases. To achieve such high levels, 40/42 oils are normally spiked with synthetic linalool and linalyl acetate. That is why these oils are so much cheaper than pure essential oils. 40/42 oil may be a third of the cost of a true L. angustifolia essential oil. Keep in mind that medical studies on the use of lavender for health products use authentic lavender oils, so anything that is adulterated or blended should never be used for natural health products.

Some websites claim that 40/42 oil is a blend of natural oils from different lavender species such as L. angustifolia (English lavender), L. x intermedia (lavandin), L. latifolia (spike lavender) and L. stoechas (Spanish or topped lavender) and that any notion that the oil is adulterated with synthetic ingredients is a myth. According to ISO standards, the absolute highest average concentration of linalool and linalyl acetate combined is ‘Maillette’ oil from France at 77%. Other L. angustifolia oils from France have an average total of 67% of these two components combined. Lavandin oils have the next highest percentage of these two components at an average of 62%. L. latifolia has very low linalyl acetate content of less than 2% and a linalool concentration of around 33% percent. L. stoechas has a linalool content of 2% and no linalyl acetate. How do you raise the concentration of linalool and linalyl acetate in L. angustifolia oil to a combined total of 82% when the other lavender oils you have to work with have totals of 62% or less? That would be like trying to make whipping cream by blending table cream and milk. It is possible to extract linalool and linalyl acetate from other natural oils and then add it to L. angustifolia oil to make an “all-natural 40/42 oil”, but in most cases that is more expensive than adding synthetic versions.

Sometimes these oils are advertised as “Nature Identical”. Since nature does not produce a 40/42 oil, this term is incorrect. However, it at least implies that the oil is not “natural”, so is a better alternative than just calling it “40/42 lavender essential oil”. When purchasing oils, suppliers that are up front with the fact that the oil is not natural are probably more trustworthy.

It would be false advertising to put a scientific name to 40/42 oil, so it should never be called “40/42 Lavandula angustifolia oil”. If it contains other ingredients it would have to be advertised as a blend of L. angustifolia oil or other oils and synthetic ingredients.

Natural Blends

Natural blends are blends of essential oils from different species that mimic lavender but may or may not actually include lavender oil. These blends are a cheaper way to provide the scent of lavender oil using natural oils or components of natural oils from different species (e.g. extracting linalool and linalyl acetate from the cheaper essential oils of mint family relatives and fruit). While they may be “all natural”, blends should never be used for natural health products because they are not the same as the true lavender oil used in medical studies. Furthermore, if you are listing ingredients on your products, a natural blend would have to be listed with all of its component oils. Keep in mind that customers may have allergies to certain components and not listing or advertising them properly could cause harm and open you up to lawsuits.

Blends can be advertised under different names like “lavender fragrance oil”, “lavender-scented oil”, or simply “lavender oil”. Always think about how you would sell a fake oil and make it sound official without actually saying anything false.

Lavandula officinalis and Lavandula vera

There are no such species as Lavandula officinalis or Lavandula vera anymore. These are former names of Lavandula angustifolia, which was renamed decades ago, and they should no longer be used in association with lavender. A scan of the products sold under these names (mostly L. officinalis) suggests the company is either uninformed about the topic, trying to suggest the oil is from unimproved lavender from nature, or trying to hide something by using a vague term to describe the oil and the “officinalis” makes it sound very “official”. Since the names no longer exist, there is no way of knowing for sure what is in a L. officinalis or L. vera oil. The product may be a blend of oils from different Lavandula species or may contain other oils or synthetic ingredients. Follow up with the supplier to find out more about the oil if it is sold under these names. In many cases it may just be incorrectly identified by using outdated taxonomy, but you cannot be sure without talking to the supplier.

Fine, Spontaneous, Population, Clonal and True Lavender Oils

The terms “fine”, “spontaneous”, and “population” are supposed to be used to described oils collected from Lavandula angustifolia grown from seed using unimproved genetics (i.e. no breeding). The oils collected from improved cultivars that are grown from cuttings are often referred to as “clonal” lavender oils. However, these terms should be approached with caution because there is really no way as a consumer to verify what plant material they came from. The term “true” appears to apply to all L. angustifolia oils, although sometimes it is only associated with clonal oils.

Oils from plants grown from seed are really a blend of oils from a wide range of genetics within the same field, so they could be different among different regions that have different base genetics, but are more likely to be consistent if sourced from the same farm year after year and may be more natural in their scent (if you are discerning enough to tell the difference). This assumes that the original, natural lavender oil is better, which is not necessarily the case. Would you rather eat a modern carrot or a wild carrot?

On the other hand, clonal lavender oils will be much more consistent when grown in different regions because there is no genetic variability from field to field. There will be a major difference in the scent between different cultivars, so it is important to know what cultivar was used for the oil you are are purchasing if they are sold as “clonal”. Keep in mind that all lavandins are sterile and must be grown from cuttings, so unless the flowers were collected from a natural hybrid in the wild, all lavandins are clonal. Some of the most common “clonal” lavender oils will be ‘Maillette’, ‘Grosso’ and ‘Abrialis’. ‘Abrialis’ was the original lavandin (L. x intermedia) cultivar that has been mostly replaced by ‘Grosso’.

Other Considerations It is important to keep in mind that the term “lavender” applies to any member of the genus Lavandula. When purchasing “lavender essential oil” you may be getting any one of these species or a blend of the species. It is important to ensure that the species name is specified on the packaging. For most uses, oils should be either from L. angustifolia or L. x intermedia (lavandin). Oils from other species will likely be much cheaper but have much more limited uses.

About Sean Westerveld

Ginseng and Medicinal Herbs Specialist, OMAFRA
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