Canada's Essential Oil Industry
Essential oils are derived from volatile aromatic components found in plants. They can be distilled or extracted from the flower, bark, seed, leaves, or roots of plants or from the whole plant. They may also be derived from trees such as spruce. Canadian essential oils crops include dill, caraway, coriander, spearmint, peppermint, hyssop, bergamot, sage, tarragon, and basil.
Essential oils are derived from plants by either distillation or extraction processing. Steam distillation is the most common method of derivation used by commercial scale producers while other methods of processing include hydro or water distillation, solvent extraction, and supercritical fluid extraction. Distillation can be done by on-site facilities, mobile units that come to the farm, or using a custom operation. The processed oil is usually sold to a flavour house, either directly or through a broker, with the flavour house having the capability to blend thousand of oils for different purposes. Processors often sell many different formulas of the same essential oils to the flavour houses, depending on the requirements of the end user. The flavour houses generally do not have their own processing facilities.
The primary markets for essential oils are the flavour and fragrance industries, which includes soft drink, food, and cosmetic companies. Essential oils are beneficial to these industries, particularly the food and beverage industries, due to their uniform quality and lack of colour. The flavour and fragrance industries have grown recently for the following reasons: increased demand for ethnic foods, innovation in beverage products, growth in processed food consumption, and increasing demand for natural fragrances. In addition, niche markets also exist for essential oils by producing products for the aromatherapy industry. Aromatherapy refers to the use of essential oils to release odour molecules that can trigger impulses in the brain. The use of scents may be used for therapeutic purposes, to trigger emotions or memory, to promote relaxation, or to enhance energy. Part of the appeal in using essential oils for aromatherapy products is that there is no evidence that they cause adverse side effects.
The market for essential oils in Canada is small and relatively new. Entrants must be prepared to engage in a significant amount of marketing, as companies remain loyal to their suppliers that provide consistent quality and supply. Entrants must also be prepared to deal with a shortage of information. Business opportunities in the industry are limited by the market demand for various essential oils in commercial and niche markets. Aromatherapy markets, however, are more accessible for small scale farmers.
For the latest market information and analysis available from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, please consult the following publications:
Please note that the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association is the secretariat for the National Herb and Spice Coalition. For more information, please contact the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association.
Alberta New Crops Network (ANCN)
Upper 5303 - 91 Street
B.C. Herb Growers Association
998 Skeena Drive
Kelowna, British Columbia
Canadian Herb Society
VanDusen Botanical Gardens
5251 Oak Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Fédération de l'agriculture biologique du Québec (in French only)
Affiliated to Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA)
555 Boul Roland Therrien
Filière des plantes médicinales biologiques du Québec (in French only)
C.P. 43, Magog Quebec
Flower and Herb Growers Association of Alberta
244034 Range Road 32
Southern Alberta: Ken Wright 403-686-4434
Peace Region: Mary Ann Wilson 403-538-1429
Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Association of Manitoba
PO Box 20024
Newfoundland Herb Association
55 Springdale Street
St. John's, Newfoundland
P.E.I. Medicinal Plants Association
c/o Island Root Company
Western Canadian Organic Herb and Spice Association
PO Box 16