• NRuskell

Florihana: The finest essential oils made here in the Pays de Grasse

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

This is a story about flowers, science, environmental stewardship, and love - and when love is involved, it’s always a good story!

To begin, we take you high into the mountains above Grasse, past Gourdon until we reach the barren-looking plateau de Caussols. At 1,450 metres of altitude, there aren’t many things that can grow here, except during the summer, when the last few weeks of July sees the land covered in wild lavender. This is not the rows of cultivated purple flowers we automatically think of—this is the wild variety that grows in random tufts around rock formations or mounds along the sweeping terrain. Wild lavender is highly protected in France, mainly because it is highly sensitive to the environment (it needs cold winters and high altitude) and has become a rare find.

Prized is for its calming scent and antibacterial properties, wild lavender is very different from the well-known cultivated variety that makes the cover of all the postcards and tourist books. There are over 20 different varieties of lavender in the South of France, but what most people know is the cultivated variety. Wild Lavendula Angustifolia not only looks different, but it is also different in chemical makeup, higher in terpenes and the other substances that provide its therapeutic qualities – qualities that are painstakingly preserved in the essential oil of Florihana.

Just below these sweeping hills of wild lavender sits the distillery, Florihana. A series of five (soon to be 6) log cabin style buildings houses one of the purest and dedicated makers of essential oils in existence. Granted special permission by the government to harvest this protected wild lavender, Florihana produces actual ‘flower to bottle’ products using a specially designed distiller that extracts the essence of the flower at a lower temperature than the industry standard, therefore preserving more of the flower’s delicate properties. They also import other plants that can’t grow here, under strict quality control, rounding out their oil selection.

The man behind this business is Alain Durante, a complicated man who is never satisfied with the status quo. He goes above and beyond what is acceptable, working harder and smarter, always striving for a step closer to perfection. This ethic is what drove him to start Florihana in 1993 in a basement in Grasse. It’s also what led him to develop and tinker with the machine until he created his very own low-temperature distiller that creates more pure essential oils and hydrosols—not for perfume but for a little-known industry of aromatherapy.

But the Florihana story starts much earlier, when Alain was a young man, looking for something different—something better. In the 1980s, he set sail to circumnavigate the world. For three years, he stopped in different places until he reached Japan and discovered an entire culture dedicated to mastering their craft. “The culture, the food, the friendliness of the people, their respect – there’s no comparison to my country,” he told us, standing in front of his handmade distiller. He had fallen in love—first with Japan, then with Mutsuko. He stayed six years before returning to Grasse together in 1991.

Taking you inside

Milie, Alain and Yuya, the family behind the company.

Our first visit to Florihana was in early spring, when chunks of snow still lined the winding road up the mountain. The warmth of the distiller was comforting, especially because we were shoeless, only our socks and sterile booties covering our feet - adhering to their strict hygiene protocol.

It was there that we met the two greatest products of this Franco-Japanese union: Yuya and Milie, the brother/sister duo running the tech side of the company. From marketing and running the website, to their highly successful international sales, they keep Florihana’s digital presence as pure and beautiful as their products. Even the name, Florihana, is a marriage of Japanese and French: 'flower' in both Latin (flori) and Japanese (hana).

While fairly unknown in the Côte d'Azur, Florihana’s certified 100% organic essential oils and hydrosols are extremely popular in Asia. They even have offices in Tokyo and Shanghai and shops across eastern Asia. But it is from this log cabin facility above Grasse that produces their highly praised distillates.

In addition to essential oils and hydrosols (water-soluble form with the same aromatic molecules as Essential Oils) which can be used for aromatherapy, skincare and culinary uses, Florihana also offers a wide selection of organic, cold-pressed carrier oils, from the classics like sweet almond, jojoba and coconut, to more unusual and highly nourishing Brazil nut, prickly pear, or sea buckthorn oils. Their line of natural and organic skincare is also delightful, from the super moisturizing but not heavy herbal base cream to the softly iridescent (from natural mica) 3 roses gentle facial cleanser, it feels like using the top product, while paying a very reasonable price!

The true star of Florihana, however, is the wild lavender that makes its way directly from the fields surrounding the distillery and into their essential oils and hydrosols.

The wild lavender harvest

Harvesting wild lavender. Photo: Florihana

This past summer, Riviera Insider was lucky enough to tag along during a harvest to see first-hand the ‘field to bottle’ process and it was a truly fascinating experience!

We met with Milie and Yuya at the distillery and rode up the nearby hill in their rugged 4x4 truck. By 11am, their team had already put in a full days’ work. At first glimpse, there didn’t seem to be any lavender. Perhaps it wasn’t a good year? But then, after being shown the small purple tufts spotted about the land (and forgetting the famous rows and rows of the cultivated cousin), a beautiful and lush landscape of lavender flowers revealed itself.

Another sight revealed itself—several large white lumps dotted the terrain. These far-off lumps turned out to be large white sheets tied around bundles of freshly sheared lavender flowers. Then, people began to appear, drawn to the sound of the truck coming to collect the morning’s harvest. Men and women with weathered skin and flowing cotton clothes all had one thing in common: they seemed at one with nature, happy and free-spirited and they all agreed that being out in nature was better than any job behind a desk. We drove along the dirt path as slowly as possible, the truck bouncing awkwardly over rocks as workers tossed in their bundles and jumped in.

The scent in the air was intoxicating. The particular and warming scent of freshly cut wild lavender filled the truck. Yuya stopped for us to get out and see the lavender, pointing out the differences with the way the plant grows and also how it is properly and sustainably harvested. This is why Florihana has special permission to harvest because they do it safely, appropriately and with care for the plant and its pollinators. All of the harvested plants we saw, not a single plant was 100% cut back, always a few flowers were left for the plant and the bugs. Despite the bundles stacking up like a pyramid, Florihana only harvests about 2% of the lavender growing on the hillside.

Millie and Yuya are so at one with their team and the harvest process that it’s clear they grew up doing this. There is almost a telepathic communication between the two as Yuya stops the truck and Millie leaps out the back to pick up a white bundle. The strength in her petite body is surprising and impressive, tossing bundles of nearly 20 kilos into the truck. But it only takes a split second for Yuya to see when a bundle is too heavy and he is out of the truck before she can even protest to being able to do it herself.

Yuya explained that this year was a particularly good year for the crop. Wild lavender is very susceptible to climatic events and pests. Two years before, Florihana lost the entire harvest to a plague of caterpillars, caused by warmer temperatures that prevented the winter die-off of the lavender-loving bugs.

Once fully loaded, we headed back to the distillery where the flowers were weighed and immediately scooped into vats for distilling. Within minutes of arriving, father Alain appeared to enforce quality control. He certainly runs a tight ship!

From this point in the unloading dock, the distillation process, the settling and finally the bottling will take several weeks; but what makes it into their tiny blue-capped bottles is the pure essence of these wild, purple flowers.

It’s a truly rare opportunity to have a local, family-run business with products revered on the other side of the world. And yet, Florihana is here, working hard and producing some of the highest-quality distillates on the market. They are also the sweetest and most environmentally respectful family you could ever hope to meet.

Did you know?

  • Florihana’s cosmetics are pure and perfect as a base for your own DIY blends. Try their herbal base cream with a blend of their top-quality essential oils: Rose absolute for mature skin or tea tree for oily, problem skin.

  • They have also just developed a radiance facial oil: KIN BERRY Skincare oil, with raspberry seed, Rosewood, Wild Carrot, sea buckthorn, and sunflower oils. It’s rich in omegas 3, 6, and 9 and in regenerating antioxidants, known to tone, moisturize and illuminate all skin types.

  • An excellent oil for hair is actually Brazil nut oil. Blend their cold-pressed Brazil nut oil with some rosemary essential oil for oily hair, or ylang ylang for a pleasant fragrance.

  • Hydrosols are completely edible and are great for baking, flavouring drinks, or spicing up dishes. Try cinnamon in some apple sauce, or splash of lemon in a fish sauce.

  • You can also add essential oils to cleaning products to boost their cleansing effectiveness. Try lemon and mint in your dish soap for refreshing and disinfecting qualities.

*We will be giving away a little set of Florihana products! Head to our Instagram page for details!

-Nicole Ruskell

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