Nestled in the lush green landscape of Doylestown, Eastern Pennsylvania, only an hour outside of Philadelphia city, is a true herbalist’s wonderland. Greeted by owners Linda and Eric and their two dogs, a visit to Barefoot Botanicals is more than a farm tour; it’s a break from the gray-toned repetitiveness of everyday life and into a green and brightly-colored dreamscape full of life and wellness and fields of herbs as far as you can see. The true delight, though, comes from the attention and learning that our two hosts provided that make you feel like you’ve known them for years and they are truly happy you came. Armed with a camera and a fresh notepad, we Penn Herb bloggers jumped at the chance to tour this herb farm, just in time for their lavender harvest. The timing and the weather couldn’t have been better!
Penn Herb Co has been carrying Barefoot Botanicals’ unique products for some time. And we’ve come to love their herbal simple syrups in our cocktail recipes. But nothing intrigues us more than their hydrosol mist sprays (just think essential oils but more delicate and aromatic, sprayed in the air or on cocktails). We here love herbs and we love herb education, so it was quite a treat to be there to witness firsthand their lavender harvest and distillation of their lavender hydrosol. So read on to get to know the love that goes into every bottle, and how to get your hands on one, too!
It was a sunny and hot summer day bearing down on us. Owners and couple, Linda and Eric, warmed us up even more with their smiles and greetings. They have owned and operated Barefoot Botanicals’ 12-acre Organic herb farm since 2008. I was under the assumption running this operation was their full time job, but I was surprised to learn they work part time to support themselves; Linda as a nurse and Eric as an engineer. So farming is truly a labor of love. As their tagline says, they provide “Herbs Grown By Herbalists.” And their knowledge and dedication really puts that into perspective.
The tour began on foot as we ventured around the open fields, constantly pointing at rows of different colored herbs yelling out, “Echinacea!” “Lemongrass!” “Eucalyptus!” (Recognizing herbs in their habitat is obviously one of our many talents here.) Passing rustic sheds, around a sunbathing tractor, through picturesque greenhouses, we finally circled around the unmistakably purple rows of a Lavender field. Here is where we put our cameras down, and picked up our own set of shears…and got to work!
Lavender harvesting for herb distillation is a very careful and intricate process. Eric made it look effortless as he danced with each shrub, leaning over it carefully, taking a hold of a good handful at a time, and slicing the stems at just the right length. These were the hands of a surgeon, but blessed enough to belong to an honest farmer. After leaving three rows of stubby stem leftovers in the wake of our clippers, we head inside to weigh them.
“And this is THE KITCHEN,” says Linda, as we enter a homemade reclaimed metal-and-wood workshop right in the middle of the farm. This is where the magic happens. All of their syrups, hydrosols, oils, and tinctures are created right here. And so the process continues. 20 pounds of fresh lavender go right into this large stainless steel hopper. “How much hydrosol will you make with this harvest?” I ask. Eric thinks for a few seconds. “A small batch this time. Just a few cases.” See, as we have come to know already this year, the very rainy start to the season made lavender farming a real struggle. Preferring a very dry environment like the Mediterranean, much of the lavender crop in the area had been lost due to the rain levels. What survived is a testament to a lesson Eric learned a long time ago: “Plants WANT to grow and thrive.”
If you’ve never seen, or even heard, of herb distillation, here’s how it goes down at Barefoot Botanicals:
The prized possession sitting in the middle of the KITCHEN is their custom made still. And that’s exactly where the hopper full of fresh lavender goes into. This apparatus rapidly boils a large amount of water and forces the steam through the batch of lavender. The goal is to produce the hydrosol – aromatic compounds of the plant captured in water. So the force of the steam ruptures the lavender, ejecting the “essential oils” into the air. This part of the process is undeniable, since the small room becomes a beaming joy for the senses as the air is overtaken by the sweet floral scent of lavender! The sealed container makes sure that the essential oils bond with the evaporated water molecules. This mixture floats to the final portion of the still: a copper exit pipe surrounded by a cooled coil. This change in temperature brings the vapor back into liquid form and pours down into mason jars. And here we finally have made the pleasant, aromatic lavender hydrosol. In about 6 hours, all of the essence of the lavender would have been depleted, and the lifecycle of the herbs will continue in Barefoot Botanicals hydrosol mist sprays.
It was a pleasure to learn much about the craft that is herb farming and herbalism while waiting for the distillation to happen. We could have chatted all day over Organic farming, ecological awareness, and medicinal herbs, but sadly our time with them had to come to an end. Be sure to find these incredible creations on our website or in the Penn Herb Co Flagship Store in Philadelphia! We would love to know about your inspired uses and love for all essential oils, herbal syrups, or hydrosols in our comment section below. And if you are ever in the Doylestown, PA area, be sure to reach out to Barefoot Botanicals. Just tell them Penn Herb sent you!
Lastly, if you’d love to meet Linda in person and learn about the basics of Aromatic Medicine, she will be at our Philadelphia Flagship Store Saturday July 6 for the next in our series of Consumer Workshops! To sign up for this FREE event, see our prior post HERE for more info.