Exploring Novel Essential Oils

In 2020 Parceval secured several projects under the BioInnovation Africa Programme*, together with various partners.

We have already written about two of the projects, which concerned setting up a sustainable supply chain of a tree seed from communities in Venda, and investigating innovative products that can be made from all parts of the Marula fruit.

The third project that we are working on, together with a European flavour and fragrance company and a local non-profit, concerns finding novel essential oils within South Africa’s indigenous flora. These will then be assessed for commercial viability, which has several criteria that must be passed.

Important is the scalability – does the plant produce enough oil to be commercially viable, is there enough plant material available that it can be wild harvested sustainably or can the plant be grown successfully to fulfil demand? The other important aspect is of course the fragrance itself and the compounds found in the oil that are marketable. Not to forget the toxicity and safety tests if the oil is to go to market. Though a wide range of plants will be investigated, it is anticipated that only a few will make the cut.

In April, Parceval embarked on a trip to look into eight pre-selected plants found in the Western and Eastern Cape. A mobile distillation unit, that had been custom made to produce a smaller but still accurate essential oil samples comparable in make-up and quality as if they were produced on of commercial scale equipment, was taken along to be able to distil at various locations.

All along, a lot of data were collected about the plants, regarding their location, habitat and growth phases, companion plants, soil types, parameters of the distillation etc. Once an oil has been identified as having potential, it is important to be able to reproduce consistent quality. The variability across the raw material needs to be minimised as much as possible to as to be able to produce a reliable product. For some plants, sample distillation in both Western and Eastern Cape could be conducted. It will be interesting to see the variations the different rainfall patterns of the Provinces (winter rainfall vs summer rainfall) may have on the composition of the oils.

Our team consisting of our local partner Pietersarel de Bruyn (Herbs Aplenty), Nduvho Mulaudzi (analytical chemist), Nokukhanya Nhlongo (botanist intern at Kirstenbosch) and Parceval’s CEO Ulrich Feiter spent 9 days in the field and have brought back some interesting smelling results. The samples will now be screened and their chemical profiles identified. In the next step, a team of perfumers will evaluate the suitability of the oils on their own as well as blended together with other oils to create e.g. an aftershave or deodorant type product.

Parceval wishes to thank BioInnovation Africa for the opportunity of delving deeper into the potential held in our magnificent biodiversity, and thanks all its partners that are providing their insight along the way.

*BioInnovation Africa, commissioned by the BMZ within the context of the German Marshall Plan with Africa, supports the African and European private sector in developing mutually beneficial business partnerships based on high ethical, social and environmental standards, including equitable benefit-sharing and the sustainable use of Africa’s genetic resources.