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July 07, 2018 6 min read

Recently, I was interviewed by the Florida State Representative from the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) regarding the distillation I did with the Engelmann Spruce. Below is some of the information I shared. I encourage you to join so that you can participate in the many learning opportunities through interviews, seminars, and other things they offer. 

I also want to say thank you to Chris Mack (the Florida State Representative) for asking me to be interviewed and thank you to AIA for producing amazing information for its members!

Chris: Who are you, and where do you live?

Me: My name is Lola King. I am a mom, wife, animal and nature lover, constant student in the world of AT. In fact, I started learning about essential oils over five years ago from a school that was found through the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) and have continued to take other quality essential oil programs and workshops including studying with Robert Tisserand, Cathy Skipper and my current teachers, Sylla and Nyssa. I hold the designation of Registered Aromatherapist from the Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC) and have over 500 hours of professional education. I currently own and operate a small artisan essential oil company called Be Kind Botanicals and live in the grand state of Arizona.

Chris: How long have you been practicing Aromatherapy in a professional manner?

Me: I have been running my own business for five years now and completed my first AIA approved program in 2015 after starting it in 2013? I no longer work as a practitioner but keep a short list of qualified practitioners that I can refer my clients to that need to work one on one with someone. Instead, I have chosen to continue learning when, where, and as I can while focusing on growing my business.

Chris: Was your mountain excursion purposefully for distillation, or a happy coincidence?

Me: Our planned trip was originally just meant to be a getaway for me to reconnect with the mountains and trees I love so much. I fell in love with this location a few years ago and when we planned this trip, I had just gotten my still. A few months leading up to our trip, I decided I wanted to take my still and see if I could utilize my trip for both purposes.

Chris: Why was it important to attain a permit?

Me: This year Arizona has been exceptionally dry with many of our beautiful forests under stage three restrictions. With the high risk of fire to even drive to the location and to stay in compliance with the USDA Forestry Service, we opted to check in with our nearest Regional District Ranger office.

For those unfamiliar with the USDA Forestry Service, they have passes and permits for everything. From recreational to commercial. So, taking home even a few pine cones requires a permit for recreational collecting. My purpose in collecting most often is commercial because of my intent to distill local plant flora to obtain hydrosols in whatever national forest I am in. If you do a search for USDA Forest Service Commercial Permit, you will find a few different links that will explain in greater detail what the permits entail.

Aside from the federal regulations requiring a collection permit in National Forests include, stopping into the Ranger’s office helped us gain information that we would not have otherwise known.

I wanted to ensure that I was following current regulatory conditions. With the local region of the Apache National Forest under extreme fire hazard, being knowledgeable about where it is safe to even collect is crucial. In other regions it could be a matter of knowing what areas to avoid if there are animals that could cause harm, flooding, etc. The Ranger’s office provided maps, this information and much more.

Apache National Forest Ranger Office - Be Kind Botanicals

I also wanted to ensure that I was even able to collect when you wanted to. During some hazards (drought, fire, flooding), collecting may be too dangerous. Working with the USDA Forest Service Regional or District Ranger office before attempting helped me determine when and IF it is safe. In some areas in my state they are not allowing any collecting because of our extreme fire hazards.

After recently looking up some plants on the USDA Forestry site, I found some plants were not able to be harvested because they were endangered or protected plants. So, I made sure to ask the local ranger office about this. They have a ton of information on what can be or cannot be collected during any stage of the year.

It is important to note, you do need to work with the Regional or District Ranger office for the National Forestry area they permit for. For example, I could not go to my closest ranger office and get a permit for a different forest. They are very specific because those rangers in those areas know more about their area than anyone else. So, all permitting is best done in person to make sure you know exactly where you permitted for.

The bottom line if you are interested in collecting plant material, is that wild harvesting still needs to be done in an ethical and legal way. Getting a permit allows you to do this, gives you the opportunity to speak with the local ranger office regarding where you can collect to avoid potential hazards, and in many cases, they will point you in the right direction of the material you want to collect – huge bonus due to saving time!

Harvesting Engelmann Spruce - Be Kind Botanicals

Chris: Were there specific harvesting requirements for either the permit or your own standards?

Me: They had a few, like no chainsaws, climbing, using ATVs to get to harvesting areas, harvesting from oaks or aspens, etc. During some parts of the year, they even allow for saplings to be harvested although I personally would not ever collect those. There was also a maximum amount of material I could collect. Depending on how much you want to collect your permit will have a varying cost.

For my own standards, I pulled materials fallen from the trees and trimmed from the lowest hanging branches on the forest floor. In this manner of collecting, it allows me to help remove potential fire danger where controlled burns have not occurred and helps to protect the trees.

Chris: Describe your still and set up.

Be Kind Botanicals Still Set up

Me: I currently operate a 20-liter copper still. The cabin we were staying in was literally right next to the river and had a fire pit with a metal cover I could use as a table. For the distillation of the Engelmann Spruce, I set up the still and collection unit right on top of the metal cover on the fire pit and set my pond sump up using the Little Colorado River to cool the coils of the still.

Because of the fire restrictions, only the use of propane or electric heating was available at the time. I worried about the propane and had to ask the ranger office if its use was permitted – thank goodness it was! With the ambient temperatures that evening, I needed higher heat than what an electric burner would have provided.

We were at about 8000 feet in altitude and the distilled plant material included resin, pieces of bark, cones, and needles/branches. All the material was soaked for 24 hours and then repacked into the still. I kept the resin, pieces of bark and cones in the belly of the still covered completely with the water I had soaked it in. The needs/branches were packed firmly into the column of the still. The entire distillation took about six hours.

Be Kind Botanicals Still Set Up

Chris: Were you successful in getting any oil?

Me: I was able to attain about 5 mls of essential oil and collected over a gallon in the Engelmann Spruce Hydrosol. I have since had the bacterial and fungal reports returned with a complete passing for the beautiful distillation I was able to do.

Chris: Do you have your next trip planned?

Me: I would love to say I am going to be able to go up to the Mogollon rim to harvest Alligator Juniper needles/branches this summer, but the fires have been bad, so I am on a wait and see how it will fits in to our schedules. I can always go this Fall, but it is difficult to say when I will be able to do another distillation with the weather and all our schedules here. For sure, I will be back to the Apache Forest in two years. Until then, I will be focusing on distilling local flora as time permits.