Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Temple of Distillation!

I don’t know how many years I’ve been trying to get to Corsica--plenty. Maybe 15? Our Holy Temple of Distillation is here, tucked adorably along the foothills of the Costa Verde. I was almost afraid to tell them we were coming, as I told them last year, and two years before that, and a couple of years before that, etc. Something always steps in and prevents us. But this time it seems we outfoxed fate, or she took pity on our poor, immortelle-craving souls. And here we are, Tom and me.

After attempting a shortcut (which turned out to be a three hour mountain detour on a one lane road in the drizzle, and dumped us right back where we started,) and arriving at our hotel on the beach only to find it completely closed and overgrown, (a more attentive reading of their email revealed they would only open May 16, and I had missed this because I read their confirmation for the year before,) we found ourselves in the town of Bastia, and this is fine indeed. We are warm, well fed and parked. Our little Peugeot somehow manages to accommodate our constantly engorging luggage, and us, as well.

Corsica is all about Corsica, meaning their local, regional products: their wines, cheese, charcuterie, essential oils, preserves, sweets, liquors, knives, pottery, artists, and music. I’m probably leaving stuff out. But I’m pretty sure you won’t find any Starbucks or American fast food chains here. We are in heaven. Everywhere you drive, every tiny road, no matter how remote, (and this is considerable here in Corsica) has signs for cheese, local wines, all kind of food items, or an announcement that a painter lives here, or there are rooms available with home cooking.

Corsica is probably best known for Immortelle, meaning Helichrysum italicum, or Helichryse corse. Local names (Corsica has its own language) are variations on Murza, Marella, Murella, etc. You are probably already familiar with this bright star of aromatherapy, known for its skin-healing properties. In any case, there are plenty of places you can read about this magnificent creature and his properties, both aromatherapeutic and aromatic, so I will not repeat.

Here’s the point! They were distilling petitgrain clementine. I had no idea that blossoms and even fruit went into that pot! No wonder this petitgrain is so exquisite!! The cuttings used are simply those cut off when the tree is pruned. And the whole kit ‘n kaboodle goes in. The distillation is a bit different than we use with frankincense--it’s steam and there is no water actually in with the plant material; the steam is heated separately and piped in through coils under a screen, and the plant material rests atop that.

Here’s what you will be able to find in the store this summer: Petitgrain clementine, petitgrain lime, green myrtle, laurel, corsican immortelle (after the harvest), and a couple of co-distillations as well. These are plants that wouldn’t ordinarily give up their scent--they don’t actually have essential oils in them, but are tricked and persuaded into giving up their scents. These are co-distilled with copaiba balsam. Copaiba has no scent to speak of, and holds other scents well. It’s a brilliant fixative! The hay and stinging nettle co-distillations are awesome.

We are also getting some alcohol extracts. These are made using organic wheat alcohol, then a device using ultrasonic vibration is used to disperse out the fragrant molecules. Raspberry, iris, cacao, coffee, vanilla, and honey!

The Keyserlingk farm was a pilgrimage for me; for years and years I wanted to see the distillations of these wonderful oils, so bright, so alive, so rapturous! The farm itself is biodynamic and the area around, where the wildcrafting happens, is certified organic. Small productions of farm olive oil and Limoncello are reserved for their use only and not sold!

This year we will be able to offer a small amount of Corsican immortelle--our regular Immortelle (helichrysum) is Bosnian but also exquisite and, as it turns, out, distilled on equipment Herr Keyserlingk made and by one of his students. It seems there are several of our distillers who look to Herr Keyserlingk as their mentor and teacher.
Once the Immortelle is distilled we shall have it, along with the twin petitgrains, both clementine and lime (and lemon as soon as it’s done.) These petitgrains are distilled after the fruit harvest slows down, and the trees are pruned. Still remaining on the tree are some fruits and some blossoms. I consider this an exquisite plus, as the petitgrain bitterness is enflowered and sweetened. So it seems most of our petitgrain, except perhaps the bitter orange one, are actually petitgrain over flowers (petitgrain sur fleurs.) What a happy situation!

Also happily on their way are the Green Myrtle and Corsican Laurel. These are wonderful, fabulous and so useful too! Both of them are head and shoulders lovely, bright and energetic, sparkling with life and robust! As you probably know, myrtle is great for the respiratory system, and very gentle--you can use it right in the shower, on the throat, lymph glands, chest....It’s excellent combined with Laurel, who is also known as the “Tree of Life” in certain parts of Southern France. Laurel is a great lymphatic stimulant and this is the pair to introduce your new day. I start my day with a dry brushing for the lymph, then these two in the shower, and of course then a strong coffee. It’s made me a morning person!

The Keyserlingk farm also makes hydrolats, including rose, and they have their own small rose still. The tiny amount of rose oil stays on the farm!

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