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The Fragrant Journey

by Kerry Doyle(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 31 - August 1998

In Belgium over an excellent lunch I found an adventurer who had the same consuming passion for plants, farmers and wonderfully aromatic essential oils as I. Jean Francois Baudoux illuminated for me an aromatic wonderland, he told me of his relationship with farmers who grow and distil essential oils. He told me how he had first become involved with Pran Arom and how his brother is now his boss. He had been running two companies of his own when his brother, chemist, Dominique Baudoux, the initiator and scientific strong-arm of the Company needed someone in France for a year to work with the farmers. Volunteering and accepting this challenge, Jean Francois' influence has become the perfect balance to his brother.

He is no urbane businessman or informed scientist, with his tanned face and easy amused smile, I could well imagine this gatherer and plantsman dressed in shorts and sandals, basket over one arm, sharing a bottle of home made wine with the farmer he cares for. In summer he goes to a secret place to cut wild helychrysum which he then distils. The demand for this special oil always exceeds supply.

He explained the importance of provenance, the security derived from scientific profiling natural essential oils but ultimately the love affair the supplier must have with the people and the plants. His generosity in sharing his passion for essential oils by opening his precious flasks, pouring quantities and sharing with me the overwhelming colours and smells. This exceptional experience made me realise that I did not know what an essential oil was before. It is hard to imagine the joy I felt cradling a full litre of the most wonderful neroli orange flower essential oil, "liquid sunshine in a container" which I wanted to open everyday for the rest of my life and simply inhale.

He had bought all the production from a small producer in Sicily; all of one year's precious stock that never could be repeated because nature's moods dictate that each year's harvest will be different from the one before. This living essence has changed the way I think about essential oils forever. If I had thought that my incredibly appreciative smile could say it all my companion's look of complete incredulity completed the circle. I had given him a pendulum previously, a small piece of crystal in a silver mount, during a frustrating explanation of dowsing. He had agreed to wear this token. Imagine the challenging of disbelief as he tried to understand the energy which made the pendant fly round in ever widening circles above a full open beaker of emerald green Inula graveolens.

The adventuress in me longed to swim with the children of Sofia, in vats of rose flower hydrolat, whose delicate life span makes it almost impossible to sell. To voyage to Madagascar to touch the plants in the forest and stay with a simple family whose bathroom is the ocean. To find the lemon groves that produced such golden energy from a citrus lemon oil placed in my hands, a glass bucket which Jean Francois knew would make me question all my expensive training, he just smiled and raise an eyebrow!

Do not believe it is all fun, for Pranarom is changing the way doctors, dentists and professional therapists look at medicine. They use all the resources that the European Commission can provide to bring a new awareness to the professional who is willing to bring aromatology into the 21st Century.

Under a dark blue velvet canopy of stars "The Plough" was clearly visible, this was Provence. As we climbed down the circular staircase on the terraces, which would soon be hung with bougainvillaea, to the castanets of crickets there was a stillness and a silence appreciated by Dr Malte Hozzel and his wife, Veronique. We joined them for a simple meal of Provence vegetables and vervain tea, the Lippia citriodora leaves steeped in golden liquid. It is hard to believe this educated, cultivated humanitarian aesthete can run his international business from this circular cream sandstone house in the heart of the lavender country. We were expected but we were early, which gave us the chance to roam and sit in the juniper blue herb scented terraces drinking in the beauty and the silence. In England at this time of the year the countryside would be busy with birds - here in Sault there was a pregnant pause. We were told that a pair of eagles came to visit. The skin of the land although emitting a balsamic odour of bay, juniper and box was moist with cedar flakes and pinecones, aromatically simmering before the explosion of summer herbs. Malte and I had a stroll out of their own valley, past their still and classroom to the village. I talked with this sensitive and spiritual man nibbling and chewing sage, savoury and wild lavender along the path.

He asked me if it was my intention to bring the Real Aromatherapie to England? ...

Quite a question from a Doctor of Philosophy, Linguistics and Anthropology, sophisticated, world gatherer of organic essential oils, grower and distiller extrodinaire. Are we ready for this?

This delicate, fragrant, refined environment seemed a million miles away from the classrooms of aromatherapy. I explained that for me aromatherapy is a way of living and being with oneself in all aspects of every day. I felt like the child who believes that milk comes from bottles in the cooler in the supermarket with no understanding of the cows in the meadows that must graze the sweetest grass and flowers. We understood on this fragrant walk the responsibilities that our new way which, of course, is an ancient way, can bring to modern man, this environmental medicine which embraces touch, massage, mediation, respect, the natural, the nutritious and the ancient pathways revisited.

How is it possible that Malte's aromatic heartland has never been accessible to the English therapist, for as I explained to Malte, this cultured man with a deep love of the verdic traditions, we in England through our restraint and our love of the under stated pursue a special pathway where "gentle" blends explore the panorama of holistic medicine. I asked him why has he never had an English group at Orto de Prouvenco it seems incredible to me that the flower of all we seek to encompass has so far eluded us. While the French argue the intention of phyto-therapy we the English, in our restraint and our desire to support and nurture our fellow beings have a therapy which is truly complementary we just need the quality and the reassurance that returning to the plant within the nurtured earth, will give us.

This area near the mediaeval village of Aurel High Provence has the densest concentration of medicinal plants in Europe. Its special beauty was declared by Unesco as a natural monument for mankind.

In this stillness, this rarefied, refined, natural "environment" I began to find a peace and a healing that I had been looking for for a long time, my warrior energy was in abeyance and I longed for the substance and input that I knew was available from this wonderful couple. I determined that I should return with a party of English therapists for I really believe that their specialness will come alive in our readiness to receive. Orto de Prouvenco is a rare and contrived environment encompassing the humanitarian concept, the refined and altruistic ideals of two special people. They are business people pragmatic and selective with a deep need to share, Malte saw a woman selling ginger root on his travels, her child's legs were covered in open sores, returning later from the forest with a quantity of wild niaouli he gave her a quantity for the child. His forester reported some weeks later that the child's life had been transformed as he had been released from his afflictions.

Such a man, a visionary, a believer in touch, a pursuer of organic practices wished to share. We spent ages enraptured by the lavender distillation from his own terrace, me with the open bottle and him with the cap. It seemed that every herb of that warm Provencal terrain was encapsulated, terraces and layers of deep memory, of positive thought and of latent action. I know that I am able to fall in love with the tangible and not just the concept.

How do you begin to conceptualise a world of cobalt blue bottles without appreciating the aromatic world, which filled them, for it is a wide world. Each culture contributes its aromatic answer to the diseases and afflictions endemic to each pocket of population. Oshadhi's cobalt blue bottles are a panoramic composition of all these questions and answers, for it is Malte and Veronique Hozzel's fascination and vocation to find out and explore this world. The best of it is that they are willing and wanting to share.

It would have been inconceivable to impose upon my friend a regime of strictures which would have denied the delights of continental life, hot bitter coffees, warm fresh crusty bread, piquant cheeses and pink moist savoury sealed meats bathed with wine which carried the scent of the vine, one for each region, like the fragrant breezes from the foothills overlooking the Mediterranean. Those who seek these offerings will not be disappointed, but if you climb beyond the foothills there is a more rarefied world. It was a revelation to see my friend replete on organic vegetarian hospitality and his inspired eyes dancing with the merriment that rare fine aromatic oils can produce, an intoxication of the soul which can levitate even the most earth-bound creature. "Living fun in a bottle" like sunlight, the source of all growing energy, reflected on a blue Mediterranean.

It's an inspiration

Lovers of life can recognise the abundance of nature's aromatic energy celebrating this wonderful gift of smell. The Olfactory nerve is the only one that can repair itself, it connects directly from the right and left hemispheres of the brain without crossing over as do the other cranial nerves. To be connected with the outside world in this way, whilst creating our own inner dialogue through this most marvellous sense which informs taste and creates awareness, is to celebrate awareness itself.

In our busy world stress seems to draw up the ladder from our body into our heads, creating a state of exclusive cerebral consciousness which massage, by reactivating the sensory receptors of nerve endings in the skin, can reverse. Replenishing this sensory awareness is vital, not only for our health but also to stay in touch with the world around us.

From the terraces of Mount Vonteux and throughout Provence herbs have strongly influenced cooking and have always been used in medicine. Fine lavender has always been a natural panacea, the quality seems a million miles away from the synthetic perfumes used by millions to douse themselves everyday.

An important factor for deducing the quality of an essential oil is the plant's method of cultivation. Originally essential oils were extracted only from wild growing plants. These can be distinguished by their subtle and, at the same time, full aroma, that even a layman can easily recognise. They came from plants that grew in organic soil in their natural habitat so that the full bouquet of the essential oil could develop. Nothing matches the extremely fine bouquet of a wild lavender oil, stemming from handpicked wild grown flowers in High Provence. Even the certified organic lavender oil, produced in high altitudes under ideal conditions, will not reach the subtlety of its wild crafted counterpart. Even now, people who know will always look for the wild grown oil.

We had talked on the long journey down through the broad plains, the vineyards and the chemical factories near Lyon of our perceptions of France as a non-ecological country. The island of Porquerolles basking off the southern coast of France is a National Park, a wonderful living celebration of aromatic Provence.

This island was a fitting conclusion to our Fragrant Journey. It encapsulated all the wonderful aromas, which were introduced to us by Jean Francois Baudoux in his laboratory. As we clambered up pathways shaded by silver pines we could smell the thymes and we could see the full open vases of sapphire blue and ripe red myrtle. This little island is a protected and cared for living bouquet of Provence. An experimental garden which explores parasite control for an amazing myriad of olive trees with ladybirds, with its fig groves and courting pheasants, its delicate herby pink rose petal wine. It introduced us to a new way of thinking about France its real appreciation of nature and its willingness to embrace the ecological issues so clearly expressed by Malte and Veronique Hozzel who introduced us not only to these concepts, and their rare and delicate oils, but also to the island itself.

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About Kerry Doyle

Kerry Doyle is a fellow of the Royal Society of Health where she gained her Diploma in Nutrition and Health. She is qualified in holistic and clinical aromatherapy, and has had an ongoing study programme. She ran a full time aromatic practice for five years. She worked with a French Naturopath for two years before becoming a distributor for Pranarom organic essential oils and aromatology products. She can be reached on Tel: 01482 581 776.

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