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Essential Oils Blog

All posts by Chris Jones

The Philippines – In Search of Essential Oils

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines. It was an incredible experience, where I learned just how hospitable and kind the Filipino people really are. This was a trip that I was especially excited about because my mother has been serving a religious mission helping people with self reliance in Quezon City for the past 16 months and I hadn’t seen her during that time. She met me at the airport and accompanied me on my travels for the next two weeks.

A long flight seems longer when you are excited to see someone!

 

Finally here!

 

I arrived late at night and got around 4 hours sleep before heading back to the airport to catch our flight to Bacolod. We made the short drive to Bago City where we met the owner and founder of an herbal supplements company. They have recently moved into distilling essential oils and we wanted to see their process and facility. We experienced the freshly distilled local citrus fruits of Calamansi and Dalandan. They had also distilled some Elemi and Organic Eucalyptus.

Visiting a company that distills and checking out their essential oils. Quality always…

 

After a productive visit in Bago City, we drove across town to visit Auke, the founder of a 12-year-old lemongrass co-op called AID Foundation. They have a great vision of helping those in need, which is perfectly in line with ours at Plant Therapy. Many of the people of this region are very poor with limited means to produce income. Many only have access to two resources… time and land. AID Foundation employs agronomists that will go into these rural communities and teach the local people farming techniques and help them set up an operation where they can earn a living.

No, this is a not a blood bank above… It is a supply  of essential oils.  The bottom picture is of a still.  For some communities this is the key to their livelihood.

 

These are the specifics of a small lemongrass operation… They require roughly 25-30 families to participate if they want to have their own still. They will help the community get water using a ram pump- this is an incredible invention that can pump water uphill without the use of electricity. Once water is available they will plant 20,000 lemongrass plants on a hectare of ground- just under 2.5 acres. They can harvest the lemongrass plant every two months. It can be cut low and it will just continue to grow. The cut grass is then left to dry for two days before being placed in the still. 180 kg (400 lbs) of dry material is placed in the still and steamed for 3 hours. This will produce one kg (2.2 lbs) of pure lemongrass essential oil. The oil is then put into a one liter bottle and labeled with the farmer’s name, location, date, and batch number. The spent leaves are put into compost boxes and later returned to the farms as fertilizer. This is the only adjuvant that is added to lemongrass farms. Every few years they will rotate out the crop to grow some root crops like Ginger or Turmeric. The farmer’s all own the distillation equipment and get paid a certain amount of money for each batch of oil that is produced. The AID foundation then sells the lemongrass oil and uses any profits to help another community get set up. I love their mission, values, product and facilities. Unfortunately, we aren’t currently buying products from them because their prices are too high. It doesn’t make sense for them to lower them to the bulk market prices because that would defeat the whole purpose of the co-op, which is to help the farmers. In addition, we batch test every oil and it would be cost prohibitive to test the oil from every 2.2 lb batch. We are working on some ideas that will allow us to work these small artisan distilleries, so that is something I am excited about in Plant Therapy’s future.

Some beautiful Lemongrass fields handled with love and care.

 

The following morning, we flew out to Cagayan de Oro. We spent two days visiting small farms and a distillery there. Many of these rural farmers are living on less than $1 per meal for their family of 6-7. They are primarily eating rice. In fact, it appears that most Filipino people love their rice, consuming it 3 times per day. We ate it multiple times per day, every day of the trip. If you were to visit a KFC or McDonalds there you are going to be served rice. I was also told that if they don’t eat some rice, many don’t consider it an actual meal. One can eat pizza or a sandwich, etc. but without rice, it is just considered a “snack”.

We visited an oil distiller in Sitio Danao.

 

Most of these farmers are also part of a co-op using only organic farming methods. The farms are sprayed with neem oil (native to the Philippines), molasses, and beneficial fungi. When the crops are harvested, they are sold to the co-op which pays them on a per-pound basis.

Another precious yield of the Phillipines.

 

When we returned to Manila we were able to visit with some suppliers of both Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) as well as Fractionated Coconut Oil (FCO). Plant Therapy is in a unique position within the FCO market. As you may or may not be aware, the vast majority of products being sold as FCO in the retail market are not made from coconuts at all. It is actually a palm oil that, when processed, resembles FCO. Even though most people can’t tell the difference, we will not sell something as coconut oil unless we are absolutely certain it is actually coconut oil. For that reason, we require proof from our suppliers that it is 100% coconut oil. We are the only company, that I am aware of, with that requirement.

Meeting with some of our suppliers of our wonderful Coconut Oil. We are one company that requires proof that our Coconut products are 100% coconut.

 

The Philippines is an incredibly beautiful country. During my time there we were also able to do many “touristy” type things. Including the following: Dahilayan Adventure Park, whitewater rafting, Zoobic Safari, American Cemetery, WWII battle sites, Underground River, a crocodile farm, weaving factory, Honda Bay tour, Starfish Island, Luli Island, Cowrie Island, Pagsanjan Falls, Taal Volcano, and Art in Island. It is a place I would love to visit again in the future to continue the pursuit of charitable and business opportunities there.

Taking time to play with Mom!

Certified Organic Argan Oil Sourcing Expedition to Morocco Africa

In June, I was able to visit both Europe and Africa in search of some rare plants and to vet some suppliers. I took my 12-year-old daughter, Alexa, and Plant Therapy’s Vice President, Paul. My first two blog posts about this trip are: “Farm and Distillery visit in France” and “Morocco Visit in Search of Blue Tansy”.

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On the 8th day of our trip, we woke up early, swam in the pool, and ate a nice breakfast of Moroccan Msemen with jam or honey and fresh squeezed orange juice. The juice there is amazing. It seems like everywhere we went they had fresh squeezed juice and it was very affordable. We left Marrakech and headed west on the highway towards Essaouira. It was mostly desert, dotted by small towns and little vegetation. One funny thing, as we were driving I noticed the driver was going over the speed limit. I think he was driving around 100 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. I saw a police officer ahead of us and pointed it out. He said it didn’t matter. Because of the time of day, he said the police are on break and they wouldn’t bother to pull us over. He slammed on the gas and passed the officer going around 120 km/h. The police officer didn’t even look twice. Also, they drive in the middle of the road on a 2 lane highway. He said they do this because there are frequently animals that run across the road and if they are in the middle, it is easier to avoid them from either side.

As we drove along, we started to see more and more of the same tree. It is a tree of medium height with a bare trunk and a wide base. The trunk and branches are kind of gnarly and covered in thorns. This is the Argan tree. We didn’t see any of them planted in groves, only in their natural state. We were told that there are no privately owned Argan trees, but that they are all owned by the government and that most of them are 200+ years old. Each village has the right to a certain section of Argan trees. If a person owns property in town, they have the rights to specific Argan trees on the government land. The Argan oil companies will just contract with these villagers for the rights to the fruit from their trees.

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As we pulled up closer to one particular tree, we noticed it was full of goats. These goats were all over it, from the lower branches all the way to the top. They were feeding on the bitter fruit. We had to pull over for a picture! The goats play an important part in the process of some of the Argan oil production, as you will see later in this post.

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The Argan tree has been used for centuries in Morocco. Traditionally, the trees have been used as firewood by the local people, but in the past few decades, the Argan oil has become more popular for use by the locals. Legend has it, that people began to notice the young appearance of the Moroccan women and began to study why. It began to become famous when Russian scientists discovered the amazing anti-aging benefits of Argan oil and a couple of celebrities began using it. It has become such an important part of the Moroccan economy, that a special government agency has been set up to protect the trees and ensure the sustainability of the oil.

We continued to drive for more than two hours. We eventually came to an area that was naturally thick in Argan trees. We drove through the trees, on a winding dirt road, and came to a facility where the Argan oil is extracted and barreled. The process was simple, yet amazing.

This homestead was great. We were immediately ushered around the back where they had set up a mid-day snack for us. We ate homemade bread with some mixed nuts and Amlou (Note thatour hosts didn’t eat because it was during Ramadan and they were fasting during the day). I had heard of Amlou in the previous days, but we hadn’t yet tried it. It is made of ground almonds, like almond butter, mixed with honey and Argan oil. It was delicious. I asked if they had made this themselves or if they had purchased it and they said they always make it homemade because of the high amount of adulterated Argan oil on the market, they do not trust anything that is sold in town.

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Argan oil can be used as a beauty product or as a food item, although it must be processed differently for each. If it is for consumption, the kernels must be cooked prior to the oil being extracted. We were taken into the kitchen so the matron of the home could show us how it is done.

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Argan oil production

Each Argan tree will produce an average of 140kg of fruit per year, depending on the amount of rain. 70kg of fruit will yield around 5kg of kernel. 5kg of kernel will result in 2kg of oil. So basically, each tree will produce an average of 4kg (approx. 8.8 lbs) of Argan oil per year. The fruit is harvested in the summer. If it isn’t pre-sold it will be sold on the open market. The basic laws of supply and demand will determine the price. During the summer, the price is less expensive because lots of fruit is available. Between the months of December and May, the price of the fruit goes up, because the supply has decreased. Once the fruit is picked, or dropped off the tree, it will stay good for up to two years. But once the kernel is extracted it will only stay good for 6 months.

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The argan fruit is composed of three main parts. The pulp is the bitter outer layer. It is soft and sticky. The hard shell is the second layer and the kernel is located inside the hard shell. The kernel is what contains the oil. None of the fruit goes to waste. The pulp is sold as animal feed, and the hard shell is burned for warmth. This is particularly important because the tree had been used for many years for its firewood. Since it is now illegal to cut the Argan tree down, they needed a replacement for warmth; this is a great alternative.

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There are two main ways to get the kernel out of the fruit:

  1. The goats that feed on the Argan fruit cannot digest the hard shell. They will eat the fruit as one of their primary sources of food then they will poop out the hard shell which is collected by local people and sold on the open market. The hard shell is then broken open to extract the kernel. This produces an oil that smells a little different and is not ideal. This is the cheapest way to get the Argan kernel. This is very important to know. You must know the source of your Argan oil to ensure you aren’t buying “post poop oil”. That is why this particular product is important to buy certified organic.
  2. The fruit is left on the tree until it becomes ripe and naturally falls to the ground. The fruit is then left to dry out, or it can be collected and brought into the facility to dry out in the sun. The dry fruit is run through a machine that knocks the pulp off the hard shell, then the hard shell is run through another machine to break it open and release the kernel. This is the process we witnessed and the one we will talk most about.

 

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We are told that virtually all Argan trees are certified organic, therefore their fruit starts as certified organic also. But to remain certified organic, the oil must be traced from tree to bottle. The kernels that are pooped out by the goats do not qualify, but there are many other steps also. For example, the trucks that the fruit are hauled on must be certified to have not been used to haul pesticides or other chemicals. Also, the facilities must be certified organic to qualify. Plant Therapy is a certified organic company and we operate out of a certified organic facility. Therefore, we are pleased to be able to offer our customers a high quality Certified Organic Argan Oil that we have personally witnessed the production from tree to bottle.

Adulteration of Argan oil is extremely common as well. As the demand has increased, so has the dishonesty of many of the producers. Many producers will mix paraffin oil or soybean oil into the Argan and sell it as pure oil. It is very hard to detect because it is colorless and odorless and most tests cannot detect this adulteration. This is a product where you must trust your supplier. For many years, Plant Therapy has had suppliers try to get us to sell their Argan oil. We have held out because we didn’t know enough about it to be sure that the product we are selling is pure and of the highest quality. After this visit to Morocco, I am 100% confident in our supplier and their process. Due to these potential adulterations, we have chosen to only sell a certified organic product that we can trace back to the tree.

The production facility

The Argan production facility is part of their homestead. This is the home where one of the company owners, who is approximately 30 years old and college educated, grew up and where his parents and sisters still live. They had multiple small outbuildings on the property where different stages of production are done.

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This facility is “state of the art” in the sense that the entire process isn’t done by hand. They told us they are the first company to use modern means to extract the oil from the kernel. Most companies are still doing everything by hand. They purchased some used equipment that was manufactured to produce almond oil, and have made some small modifications and re-purposed it for the extraction of Argan oil.

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This particular company hires over 30 women and just 3 men. They hire men to run the 3 machines, which process about 90% of the fruit, and the women will do the final cleanup of the product. So any fruit that makes it through the machine without being properly cleaned, will go into the room where the women will process it by hand. This generally consists of breaking open the hard shell between two rocks so the kernel can be separated. They make it look really easy but it is a learned skill. In the few minutes I tried it, I got lots of laughs and a couple of smashed fingers.

They hire women in particular because their goal is to help with the gender hiring gap, which is a major issue in Morocco. Most of the men can find work without an issue but that is not the case for the women. If the women can’t find gainful employment, they will generally pull their children out of school and put them to work. This company provides a living wage for all employees so they can ensure that their children can stay in school. Each person is paid by the shift. They work 8 hour shifts, 7 days per week. All of the employees are from the small local village and the majority of them are family members. Most of them don’t speak any English so we didn’t really talk, but they seemed genuinely happy to be there. While we were there, they took a break to buy clothing and food from a traveling salesman that stopped by the facility.

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This was an incredible trip and I am pleased with what we found. It was evident to me that our supplier vetting process is working. The suppliers we visited proved to be trustworthy and producing a good, clean product. I look forward to doing something similar in the near future and I hope to be able to share that with you. Until then, please let us know any comments and questions you may have. You are always welcome to give us a call at 800-917-6577 or email us at cs@planttherapy.com.

Thank you,
Chris Jones, President
Plant Therapy

Some random photos of Morocco:

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Common form of transportation.

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Olive stand in the open market.

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The open market- This is where the snake charmers are.

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Fresh Juice!

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Sharing a meal with one of our hosts.

 

Morocco visit in search of Blue Tansy

I recently had the opportunity to visit some farms and distilleries in France and Morocco. I took Paul, Plant Therapy’s Vice President, and my 12-year-old daughter, Alexa with me. In my last blog post I was able to share some photos of our visit to France. When we left France, we headed directly to Morocco (northern Africa). We saw the following oil producing plants there:

We were mainly in search of two plants- one of which was Blue Tansy. As you may be aware, Blue Tansy has become more scarce over the past couple of years. In fact, the cost has gone from around $70 per kg four years ago, up to thousands of dollars per kg today. There are a number of reasons for this but all of it comes down to supply and demand. Because the plant has only been wild harvested in the past, as opposed to commercially farmed, it is becoming less abundant. We were getting ready to sign a large contract with a distillery in Morocco and I thought it best to pay them a visit before doing so.

We flew into Casablanca early in the morning and our host was waiting for us at the airport. We immediately started driving to where the Blue Tansy plant is growing in the wild. In fact, over the course of the next few days, we drove over 2,000 miles visiting farms, countryside and distilleries.

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I hadn’t done much research on Morocco and was a little surprised to find it to be an Arabic speaking country. Most of the street signs were in Arabic, although some were also in French.

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It was also during Ramadan and since Morocco is 99.9% Muslim, it was a little difficult to find food during the day.

We arrived later in the day and made our first stop at their little distillery. This was much different than the state of the art distilleries in France.

[A note on this- as we travel to visit different distilleries in different countries, it is very interesting to me to see how things are done differently around the world. For the end user, and even many suppliers, they just see the oil come in a bottle. For most, the “history” of the oil is never a thought. But as we work with farms and distilleries, I am intrigued by the levels of sophistication or simplicity that comes with each oil. Some are distilled by state of the art factories from product that is mass produced on large farms. Others are distilled by just one or two people who grew the crops themselves on a small farm, or even just wild harvested the crops by hand and have a homemade still. Neither way is wrong and there are benefits and detriments to each. I really love both of them and love to learn the story of an oil. Often the end result is the same, but the path of progress is vastly different.]

This was a cooperative building. They have a small “test” garden where they are growing miscellaneous crops and testing their efficacy, oil yield, etc. This is done in cooperation with the local school.

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In one part of the building they were drying and separating some flowers for use in tea.

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In another room, they were distilling Blue Tansy that they had recently purchased from the ladies who picked them in the wild.

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Out back they had some homemade greenhouses that they were trying to cultivate some Blue Tansy plants in.

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When they are successful, they will move the small plants out to their farm to produce on a larger scale. They also had a fairly large Blue Tansy plant on site.

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Did you know that the Blue Tansy plant doesn’t actually have any blue color to it? The plant itself has long stems with “hairy” leaves.

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If it grows late into the season it will flower with some small yellow flowers and seeds.

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It is interesting to watch a lighter green plant go into the still and a dark blue oil come out. I find it kind of humorous that almost all of the pictures posted online of the “blue tansy” plant are not of the correct plant. When we have asked a couple of reputable people about the photos they have posted, the response was that they have never actually been to Morocco or seen the Blue Tansy plant. They were just posting a photo they found online. I have never talked with any other essential oil supplier that has actually gone to Morocco to see the plant and see the process.

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We continued our trip going further north into the hills. (They called them mountains, but growing up around the Rocky Mountains, I can’t really call them that.) Along the rural roadways we passed many women who were standing on the sides of the road selling their artisan goat cheese. We also saw people walking with their donkeys (or mules) or working the field with their horses.

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When we stopped, I was fully expecting to see lots of wild Blue Tansy on the hillside. This was not the case. It was more like a small weed here and there. As we walked through the weeds they would point out a plant here or a plant there and say that was it.

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When we rubbed our hands on the plant, the smell was all the proof I needed. It was pungent and obvious. The process for harvesting is that the local people will take their donkey with baskets attached, up into the hills and just pick plant by plant. They will then take their goods down to the roadway at a specified time to meet the distiller’s trucks. They pay them so much per kg of plant material. The competition has become high. There are 3-4 of these distillers competing for the same plants. As the plants become more scarce, the prices go up. It used to be that this plant was growing all over the place, but as the demand increases the availability has gone down.

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To distill the Blue Tansy, this company will take 500 kg of fresh plant material and distill it at low heat for approximately 3 hours. This is a no pressure steam distillation. This will yield an average of 400 grams (roughly 14 ounces) of essential oil. They are still refining the process and I expect their yields to go up over the next 2-3 years. Although their batches are fairly small, their quality is excellent. Over the past couple of years, the Blue Tansy on the market has had a chamazulene (the active constituent that gives it the dark blue color) content ranging from roughly 3-8%. This year we have been purchasing Blue Tansy, both conventional and organic, with a chamazulene content above 10% with most batches up into the teens. I am both excited and encouraged by this, and I think you will love the Blue Tansy this year!

While up in the hills, we visited their second distillation site.

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This one is outdoors. They have a hand dug, fresh water well on site.

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They install the distillation equipment during the harvest season and remove it afterward. It is up for around 3 months out of the year.

We continued to the East and stayed at an incredibly beautiful hotel in M’diq. Most of the people who vacation in this area are Moroccans. Because the people do not generally vacation during Ramadan, the hotel was mostly vacant and it was very inexpensive. Due to the long travel days, Alexa was getting burned out and started getting sick.

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We decided to take a day off and let her relax at the hotel. We just relaxed, swam in the ocean and played some tennis to recharge.

We then continued on to Marrakech. This is a beautiful city. It was interesting to see lots of donkeys and scooters in use.

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It was not uncommon to see a nicer vehicle in one lane and a donkey and wagon in the next. Also there were many women wearing burqas riding scooters. I was told that is an unusual thing and is generally only seen in Marrakech. It was a fascinating town and I really enjoyed learning about their culture a little bit. We asked lots of questions and our hosts were eager to answer.

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After traveling many miles out to the countryside we visited some farms.

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I was under the impression that this company had many acres in Blue Tansy planted. That was not the case. They were just starting the commercial operation and only had a few plants planted in test sites.

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Most of the farm land was covered in grain or olive trees. Lots and lots of olive trees. The specific farm we visited has been in their family for over 500 years. It used to be massive but has split with each generation. It is still a decent size at over 350 acres.

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I asked if the women received the same inheritance as the men and he said yes and no. He was very quick to point out that in Morocco women are seen and treated as equals. But their God’s law is that the men get two portions while the women get one. So this man has two sisters. His father split their family farm into two pieces. The two daughters split one half and the son got the other. He said he doesn’t like that, but it is the law so they honor it. It was also interesting to note that if a son inherits land and then dies before his father, the father receives 20% of the land back and 80% is passed on to his wife and kids.

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The barn was made of clay and straw. It takes quite a while to build. They are made into bricks that are 40 cm thick and stacked to make walls.

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It was built 13 years ago and he said it should be good for another 20 years or so. Because of Ramadan, the workers do not eat or drink during the day. They are working in the heat and easily get fatigued. They will work for a couple of hours then nap in the barn and continue this all day and into the night.

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During harvest they will generally just sleep out on the farm. The water ditches are above ground.  The water is pumped from a lake that is many miles away. There is one main pump and they just open valves to deliver it to the proper location.

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Although many of the local farmers still use a scythe, this particular farm had a combine for harvesting grain- they will just bag the grain as they harvest and dump the bags in the field for retrieval later.

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This is different than our Idaho grain operations which will collect the grain in the combine and deliver it in bulk to the grain bins. The grain bags weigh close to 250 lbs and they will just hand load them all onto trucks. He said when they are feeling competitive they will load two at a time- one on each shoulder. So that is almost 500 lbs by hand!

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We spent the next couple of days in search of the Argan tree fruit. I will post photos and information about that in my next blog post.

Chris Jones
Plant Therapy

Farm and Distillery visit in France

I was recently able to visit both France and Morocco, with the intent of checking out some of the farms that are producing our oils as well as their distilleries, and meet with some suppliers. I was not disappointed. I brought Paul, Plant Therapy’s Vice President, and my 12-year-old daughter Alexa. This kind of international travel can be exhausting but I feel like we accomplished our mission and I want to share some of it with you.

In France we saw the following oil producing crops:

After arriving in Paris and spending the first day and a half visiting traditional tourist destinations (Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Café de Flore, etc), we took the high speed train out to Valence (roughly 400 miles).

Eiffel Tower- Chris and Alexa

We were greeted by our supplier and we drove out into the countryside to visit his farms and distilleries. This was incredibly beautiful. Just like you see in the movies.

Classic French Countryside- photo by Chris

They don’t have lots of farms that are hundreds of acres like we have in Idaho. Their farms are much smaller. Many are only 3-5 acres tucked into a hillside. The first farm we visited was only one hectare (2.5 acres) of Melissa along with some other crops, including corn flower and some lemon thyme.

Melissa Farm

Lemon Thyme- new crop

They will harvest 8 tons of fresh plant material to yield one kg (2.2 lbs) of essential oil. They are pleased with this result but still working on getting a higher yield. Just a few years ago it required 12-13 tons of fresh plant material to yield one kg of Melissa essential oil. By working with the local research program and continually selecting only the best plants, they have been able to increase their yields. The next stop was another field of Melissa that was just planted this spring. They will get a small harvest this fall, but won’t yield much. The Melissa plant can be kept up to 7 years before they have to rotate crops. The highest yield years are from 3-5. After that time the weeds begin to become worse and the maintenance costs are too high. They rotate these crops on a minimum 12-year rotation. 5-7 years in Melissa, 2 years in wheat, then another 5 years in alfalfa.

Melissa (Lemon Balm) Up Close

We drove up into the mountainous areas, passing through the many vineyards and wineries that produce the famous Clairette wines. We saw both Lavender and Lavandin varieties during the day. [a quick note about the lavender varieties- these plants will grow almost anywhere. Also both true Lavender and Lavandin are naturally growing plants. The main difference is that lavender has one spine but many flowers. Spike lavender has many spines but few flowers. Lavandin is a naturally occurring hybrid between the two which basically has the spines of spike lavender and the flowers of true lavender yielding a lot more oil per plant, which in turn makes it less expensive. It was discovered by a pharmacist who named the plant after himself.]  When we got up into the hills we visited amazingly beautiful Melissa fields. The entire valley that these fields are in has been certified organic for over 30 years. There are very few weeds and the crops grow incredibly well.

Melissa Farm in Mountains. With barn.

Melissa Farm- with Chris

Drone Shot in France

We went further up into the hills and took a short walk to a field of thyme. They had just harvested this the week before and the smell of Thyme oil was very pungent. It didn’t look great due to the recent harvest.

Thyme (thymol) in Freshly Harvested Field

Thyme (thymol) in hand

Next we visited the drying warehouse and harvesting equipment.

Drying Tables in production barn

Harvesting Equipment- non-woody plants

They use this machine for non-woody plants like Melissa (it won’t work on woody plants like Lavender, Thyme, Rosemary, etc.). The plant material is cut by blades on the front, which you can’t see in the photo because they have been removed, and it runs up a belt into the hopper. They drive the machine right into the warehouse where it is unloaded and moved around by overhead cranes on beams. If they are making the crop into a tea, they will put it on drying tables and blow air up from below. If they are being distilled, they will harvest it and take it to the distillery the same day. Outside this warehouse we saw some Clary Sage plants.

Paul with volunteer Clary Sage plants

These plants are just volunteer and got here by hitching a ride on the harvesting equipment when it left the field. For some plants the oil molecules are on the outside of the plant on the trichome, while others are inside. For Clary Sage, I was able to zoom in with a lens attached to my phone and get some up close photos of the oil itself.

Clary Sage up close

Clary Sage- zoom showing oil drops

As we continued on we visited scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Juniper trees. These are wild harvested in the area. They are also certified organic because they are growing on organic wool farms. When the farms need to clear some land for more sheep grazing they will call this essential oil distiller and they will harvest the trees rather than just using them for firewood. For the pine they will chip up the branches and needles, but for the Juniper they will do just the bark. It is chipped up into ½” chips and then steam distilled. They will then return the distilled plants to be composted on the land. They are very acidic and the land is naturally alkaline so it works well.

In this large distillery the trucks will back into the upper floor and dump the plant material on steel plates. They use an overhead crane to load the large hoppers.

Distillation Facility- on 2nd floor with Paul

Overhead Crane Attachment

The large hopper is 5,000 liters and can hold roughly 8 tons of fresh plant material. The smaller one is 3,000 liters and can hold approximately 6 tons of material. One thing that is unique about this distillery vs the others that I have visited, is that these units are heated by exchange, rather than direct steam. What looks like a boiler is actually full of heated mineral oil, which then heats the water that is pumped into the bottom of the vessel. It was originally set up like this because it used to be against organic regulations to introduce direct steam to the plant, because they include anti-oxidant agents to the water to prevent calcium buildup which could cause an explosion. It is also quite efficient. Once they heat the oil up it will maintain a high temperature for 24 hours. Once the plant material is finished they will use an overhead crane to remove the sieve from the hopper and dump it into a waiting truck to be composted.

The actual distillation will not take long- maybe an hour- but then the cleanup and changeover process takes around 6 hours to complete. If they harvest more than they can distill in one batch, they must spread the plant material out so it doesn’t get too hot. If it is left in a pile, it will start to become hot enough within an hour that it will start to distill on its own and the oil will be lost. If they suspect storms are coming they will harvest a couple of days’ worth and spread it out to distill during the storms.

Oil Separator at Distillation Facility

We were then taken to the processing plant where we ate lunch. Our host had ordered the following 4 pizzas: salmon, goat cheese, ravioli, and some type of spicy meat with peppers. I am not a particularly adventurous eater, but we all got full.

Lunch Time with some unique pizza

This is an impressive facility with many moving parts. Because they are a pharmaceutical grade facility, they have very stringent rules. We were required to suit up before moving on.

Alexa in the lab

In the Lab at essential oil facility

They have a full in-house testing facility and elaborate samples storage system. When the bulk oils are brought in they get checked in, samples taken and then get put into a large cone tank. They let them settle for 48 hours then drain off the bottom of the tank to remove any sediment and/or water left over.

Settlement tank at processing facility

They will then pump the oil out through a filter to remove any small particles. Depending on the oil it will then be put into drums and moved into cold storage which is kept at 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

They also distill products on site. Some essential oils as well as hydrosols.

Hydrosol distillation units at facility in France

The hydrosols have their own section of the plant and are processed in a similar way, except that they are filtered through a much smaller micron filter and also UV filtered. I was also intrigued by their custom designed and built mobile distillation units. They have one smaller unit that can go on a large roll-off truck (pictured) and a much larger one that fits on 3 semi-trucks. They will drive these units right out into the field and harvest and distill right on site. This is a unique concept and a bit revolutionary. It is run by a large diesel generator and the only thing they need from the farm is fresh water.

Portable distillation unit- state of the art design

After returning to the office to discuss business, we were taken back to the train station where we headed back to Paris.

High Speed Train in France

We stayed the night in Paris and left for Morocco the following morning. Stay tuned for that blog post in the future!

Chris Jones
Plant Therapy


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