Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Tour of Unit 16, Griffin Mill

Unit 16, Griffin Mill from Essentially Me on Vimeo.

For all those people who weren't able to join us on Saturday, here's a tour of Essentially Me HQ.

Essentially Me Open Day was a success!

Alec's beloved motorbike and our poster in Burford.

Our open day was really an opportunity to make ourselves known to the local community. I whizzed round the Cotswolds putting up posters to supplement local radio and newspaper coverage. Sian had the difficult job of deciding how many chocolate brownies to make as we had no idea how many people would show up.

We had a steady flow of people throughout the day and visitors were taken into the lab and encouraged to smell all our natural aromatics. Every time I do anything hands on with the public most of them ‘get it’ straight away. It’s like opening a little window into a world which they didn’t know was there. Almost without exception people are surprised by the richness and depth of floral absolutes, the delicacy of orris, and the warm softness of beeswax, labdanum and hay.

The stories that have accompanied these aromas down the ages build an imaginal bridge connecting our sensuality with that of our ancestors. Most people irrespective of age, gender or background respond with amazement to the colourful history of natural aromatics. A powerful testimony to how little is generally known, how interesting the history is and how important natural aromatics have been to our species.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The poster for our Open Day on Saturday 19th September has been printed on hand-made paper by Letter Press in Stroud. I'm delighted with it: I hope it draws in the crowds to see the new showroom, workshop, lab and meditation room/ classroom.

India October/November 2008

Without a doubt the most difficult country in the world to buy oil. I have travelled many times in India over a period of twenty years and reliable business relationships still remain the exception that proves the rule. For oils like black pepper and ginger it is not such a problem but high value absolutes like tuberose, white champac and pink lotus are more risky. When on the ground it is not such a problem because I can pick exactly what I want to buy. Trading at a distance is much trickier. Opportunism is born out of the survival instinct and living in the moment. Having stability in one’s life is a luxury that allows long term planning.

To the opportunist £200 now is much more interesting than £500 per month but the latter builds a company and a more secure future. Extreme vigilance is needed. During the last trip I went off piste with my trusty organiser and translator Tanu to connect with the ancient tradition of hydro distillation which has changed little over centuries. Many of the extracted oils are blended in a sandalwood base in the tradition of attars. We were able to witness several distillations and buy some very interesting aromatics.

Cool rainfall on hot dry earth performs a kind of distillation and releases a wonderfully complex spectrum of aromas. Fresh green galbanum like notes are followed by an array of spices – like all spices but none in particular – fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, ginger, clove and cinnamon these are followed by an herbal array and a final crescendo of incense, goat hide and cow dung. The overall impression rather than being overwhelming strikes one as almost being orchestrated like a firework display. I have seen local children greet the rain like we would snow on Christmas morning.

Amongst the aromatics I brought back with me were two distillations of soil – one form Assam and the other form Kerala. I have used these along with a plethora of other oils and absolutes in a perfume I made as a challenge for a well known writer and journalist. I called the fragrance Apr├Ęs la Pluie – she was delighted by it and I hope she writes it up soon. I may make it available as a limited edition as I don’t have huge reserves of some of the ingredients.

China May/June 2008

The reason for my trip to China was to try and discover to what extent Buddhism had survived Mao and the Cultural Revolution. I travelled with a group of friends from the Western Chan Fellowship. I had not visited mainland China since 1976 when I spent six weeks in Tsingtao as a trainee navigator on a merchant vessel. I had my eighteenth birthday there and Mao was still alive. The change has been phenomenal – I’ve put on weight and make perfume.

After leaving one of the many temples we visited my curiosity was captured by some incense being burned outside a shop. Inside there was a collection of raw materials used for making incense including aloewood, sandalwood and other woods unknown to me. I did buy some aloewood which was very mildly infected and several large boxes of incense. As a consequence of visiting this shop I was able to make contact with a producer of oil and absolutes which has since become a regular and reliable supplier. They supply the best jasmine sambac I have ever encountered, an absolute from a wild rose and both gardenia absolute and concrete.

Historically, it was customary for cultured and wealthy Chinese to create a garden either for retirement or for a place of peace as a retreat from worldly cares. During a visit to such a garden one of our translators recited a poem learnt by children at infant schools in China. It was praising modesty and used osmanthus as a metaphor for such conduct. The scent is elusive, subtle and delicate and it takes time and patience to get to know its virtues unlike loud and aggressive people who wear their merits on their sleeve. People are implored in the poem to reveal themselves slowly to others. I was inspired by this poem, the gardens we visited and osmanthus to create the fragrance Kuan Yin. She is the compassion in human hearts which gets obscured by our self centeredness. The statues of Kuan Yin in the temples are always adorned with pink lotus blossoms to represent her purity. Naturally pink lotus absolute was included in the fragrance.

Haven’t you heard it’s a Battle of Words and Most of Them are Lies?

Have you ever come across a company selling essential oils claiming that their oils are cheap adulterations? This would be the only thing which could validate the contrary claims of purity being made by the zillions of companies. Early aromatherapy trainings were very heavy on possible therapeutic applications but very light on oils themselves. When aromatherapy began to explode during the nineteen eighties in the UK several people left their jobs (or were sacked in one case) with fragrance houses and started dealing in essential oils. As a consequence of their background they knew how to manipulate oils in the service of profit, this combined with their knowledge made many aromatherapists sitting ducks.

Over the past twenty years in the UK there have been several attempts to set up organisations to verify standards but some of these involved using a crook as an advisor. We had a well known scandal here in the UK. A consumer magazine investigated sandalwood oil. When it analysed some being sold by a chain of shops it was found to contain no sandalwood at all. The lady that owned the shops carried the can but the real culprit the supplier got away with it. This person has been selling fake sandalwood for at least 15 years and is still doing so. After numerous complaints he was expelled from a UK trade organisation where he was seen as a bit of a likeable rogue. He has the charm, the knowledge and people are taken in especially if I may say so, the ladies. Good conmen are always plausible. He has now bought a company which is still a member of the organisation that expelled him and his company is still selling adulterated oils.
Many companies which are members of the same organisation continue to make medical claims on websites and in printed literature. It is this irresponsible behaviour that invokes the scrutiny which could lead to legislation that restricts the availability of essential oils. This illustrates why Julia and I have never joined any aromatherapy trade organisation. I am not talking about the educational side of things - we do support the IFA which is not a trade association.

Being able to judge character is perhaps more important than all the technical stuff. If there was an easy or fool proof way to test oils for purity the marketwould not be flooded with cheap adulterated versions. As Rumi says it is only because there is real gold that people accept false coin.