Davana is an aromatic herb thought to originate in India though the extent of its natural range is unknown. Its cultivation, however, has been limited to areas with cool, dry frost-free conditions during the annual growing season, the main growing areas being Pune and Mysore districts in western India.
It is a bushy annual, about 60 cm (2 ft) tall with a semi-woody base and 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 roundish 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 to scent soaps, lotions and as a fragrance component in high-grade colognes and perfumes, including 'Knowing' by Estée Lauder.
It is also used to an extent as a flavouring component in baked goods, candy, tobacco products and 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, around 12,000 kilograms of fresh herbage is harvested per hectare, per season, in commercial operations and with an oil content of around 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 areas with annual lows of 16 to 20 °C, annual highs of 28 to 35 °C and annual rainfall of 700 to 1300 mm, extending to drier areas with irrigation.
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. When about 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 to harvest.
The timing of sowing and transplanting is critical to seedling survival, due to 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 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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