Just getting to the craft essential oils distillery, La Fontaine Aromatique, is a magical experience in itself as you drive up the winding roads into the highlands, with the spectacular view of Saint-Leu bay down below.
This morning, it is here, in the district known as La Fontaine, that we meet Johan. This young farmer decided to take the plunge a few years ago and embark on an incredible adventure: to revive an ancient copper still he managed to get his hands on. And today, our small group is going to witness this still in operation! Something I’ve never seen before!
Rediscover the ancient trade of distilling essential oils on Reunion Island
We meet up with Johan in the soft lighting of his pretty Créole yellow house with valances where he has set up his little shop. He first began working as a young farmer and then, here on his grandfather’s land in the Saint Leu highlands, Johan began to discover his love for the land, the traditions and from there came a collection of ancient objects.
A passion that in 2015 led him to acquire an enormous old copper still that he decided to restore, and that would mark the beginning of a new adventure: to revive the distillation of essential oils on Reunion Island.
Johan is a hard and passionate worker, he begins by taking us on a tour of his huge garden, just below the distillery. A group of young people in “glamping” mode look after these fruit trees and aromatic plants, allowing them to flourish on this plot of land with an incredible view of the ocean. Everything is planted, developed and looked after by expert hands. During the tour, we are lucky to experience the different scents, such as lemongrass, tea-tree, rose geranium and geranium with a lemon scent. The tour is an instructive one and we learn about the different scented or medicinal plant varieties used by Johan to make his essential oils on Reunion Island.
Operating the Fontaine Aromatique still, and the magical creation of essential oils!
After this tour of the estate, Johan shows us the plant we are going to be distilling this morning. He picks niaouli. We go back up to the distillery where a fire has been lit under the still. We position ourselves around it and Johan tells us all about how he makes essential oils.
After a bit of theory, let’s get to work! The steam distillation can begin. Wisps of smoke gather around us as we help Johan put the niaouli branches into the huge vat. After making a natural seal from compost, it’s time to close the still. Now it’s up to the heat from the fire to get to work and the still to start working its magic!
But this old machine takes some time to operate. While we’re waiting, Johan invites us to come and taste some coffee that has been ground by hand, and some pancakes made with a few drops of geranium Bourbon essential oil. A new taste for us and we loved it!
Between the various objects of the past, bottles of floral water of varying sizes and shapes, an ancient weighing apparatus, newspaper articles, etc. Johan’s beautiful shop is full of amazing curiosities. Everything is superbly laid out. We take the opportunity to ask about the benefits of Lemongrass, Tea-Tree and Camphor essential oils. Cosmetics, cookery, perfumes, aromatherapy… these little bottles of concentrated plant essence have unlimited uses.
After half an hour, Johan calls us over to tell us that the first drops of niaouli essential oil are starting to appear from the distilling unit! We’ve seen the magic first hand and we’re proud to have participated.
And that’s it, our experience with Johan comes to an end, we leave with of course a bottle of essential oil, bought from the shop, so that we can take a little piece of La Fontaine Aromatique home with us.
Thank you Johan!