Davana is an aromatic herb thought to originate in India but the extent of its natural range is not well known. Its cultivation, however, is limited to areas with cool, dry frost-free conditions during the annual growing season, with Pune and Mysore districts in western India being the main growing areas.
It is a bushy annual about 60 cm (2 ft) tall with a semi-woody base, on the top of which grows strongly aromatic, herbaceous foliage made up of soft stems and leaves, all of which have a fine coating of velvety silver-grey hairs. The leaves are small, blue-green and feathery, being deeply divided and lobed.
The flowers are small, pale yellow and in showy, rounded clusters that come into bloom about four months after the seed are sown.
The herbaceous parts, including the stems, leaves and flowers yield on steam distillation a dark green or brownish-green essential oil commonly known as 'Davana oil'. It is a fluid oil with a long-lasting, penetrating herbaceous aroma and sweet balsamic undertones.
Davana oil is used mainly as a fragrance component in high-grade perfumes and colognes, as well to scent lotions and soaps. It is also used to some extent as a flavouring component in baked goods, candy and tobacco products as well as in alcoholic beverages, including liqueurs.
The whole plant is harvested by cutting it off above the base, after which it is shade dried for up to a week and then steam distilled to extract the oil. On average about 12,000 kilograms of fresh herbage is harvested per hectare per season in commercial operations and with an average oil content of 0.2% yields 24 kilograms of oil, the equivalent of 21 pounds of oil per acre.
Grows naturally and develops a high oil content in sub-humid to moderately humid subtropical and tropical mid-elevation climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 16 to 20 °C, annual highs of 28 to 33 °C and annual rainfall of 700 to 1300 mm.
New plants are usually started from seed sown in nursery beds, where the delicate seedlings can be nurtured until they are ready for transplanting to the field at around two months old. They are set out in the field in rows and tended for another two months until about half of the plants have started to flower, which signals the time for harvest.
The timing of sowing and transplanting is critical to seedling survival and to the oil content of the herbage, because of the sensitivity of the plant to fungal disease under humid or high rainfall conditions. Sowing and transplanting in commercial operations is therefore timed to coincide with the start of the dry season so that the transplanted seedlings are not subjected to heavy rainfall, which can wipe out the crop.
It performs best on well-drained, manure-enriched loam or sand soils of a slightly acid to neutral in nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 and on sites with full sun exposure.
There is no known weed risk or other problem features associated with growing this plant.
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