Sometimes one finds the most incredible treasures in the most unexpected places. In this case, the treasure was off a highway running along the southern coast of Corsica, down a steep and rutted dirt road where cars could not pass without fear of being stranded at the bottom of the ravine, across a small creek, a moderate walk through the forest and then a stroll across an open plateau overlooking fields of helichrysum and beautiful valleys.
Sara and I had no idea what we would find as we made that little journey one rainy day last May. It was like every other visit we had made to distillers of essential oils on the island: show up unexpectedly and see what transpired. In this case, we would be blessed with numerous new aromatic treasures for our efforts.
No one was at home in the little cabin at the end of the road, but we could see that we had found the right place. Peering inside the glass doors we saw walls covered with shelves filled with bottles of oils and artisanal products.
We were welcomed by several friendly cats, so we assumed it was acceptable to let ourselves in to look around this tastefully built boutique set in a spectacular setting of rock mountains and rolling hills.
After perusing the collection for some time, we began to wonder if we might be alone on the property. We wandered outside and began exploring, accompanied by more cats.
A short way down the road we heard voices coming from behind a grove of trees. A small group of people stood around a large still set inside a simple open structure, discussing the oil that was gradually appearing. As usual, we introduced ourselves by asking if anyone spoke English. In response, the gentleman who had been explaining the still introduced himself: Jean Michel, and yes he spoke a little English.
It was obvious that Jean Michel was not an ordinary Frenchman. He was not even an ordinary human being. He had very large pointed ears. He had very bright shining eyes. He was dark from the sun and muscled from labor. He was very happy. We told him we had come a long distance to sample his products and maybe take some back to America, which made him even happier.
Patience is often required when discovering new treasures. In this case, Jean Michel needed to finish his presentation to his guests, a normal activity at most distilleries that are open to the public.
Then he had to show them the products in the boutique then answer more questions, then they needed to shop, then he had to fill out the receipts and then they had more questions. Gradually, they filed out the door and our elfin host sat down to tell us stories.
Jean Michel’s perceptive nature had already told him that Sara and I were kindred spirits, more so than most of the tourists who knew nothing about the mysteries and secrets of alchemy. As soon as the others were gone, he began telling us about his meditative explorations, mystical experiences and other intimate details about his relationship with plants and their oils. Specifically, he was most impressed by the powers of immortelle.
It was this encounter, more than any visit with other distillers on the island, that represented the purpose of our journey to Corsica: the quest for the finest helichrysum oil. It was on that cool rainy afternoon that we found what we had been looking for: the high altitude wild immortelle, traditionally harvested by hand. It was also during that visit that we were introduced to a new product, made from the helichrysum plants growing outside the door.
Sara first spotted it on the shelf, in a simple and unassuming bottle. She took a small sample, then insisted that we buy several. I tried a little, and the next day a little more. Soon, we were concerned about the dwindling supply, and wondered when we could get more. We began thinking that we should invest in large quantities, maybe gallons, for ourselves.
Eventually, after several visits and spending more time with Jean Michel and the family that owned the farm and distillery, we were able to procure a very limited supply of this unique blended oil, as it is only produced seasonally. Finally, a box containing two liters of the precious liquid arrived in the US, transported safely through the French Post Office; it cleared customs easily, being a substance with an aura of great spiritual power.
We have named this new product the Nectar of Immortelle, which is a fitting title for an elixir of such refined and exquisite quality. Offering it for sale was an act of great selflessness and immense willpower, as Sara and I could have easily kept it all.