An Aromatic Tour of France, part one

I can’t believe it was just over 10 years ago I went on an aromatic tour of the Drôme Valley in France, with Penny Price Aromatherapy. It was a fascinating week learning all about the essential oils, from plant to bottle, and even having a go at distilling oils ourselves.

The Drôme Valley is in the south east corner of France, in the Pre-Alps, which makes for some fantastic scenery.

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The Drôme Valley, South East France
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Resting and enjoying the view after a hike up the mountain
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Looking towards the Alps

Essential oils come from all over the world, with this area being the centre of the perfume industry, who are the biggest buyer of oils, far outstripping the demand from aromatherapists. It is covered in fields of lavender, clary sage, Melissa and herbs, with the odd, rusting still for good measure (stills are used to distill the oils).

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One of many lavender fields
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Clary sage field
An old still at the side of a field

Before modern, fast tractors the stills were moved to each field as they were harvested, as the plants start to wilt and lose their essential oils as soon as they are cut. This ensured the highest yield possible.

Industrial technology (and demand) means that the stills are now much bigger, can’t be moved and have whole barns built to house them. Tractors get the plants to the still quickly, in bulk and the plants are then hoisted into the vats. The only old-school technique used, as I remember, was the man jumping on the plants in the still to squash them down and get more in!

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Melissa being hoisted into industrial stills

Some oils did still require hand processing (or maybe it was just to get us involved!), such as linden blossom, in which we had to separate the petals from the stamen. It was a good excuse for a group natter anyway. Linden blossom is one of my favourite oils, it’s such a beautiful aroma, but very expensive. Mostly because it yields very little oil, and maybe because it’s hand-processed too?

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Hand-processing linden blossom

So many wonderful memories, it’s great to re-live them here. More in my next blog!

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