Making an Extract, from Planting to Bottling PDF Print E-mail

The very nature of traditional herbalism lies in its simple processes, small-scale methods and manual herb selection, harvesting and processing. Since Clef des Champs started off as a tiny company, for the first 15 years or so, all of the operations were carried out by a sole herbalist with the help of friends, her children and eventually some fellow herbalists. However, as herbal extracts became more popular and demand grew exponentially, the challenges we faced with regard to the quality of our work and the processes we used loomed ever larger. Our work in the last ten years has therefore involved finding new methods that are in keeping with our rising sales while completely respecting the essence of traditional herbalism.plantules

Our first constraint is that we must work closely with nature and the elements. No technology, facility or leading-edge piece of equipment will allow us to circumvent the rhythms imposed by the seasons. Rain, snow, sun, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, fall showers, summer rainstorms… the weather is a constant challenge. We live in a difficult climate and must learn to work with whatever nature has in store for us. In  this area of activity, only enthusiasm, flexibility, teamwork and becoming one with the elements can prevent the negative effects of a storm, shower, frost or rare wave of dry heat.

Our first task was to choose herbs that do well in our rugged climate, improve the soil structure and generously apply every possible strategy (mulching, pruning, companion planting, hotbeds, mini-greenhouses in the fields, etc.). When our herbs do well despite difficult conditions, we know that they will be all the richer in active ingredients. Our job is a daily battle with huge challenges, but the herbs reward the efforts made by our resourceful and hard-working garden team. We continue to grow very large quantities of fresh herbs in our gardens, which are then carefully harvested,
sorted, cleaned and extracted the same day. This is the work that gladdens the hearts of our herbalists.cueilleuses

Our summer starts in early March in a greenhouse surrounded by snow drifts. The sun of the vernal equinox awakens seeds that were carefully chosen the previous season. We have grown some of the same species for over 25 years. After ever harvest, we carefully pick the seeds of those well adapted to our growing conditions. Like the rest of our operations, the plants in the greenhouse are grown according to certified organic practices, in a homemade soil mixture, according to the biodynamic calendar, with a minimum of handling and watering. When the summer solstice arrives and the seedlings are a good size, they are transplanted to the garden. And so begins the race to reach maturity before the end of our very short summer.

Exposed to the elements at the foot of the mountain, with the rocky walls of our terrace gardens at their backs, the plants push roots into the soil, gain strength, grow and acquire active principles and nutrients. They are given a helping hand by a liquid made from decomposed plants, homemade compost, mulch and meticulous hand-tilling operations carried out by our horticulturists. We save mountain rainwater for irrigation in drought conditions, work the soil and drainage structure to avoid rot in wet conditions, watch for pests and disease to prevent them from spreading and keep a watchful eye on every parcel of land.

The harvest season begins in the spring and does not end until winter arrives. As soon as the snow melts, we begin harvesting the roots of goldthread, followed by the leaves of young nettle and raspberry, spring horsetail, the flowers of St. John’s-wort, yarrow, lady’s mantle, arnica, calendula, clover and more. We then harvest fresh leafage from lemon balm, skullcap and other plants in the mint family. The year ends with the harvesting of roots that need to be pulled before the snow falls.

By following the movements of the celestial bodies (as indicated in the biodynamic calendar) and scanning the sky for clues about weather, we watch over the herbs as they mature and wait for optimal conditions before acting. Armed with knowledge passed down over generations, we do our best to overcome the challenges that continuously arise.