By: Lori Chase, Certified Aromatherapist
As a Certified Aromatherapist, one of my biggest dreams has been to visit farms and processing facilities in France. Last month that dream became a reality and was nothing short of amazing. I was very excited when asked to write about the trip, but have an overwhelming fear that I will run out of adjectives halfway through this post.
The trip started in New Jersey with several days of fragrance training, and then off to Europe with Robert Bardsley, Plant Therapy’s Procurement Manager, in a quest to source the best quality essential oils and allow me to learn more about the processes.
Our next destination was Bulgaria. Aside from the wonderful essential oils and extracts Bulgaria yields, I knew little about this beautiful country. The people were extremely friendly and seemed very committed to making us feel at home. Obviously, a big part of the culture there. The food is simple and delicious and the old villages were entrancing. I felt a strong emotional connection there. Maybe I really do have a gypsy soul.
On the drive in from the Sofia airport, I was surprised by the many fields of sunflowers. They were like blankets spread over miles. It was breathtaking! As it turns out, Bulgaria is one of the largest producers of Sunflower Oil in the world.
We visited several organic farms including Lavender, Blue Yarrow, German Chamomile and Rose. One of the highlights was getting to see Blue Yarrow harvested and distilled. Transforming clusters of tiny white flowers into the most beautiful blue essential oil – and in only a few hours.
I was impressed by how efficient the operation was, the steps in place to keep the equipment in top shape, and also by the fact that there was virtually no waste. Once the distillation process is completed, the remaining plant material is composted and returned to the fields, and any remaining water is recycled.
Obviously, I have used Lavender Essential Oil from Bulgaria many times, but experiencing the fields took it to another level. Rows and rows of billowing fragrant plants and the low buzzing of bees at work. I could have easily set up camp till after the harvest was complete. I was torn between the impulse to run – dancing through the rows, or just lying down right in the middle of it all.
Many farms have bee hives just off to one side of the field. It not only helps with the pollination process but also results in some of the most fragrant, delicious honey you can ever imagine!
One of the places we visited is called Rose Valley. Each year there is a week-long Rose Festival before the harvest. The Festival has been organized annually since 1903 in Kazanlak. It celebrates the deep connection to the Rosa Damascena – the Bulgarian oil-bearing rose and all the gifts it has blessed the Rose Valley with for centuries. Unfortunately, we missed the festival, but I have added it to my bucket list.
While we were there I was presented with a gift of Rose Concrete. It is fragrant and lovely, and I’m sure is worth about a month’s worth of groceries! Solvent extraction uses hydrocarbons (such as hexane) to extract the volatile compounds without degrading them in the process. Once the solvent is removed, the resulting product is known as a concrete. Further derivation results in an absolute.
As sad (and admittedly tired) as I was when leaving Bulgaria, stepping off the plane in France was like a double shot of espresso. It was everything I had imagined and more. Charming villages, spectacular countrysides, mouthwatering cuisine, and oh – the fields of France . . . the fields . . . the fields . . . the fields.
The fields of Helichrysum . . .
the fields of Clary Sage . . .
the fields of lavender . . .
and a new love . . . Lavandin!
I have used Lavandin many times with great success, but I gained such an appreciation for it while in France. Now we know that Lavandin is a cross between regular Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia), but it never registered with me that because it is a hybrid, it’s sterile – it has no seeds. The only means to reproduce them is by using cuttings. The good news is, Lavandin is tougher and more tolerant of growing conditions than Lavender.
Lavandin plants are also larger and much deeper in color. They grow in stalks of three and the flower buds are quite close together. The plants generally produce about 50% more essential oil than regular Lavender. Lavandin boasts many of the same benefits as Lavender, but because of its camphor content, it is great for freshening up the home, in cleaning products, and to help with seasonal illnesses and allergies. Did I mention my new-found love for Lavandin!
We also caught a glimpse of Fennel and Juniper Berry growing wild along the edge of a Lavender field.
While in France we were able to visit the facilities of some of our existing suppliers. They graciously gave us tours and explained their processes, and we witnessed their best practices and state of the art equipment and automation. Not only did it increase my knowledge of these processes, but the appreciation of the time and effort that goes into achieving a high quality, pure product. I don’t think I will ever look at an essential oil in the same way ever again.
We were also able to pop into a perfumery and visit a perfume museum. The displays of bottles from many countries and the history is fascinating. Another big highlight for me was experiencing the many aromas. Some were very familiar, and others – well let’s just say I see some exciting OOTM’s in the future!
Yes, it truly was a dream come true! It was an inspirational, soul nourishing, transformative experience, personally and professionally, that supports me in living my purpose. I am grateful for the opportunity to write this blog post and to share my journey with all of you.
**Listen to Lori talk about her trip with Retha during a live video, posted July 18th, 2018: