When I decided to take a trip this summer to visit Croatian essential oil distillers, visiting Maja was at the top of my list.
In her family, the production of essential oils is tradition. It's always been their love. They decided to start production not only for the Croatian market, but also for export. In 2005, they expanded their production and storage capacities to a village outside of Zagreb, Zlatar Bistrica, where they have a wonderful distillery (click on any picture for a larger view).
The Simics have nine people working all year round in the distillery. During the harvest season, they employ five to ten more people. They have a state-of-the-art facility for the production of essential oils by steam. The distillery consists of five 2000-liter containers and a steam generator strong enough to process 10--12 tones of plant material a day. They also have three cooling vessels, so they can produce different essential oils at the same time.
Aris 2000 specializes in hand harvested, wild plant essential oils from the Croatian seaside and islands. Their oils include Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Laurel, (Laurus nobilis), German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
To secure the plant materials, a network of farmers and harvesters across Croatia has been developed, all of whom deal with collection and purchase of plants in their regions. They give their best efforts to process all the plant material within 24--48 hours after picking in order to obtain the best quality essential oil possible.
Maja works with about 50 small scale growers across Croatia who have plant material but don't own their own stills. She either distills the plant material for them, or they use her facility to distill it themselves. In this way, she has created a beautiful cooperative of farmer and distillers, all sharing the same five stills.
Maja took us to the island of Pag, where the helichrysum, sage and juniper grow wild all over the island. It was inspiring to see vast areas of wild helichrysum with areas of sage and chamomile flowers growing out of the dry, rocky soil. The helichrysum has to be harvested with great care, as the plant has a shallow root system. In a good year, Maja produces 300--400 kilos of Helichrysum essential oil.
Pag was incredibly beautiful! We drove all over the island looking at the plants, admiring the coast, eating great food and seeing the villages. I hope to return to Pag as often as possible.
At the end of our trip, Maja shared an old Croatian expression with us. When something is very precious, they call it a "flower from the stone." My visit was exactly that.