The breathtaking story of Clef des Champs
A traditional herb farm is first and foremost a garden. From seed to harvest, as the seasons go by, herbs acquire their healing power when their roots are well established in the soil and their aerial parts are exposed to the elements. The cool nights of spring and fall, the downpours of July, the dryness of August, the North wind, the southern breeze, the roaming animals, insects and birds urge the plants to develop the active principles and vital force that make them vital allies in our quest for health.
In 1978, Marie Provost is a very young budding herbalist. Having just returned from a long journey in the lands of South America, she searches for medicinal herbs, fresh plant extracts and organically-grown herbs to heal herself. At the time, hardly anyone practices herbalism in Quebec or transforms herbs to extract their medicinal powers. There are a few books of course, but none describes local plants or how to use them.
Marie is determined, she persists, insists, searches; it is the beginning of a great adventure. With an armful of wild plants, some cold-pressed olive oil, a block of rich yellow beeswax, a crock pot, small glass jars, hand-made labels and a recipe handed over the kitchen table by a friend, the herbal salve is born. The recipe changed over the seasons according to the availability of different herbs and the inspiration of the herbalist. But the herbs have always been fresh and wild, the oil always cold-pressed, the cooking always over low heat. Users are charmed and the jars quickly spread throughout the network of natural food coops in Quebec. The herbalist became impassioned and herbs were her passion… thus Clef des Champs was born.
In 1984, Marie decides to share her knowledge of medicinal herbs and creates l’École Buissonière, a place to learn about medicinal herbs. For two decades, Marie and her herbalist friends taught thousands of students how to grow, harvest, transform and use medicinal plants. In 1987, she published a practical guide, Des plantes qui guérissent (Plants that Heal), which sold over 10000 copies. Sharing knowledge is part of Clef des Champs’ DNA, and is based on a strong desire to impart the knowledge of herbs and the ability to take care of one’s own health.
Traditional herbalism has reached many people and progressed over the years, going from a marginal option to a widespread phenomenon that radiates far beyond our former hopes. Better understood by doctors and pharmacists, accepted as an alternative and complementary medicine, herbalism now occupies a respected place in the family medicine cabinet, it now figures on the workbench of researchers and is recognised as medicine by Health Canada.
Marie was one of the founding members of LaGuilde des herboristes in 1995 and was the ambassador of herbalism at Health Canada for 20 years. She embodied the vision of herbalism and medicinal herbs while participating in the development of the new regulations on Natural Health Products and made it possible for Canadian traditional herbalism to cross the threshold into regulatory recognition. In 2006, Clef des Champs obtained a Site License delivered by Health Canada. Through these numerous changes, Marie and the herbalists kept their original vision and their mission intact: make traditional natural health products made from fresh organic plants and noble solvents by herbalists who love their craft widely available.
In the early 2000s, the small gardens on RR2 can no longer accommodate production and the herbalists at Clef des Champs take on a gigantic task: establish an agricultural space on the side of a mountain and move the gardens there. In the fall of 2004, with the collaboration of students and teachers from the Horticulture school of the Botanical Gardens of Montreal, 10000 perennials were moved to their new home and Clef des Champs’ terraced gardens were born.
Those gardens are organic and biodynamic. Organic because we use no synthetic product in producing the herbs, enriching the soil and controlling pests and diseases. Organic because the herbalists tend and nourish the soil as they would their own children, bringing it balance, nutrients, compost, seaweed, rocks, fibres and microbial life. Biodynamic because we work with our allies, some of which are invisible: earth and sky, soil bacteria, air, earth and cosmic forces, animals that prowl at night and the preparations that are made and applied to channel all those forces. Since these herbs will be used to treat, they must be well treated in order to develop their strength, maturity and balance. They are always harvested and processed by hand. We harvest them at the peak of their strength; flowers are gathered on the day they open, leaves when they are young and vibrant, roots when they are rich and strong. We choose the time of day and the moment in the season when their strength is at its maximum. Then we keep only the most concentrated parts of the plant and we transform them on the same day.
In 2010, in order to meet Health Canada’s new requirements for the production of its 150 products accredited by marketing licenses (NPN), Clef des Champs undertakes the construction of a new building to house its operations. Faithful to its mission as an ecologically responsible firm, all its operations are gathered under one roof, an ecological building certified LEED Gold, where transformation, packaging, warehousing, storage, research, marketing and administration are grouped. All operations are done according to Health Canada’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which guarantees that our products are made with rigor and a control that ensures that the recipes, batches, lots and products are constant. Clef des Champ rose to the great challenge of combining the soul of the herbalist and the rigour of the pharmacist under one roof.
Located in a small community, Clef des Champs endeavours to contribute to the health and prosperity of its environment and its region and works very hard to provide a constructive environment for its people so that they can evolve personally and professionally in a pleasant, happy and positive setting. We are always striving for balance for the people, the herbs and those who will use them. These herbalists love plants, are proud of their craft and hope to share them for a long time yet.