Sedona. With its beautiful landscapes, perfect temperatures in the summer, it is a great spot for any tourist to visit. The purpose for my visit this weekend was to meet one of my distillers, Clare Larcher. She is the owner and distiller of a small batch essential oil distillery. She gathers all of the plant life by hand and has only her husband to help her. Like myself, she has completed over 200 hours of aromatherapy coursework. Her love of plants is one that has ultimately led her to be a fantastic and passionate distiller of Arizona plant life. During our visit, she took some time to answer a few questions for me while we watched the entire distilling process.
How did you get started in distilling?
She has been working with plants for about twenty years and fell in love with aromatherapy shortly after learning more about the process. Clare, like myself, has completed 235 hours of coursework during her studies of aromatherapy. She originally started with a copper distill with copper coiling, however she quickly found that it made her quite anxious because she could not see the process. Now that she has been utilizing a glass coil she mentioned the differences in using both.
How long have you been distilling essential oils?
Clare has been distilling wild plant life native to the Arizona region for ten years with her husband who is a botanist. Together, they gather all of their plant material by hand and distill it in a studio near her home. Occasionally, close friends will help gather material with her.
What is the story behind the name, Phibee Aromatics?
Clare's two daughters greatly influence the name of her distilling business. The first part, "Phi," is for one of her daughters and "bee" is for the other who loves bees. Clare and her husband are constantly striving for more knowledge and are always learning more, so it is fitting to think about the sound of the name as it correlates to the Greek Titan Phoebe who was associated with bright intelligence.
Can you tell me about your current distilling project?
Currently, she is distilling Alligator Juniper Wood. During distillation she noted that with this batch the bubbles of oil were much smaller. She started at about 8 in the morning and by 10:00 am had about 4 ounces of essential oil. A much lower yield than she normally gets from this plant matter. By the time 5:00 pm occurred, the distillation process had produced about 8-10 ounces. Some days the process only take 4-6 hours but she noted that she has had distillations go for much longer.
What are some of the challenges as a distiller you face?
Because Clare distills plant life to the Arizona region, she often has to obtain short term permits during specific times of the year. Some of the areas that require permits often require a few days for her to gather enough plant material to leave the environment in a better state than she found. Other areas are quite laborious. For example, where she gathers one particular plant, she must wade in a flowing river of water with containers attached to her back for gathering. Some essential oils require more plant matter than others to produce the same amount of oil that another plant might produce. With this being said, there is a lot of work that goes into gathering and distilling.
What sets you apart from other distillers?
Clare has a deep love of all plant life and always tries to help the environment if not leave it better than she found it when out gathering plant matter. For example, if she is gathering the needles of pines, she and her husband will remove the lowering branches of them. With other plant life, she never picks all of it. She always leaves plenty behind to continue growing for the next season as well. Her method of gathering plant material is very environmentally friendly.
What are you doing when you are not creating oils?
When Clare isn't distilling, she is working around her home on the many projects that most other mothers and wives enjoy as well as caring for her family. The job of a business owner, mother, and wife is never done!
What are your favorite essential oils to distill and why?
Clare loves all of the plants that she works with and actually has several favorites with Yarrow and Alligator Juniper being among those.
What do you want to do with your business 5 years from now?
In five years, Clare and her husband hope to build a larger distillery with her husband's knowledge of architecture. She also is interested in doing more with the plant matter after it is used in distillation. She is currently working toward that by studying and working on creating plant salts as well as plant alchemy.
We also had the opportunity while we were there to learn about several of the plants she distills as well as smell a lot of them. This was an amazing experience to have and I can't say enough about how wonderful the oils she distills are. Below are the two I currently carry if you are interested in them.