By: Ravhan Mirza
Grow Lavender, Make Money!
Cash crops are a boon for the economy of the Jammu and Kashmir state. Cash crops require less labour and less capital as compared to subsistence crops and bring smiles to the growers’ families. The revenue generated per kanal is also sky-high. In the context of Kashmir, a note worthy crop that comes to mind after saffron happens to be the lavender.
An expensive herb, Lavender is high in demand due to its use in skin care and beautification products as it is generally used in perfumes and shampoos. It is also used in bakeries and certain foods for flavour. Oil derived from the lavender has a calming effect and can bring relief in case of headache and migraines in a very short span of time. For people who want to get relieved from the anxiety after a busy day, it is a recommended, must have cure.
Mission Aroma in Kashmir
An established profitable cash crop around the world, cultivation of lavender has seen an upward trend in Kashmir in recent years thanks to the “Aroma Mission” launched in the state as part of the country wide programme to boost the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants. Nice to see the concerned government agencies encouraging the farmers to cultivate and produce these crops by giving them incentives, seeds and gear for the purpose which can give them more returns and help in meeting the local as well as the international demand of the produce.
Aroma Mission aims to boost cultivation of aromatic plants like lemon grass, rosemary and lavender. The farmers are made aware of the choices they can make with regard to the traditional crops and the cash crops.
Under the mission by the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, cultivation of these crops is promoted especially in unproductive and marginal wastelands.The program is being run in association with the state department of agriculture. The Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM) is also doing its bit. The institute is providing seeds, training and distillation units which are necessary to extract the aromatic oils from these plants.
Obviously, having a proper know how about this cultivation is a must. If one believes the concerned officials, new distillation units along with the farms are coming up in various areas of Pulwama,Gurez, Kargil and Jammu which will lead to enhance production of the essential oil in the state.
Lavender belongs to the genus lavendula which comprises of 47 species of flowering plants of the Lamiaceae family. The most widely cultivated species in this genus is Lavandula angustifolia which is often referred to as common lavender or more simply lavender. It is an aromatic shrub which attains a maximum height of about 1-2 meters. The leaves are evergreen, and the flowers are pinkish purple in colour. This pinkish purple colour is called as lavender colour. Other commonly grown species are L. stoechas, L. dentata and L. multifida. These species are grown for ornamental purposes in contrast to L. angustifolia which is strictly grown for therapeutic purpose due to its high oil content and greater yield.
Key constituents of the lavender essential oil are flavonoids, linalool, eucalyptol, coumarins, limonene, caryophyllene and tannins.
Skin Care Specialists’ favourite
Lavender is native of the Mediterranean region but nowadays it is being cultivated throughout the globe. Since ancient times lavender was regarded as the herb of love. Traditionally the herb’s fragrance has been exploited in sachets which were then used to protect the linen from moths and used in restrooms to keep the area fresh. It has also been used to calm the troubled minds and bodies as a medicine for nervousness, anxiety, palpitations, hysteria, toothaches and sore joints. Lavender essential is the dream oil of herbal spa specialists which they use to deliver their services. Herbalists say lavender has properties such as carminative, antispasmodic and stimulant. More studies are required to establish these properties as concrete facts. As far as the medicinal properties are concerned more research need to be undertaken especially at our state level.
Cultivation with care
Lavender will tolerate partial shade but loves to thrive in full sunshine so cultivation should be carried out keeping this in mind. Also in colder regions it needs some degree of protection although it can tolerate cold weather to some extent. The soil must be well drained and sandy having a pH of about 6-8. Protection of plants from both summer and winter winds is necessary as spikes are susceptible to break during storms. Interestingly, the routine care is minimal in lavender cultivation.
For obtaining the highest quality harvesting should be done as soon as the buds start to open. If we harvest the flowers when the buds are fully open the medicinal properties are diminished and they won’t last long as well. Most growers have this misconception of waiting too long which should be avoided.
Make Kashmir a perfumed garden again!
Today the largest percentage of the harvest goes to the perfumery and perfumed products. Lavender essential oil is used for it s medicinal properties. The oil varies in quality depending on the plants that are harvested. The oil that is obtained from the early flowers is pale and has more valuable contents as compared to the darker oil of the later flowers.A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology shows that lavender oil could be effective in combating antifungal-resistant infections. Lavender oil is believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties as well. It can be used to counter anxiety, insomnia and depression as well. Lavender oil is under research for its effect on alleviating sleep disturbances. High quality research in the subject is awaited and if it materialises we will know more about its medicinal properties.Thus a vast field yet to be explored.
Let’s be curious to know more about our herbal assets. Let the fragrance of lavender bring smile to farmers! Let the sweet smell of the scented plants spread far and wide! Let’s make Kashmir a perfumed garden again!
(A regular contributor, Mirza Ravhan writes on issues related to science and society.