Travels with Hamid: Women’s Cooperative Distillery and Herbal Apothecary in Azrou, Morocco – Part 5

by David Crow

womens_coop1In the village of Azrou, situated in the Middle Atlas Mountains, we had the good fortune of meeting the women of the Al Amal Cooperative.  Al amal in Arabic means hope; it is here that nine women have dedicated themselves to the preservation of traditional botanical medicine for the last seven years.

The progressive Moroccan government, led by its very popular king, helps to financially support hundreds of women’s cooperatives around the country.  The objective of these programs is to support women that most need work, such as those who are widowed, divorced or with very low paying jobs.

During the cooperative’s first several years, the women gathered in their homes once per week preparing wild harvested herbal teas and traditional foods. A couple of years ago they were able move into a small rundown building where they procured a small still for distillation of essential oils and hydrosols from such wild plants as thyme, oregano, chamomile, cedar, mint, verbena, melissa, red poppy and lavender.  They buy fresh rose and neroli flowers from a local organic farm for distillation and to add to their herbal tea blends. Additionally, the women are producing traditionally made black soap from olive oil infused with eucalyptus and cedar, along with hydrosol and herb infused couscous and crepes made from hand gathered organic wheat.

womens coop azrouDavid and I were impressed with the quality of the botanical products these women were producing.  They have all been trained in the proper methods of distillation and wildcrafting from local experts.  When wildcrafting, the women utilize practices to insure sustainability of the plants for future generations. The women only harvest from clean environments deep in the forest, making sure to leave many plants still rooted by taking only the leaves and flowers.

Last month, the women received a grant from the Moroccan government that enabled them to move into a larger new building with a room dedicated to distillation and the preparation of traditional food; the foods are prepared in a beautiful antique wood-fired stove. They share three large stills with five other women’s cooperatives in the area.

womens_coop2The women are selling their goods on a small scale, mostly at local expositions and markets. The money received from the government is not enough to cover all their operating costs, and until now their involvement has been a labor of love; they know that with persistence they will someday see financial reward.

I saw how dedicated these women are to the preservation of botanical wisdom and to the greater success of women in Morocco. We are looking forward to supporting this important eco-project and have plans to bring many of these high quality botanical products to Floracopeia.

womens_coop3

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