Essential oils have a high price tag on the commercial market, due to both the time- and labor-intensive processes of producing them and the plethora of health benefits they provide consumers. While Jamaica is home to a variety of aromatic plants used to make essential oils, there are currently no major distilleries on the island to produce these unique products. Located on the Jamaican coast in St. Mary, Yerba Buena Farm would like to break into this promising industry. However, the farm has faced technical difficulties in the past obtaining proper equipment and technical training to reap the benefits of the native plants that surround them.
Clare Licher of Sedona, Arizona is one of the lucky people who was able to turn her passion into a career. Licher began studying medicinal herbs in 1987, and in 2005 she and her husband Alex founded PhiBee Aromatics, a business specializing in selling high-quality essential oils and hydrosols.
Building on almost 30 years of experience in aromatherapy and essential oils, Licher recently traveled to Yerba Buena Farm through Partners of the Americas’ USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program to train locals in essential oil distillation.
Licher hit the ground running, repairing tools and gathering materials needed to successfully distill the oils. She also consulted with Yerba Buena Farm on the logistics of establishing a commercial distillery and the growth potential of both local and export markets.
After performing a successful trial distillation, it was time to run four 1-day workshops! Beekeepers, farmers, owners of cosmetic cottage industries, and professors gathered from across the island to participate in hands-on demonstrations of the distillation process. Participants traveled from as far as four hours away and a total of 118 participants learned the basics of essential oil distillation. The workshop included:
- • How to assess whether a plan can produce essential oils
- • How to distill essential oils from various plants
- • The medicinal qualities and monetary value of many local essential oils
- • How to use plant oils for health
- • Discussions on creating an essential oil distillation cooperative
“Two months ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be in Jamaica, sharing my passion for the plant world with well over 100 Jamaicans,” Licher said. “I was really moved by the spirit of the Jamaican people that I met.”
Licher reported overwhelming enthusiasm from participants and stressed the exciting possibility of creating a high-quality artisan oil industry in Jamaica. There is interest in the community in forming a co-op to produce the oils both for personal use and supplementing incomes.
Licher is the first F2F volunteer to work with essential oils. Highly specialized volunteers like herself are what make technical F2F projects so successful. She is optimistic about Yerba Buena Farm’s potential of to create an artisan oil market with exotic and unique native plants.