Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Morroco's Scented Treasures - Ecologically Certified

Prof. Dr. Jalil Belkamel talking Morrocan essential oil
There's a wonderful exhibit right now at Frankfurt's Palmengarten, a beautiful botanical garden in the heart of the city with numerous stunning tropical and other climate-zone hothouses, rose gardens and many other attractions. It is my favorite spot in the city and offers something for everybody in the family, children included. The current exhibit, called 1001 oils deals with the history, extraction and uses of plant oils, waxes and fats in medicine, craft and industry, and of course cosmetics and perfumery. As part of the exhibit there was a Moroccan week in July featuring food & drink,  music and dance, craft and touristic PR, and of course Moroccan oil prodcuts. The delicious and healthy Argan oil, the best of which is hand-produced by Berber women in the country's south, where the world's last significant population of trees exists, comes at a high price but its unique nutty flavor (from roasted nuts) is exquisite, as are its properties as a (neutral, unroasted) carrier oil for aromatherapeutic blends or massage oils. Of course Morocco is also a significant producer of neroli, as well as Mediterranean oils such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and many others. All this was explained in detail by Prof. Dr. Jalil Belkamel, one of the heads of Nectarôme, an organic producer of essential oils and cosmetics from the village of Tnine Ourika near Marrakech. Combining old herbal knowledge and traditions, contemporary aromatherapy and wellness approaches targeting Western markets, while practicing sustainable and socially responsible agriculture, this looks like the kind of model operation required to bring vital economic impulses to North Africa with its persistent poverty and lack of perspective for young people, both at the heart of much of the political unrest and massive migration to Europe, and to which simplistic modernization schemes provide no answers. For example, the mechanization and industrialization of Argan oil production proved nearly fatal to the business and to the people who had been living off of this trade for centuries, as quality deteriorated and factory owners siphoned off the profits. The Moroccan government thankfully realized this and together with a Federal German development agency managed to create an effective network of women's cooperatives that now produce the only traditional high-end Argan oil and sustain the craft of its production and the families engaged in this traditional labor.
a wild, fragrant meadow at Palmengarten
Besides enjoying the Nectarôme talk in the beautiful Berber tent pictured above, I tried some of the products and found the neroli, lavender and rose to be of excellent quality. They do not sell to the perfume industry, but I suggested they should - or develop their own natural perfume line. Well, it was a great afternoon trip to Morocco and its wonderful fragrances, flavors, sights and sounds. Now I want to go there for real.

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