Farmed herbs and flowers have uses beyond the culinary and the decorative. Some farmers are slowly learning that they can be turned into essential oils and hydrosols for use in aromatherapy as well.
“Aromatherapy basically focuses on the use of essential oils and aromatics in supporting our wellness,” says certified aromatherapist Jirbie Go.
Go runs Alliance of the Philippine Aromatherapists with Lourdes Caballero, a communications consultant who has a background in working with farmers. Aside from educating consumers on the benefits and proper use of aromatherapy, the organization also reaches out to local farmers and producers of essential oils and hydrosols.
An essential oil is a concentrated compound extracted from plants that contain their scent and essences. Hydrosol is the liquid byproduct from the essential oil distillation process. It’s very diluted, which makes it safer to use in aromatherapy, especially for children. Rosewater is a well known example of a hydrosol.
Both women received their certification in aromatherapy around 2018, just before the “oilbularyo” boom hit the Philippines. When they started, most aromatherapy kits had to be imported. But they both knew that this wasn’t enough.
“As we begin to study aromatherapy, you will come across practitioners who say the more you know where you get your oils, who is producing them, the more you can be assured of sustainability, quality, and the more you can educate yourself,” Caballero says.
Straight to the farmer
Go, who teaches aromatherapy and is involved in many local and international aromatherapy groups, agrees. “I see that a lot of aromatherapists abroad really go straight to the farmers,” she says. “This led me to discover if we could do the same. Lou and I are working together synergistically to discover these local producers. Apart from educating the end users, we also want to empower the producers to make them feel the value.”
The duo has been meeting growers who have been or have been wanting to turn their crops into essential oils.
“I noticed that these farmers are entering (the industry) as business people. A lot of them, probably 80% of them, have no background in aromatherapy. That’s where Lou and I come in. We give them support, education, we teach them, I do consultations with them (about packaging), how to store them. I do that for them just to support (the industry),” Go says.
One of AIP’s thrusts is to educate producers and consumers on the benefits of hydrosols.
“Hydrosol is so much more efficient to produce,” Go says. “And it’s safer to use hydrosols for young children versus essential oils. So two birds with one stone: to improve our Philippine aromatherapy industry and educate our end users and inspire our producers to diversify—to not just focus on essential oils, but also produce hydrosol.”
The Philippines currently doesn’t have the laboratory tests needed for essential oils to be certified by international standards. Testing has to be done overseas, and is expensive, especially for small farmers. This is why knowing who the farmer and producer of an essential oil or hydrosol is important, as one can be sure of their farming and distilling processes. “It’s all about knowing your source. We’ve talked to the [producers], we’ve tried their products. I’m very confident with them because I’ve tried their oils in my formulations and it’s really good,” Go says. “The best and the standard is to have them tested, but since we can’t do that, my confidence is with them. It’s knowing your source.”
While certification isn’t needed, it’s important if a producer wants to work with aromatherapists overseas. It can also be a useful tool for determining what products one’s essential oil or hydrosol can be used for. Oils with proven antimicrobial properties, for example, can be used for soaps or hand sanitizers.
“We’re taking it step by step because the farmers are still at the stage where they’re getting more people to view them,” Caballero says. “We hope that the government will support the push for testing because that’s a big step towards introducing producers to the international market who will only patronize products with a specific seal of approval.”
Support for local producers
From experience, the women have seen tremendous support for local producers from the Philippine essential oil community. “Both of us are also part of EOP, Essential Oil Philippines. It has 15000 plus members. What’s good about the people that I talk to there—these are a mix of seasoned and new oilers—when they know of local producers, it’s so nice because they support them right away,” Go says. “I feel that, at least for us, the market now is a bit woke. They don’t have a colonial mentality like before. That’s why the farmers are happy.”
There are many ways to turn harvested crops into value-added products, and as the increasing demand shows, essential oils and hydrosols are two more products that can be added to this list.
“Now that a lot of people are looking for the wellness aspect, it’s important to learn what’s beyond the bottle,” Caballero says. “It’s time to meet the people who are making these things that we are appreciating right now. It’s a big market and I think Filipinos deserve a big part of this pie. The opportunity is huge. This is going to boom in the next few years because the interest in everything about wellness is on the rise.”
“Ultimately, I just want the producer and the end user to all improve,” Go says. “Everyone helps each other.”
APA will be having an Aromatherapy Summit on Dec 17-19, 2021 with the theme Wellness Beyond Essential Oiling. They will feature 24 international and homegrown speakers, including local essential oil and hydrosol farmers and producers.
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s August 2022 issue.