Lavender: The sweet smell of success

Two novice lavender growers from Central Otago nearly stole the show at this year's New Zealand Lavender Growers Association awards.

In the oil competition, Joth Hankinson and Tony Culshaw, from Central Otago Produce, won two of the three trophies on offer - the Eoin Johnson Memorial Trophy for best lavandin oil, and the Ken Wilson Memorial Trophy, for best grosso.

Two particular types of lavender were grown commercially for oil - angustifolia or English lavender, and intermedia lavender - also called lavandin - a hybrid cross between an angustifolia and a latafolia, which grows in the wild at higher altitudes in the Mediterranean.

Mr Culshaw, whose background is in information technology, is involved on the business side of Central Otago Produce, while Mr Hankinson, a beekeeper, originally from the United Kingdom, has run the lavender farm at Lowburn, near Cromwell, for the past 18 months.

When they harvested the lavender, they had no idea what volumes would be involved but ended up with 60 litres of oil, Mr Culshaw said.

They sent it for testing to a scientist who specialised in essential oils, and he told them he thought they were ''on to something special'' and they should enter it in the awards.

Mr Culshaw was ''still flabbergasted'' to win the trophies, having beaten not only entrants from throughout New Zealand but also internationally, including France. The competition attracted 59 entries.

The process had been a huge learning curve, which would continue, but lavender growers were generous in sharing their knowledge.

While they were competitors in what they were doing, there was a joint interest in seeing the industry succeed, Mr Culshaw said.

He acknowledged the efforts of the property's previous owners, Alan and Christine Martin, who set up the lavender farm, and the work of distilling the oil at Two Paddocks at Clyde.

Lavender oil had a vast array of uses, Mr Culshaw said.

It dated back to Roman times when it was used as an antiseptic. It could be used in aromatherapy, massage oils, candles, soaps, perfumes and rubbed on cuts and minor burns, he said.

The pair had not yet produced anything other than oil, but there were other products that could be produced and they were still looking at what they could do.

Lavender seemed to grow well in areas where there was quite a harsh landscape, he said.

He hoped to introduce traceability to their lavender products, inspired by Icebreaker and its ''Baacode'' initiative.


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