Harvesting lavender is simple and low-tech. One person cuts the stalks of the fragrant herb with a sharp sickle. Several others follow with pouches and rubber bands, gathering the stalks into bouquets. And a few others transfer the bouquets to drying racks.
It’s an experience that anyone can take part in at Woodinville Lavender. Owner Tom Frei says harvest volunteers get free aromatherapy, an ice cream bar (one of nine flavors with a hint of lavender) and a fresh bouquet.
Frei and his wife, Brenda, started Woodinville Lavender in 2008, opening it to the public in 2012 and hosting events beginning in 2013. At first, they both worked full-time corporate jobs, but last summer, Tom quit his job as an engineer.
Woodinville Lavender is now his full-time career.
The harvest season, which starts in June and continues through the end of August, is the busiest time of year for him.
“I try to harvest it as slow as I can, so people can continue to come to the farm and enjoy the fields,” Frei said.
He usually has a full crew of volunteers, many of whom are between jobs, retired or are teachers who have the summer off. He announces volunteer opportunities on the farm’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WoodinvilleLavender, and through a mailing list that people can sign up for at www.woodinvillelavender.com. Volunteers work for two hours on the farm, usually in the morning.
Other volunteers come for a “voluntourism” package offered by Willows Lodge. The hotel guests come to Woodinville Lavender to volunteer for an hour, then Frei shows them how lavender is distilled. Then they get pampered with a lavender spa treatment back at Willows Lodge.
Distillation is an important part in creating the myriad products Woodinville Lavender sells. The bundles of lavender dry for a week, Frei explained. Then the dried lavender buds go in a copper distiller over a fire to extract the lavender essential oil.
Woodinville Lavender sells a variety of kitchen and bath products that include lavender buds or essential oil, including lavender teas, honey, shortbread and spice blends. Many products are made on site by Frei’s family. His adult son learned to make lavender soap, and his daughter-in-law learned to make soy candles. Lavender buds can also be used whole to cook with.
“It’s an enhancing spice that you add to things,” Frei said.
A light touch of lavender will add a subtle, unique flavor to savory or sweet dishes.