We meet Juan Canaves in his rustic home between the agricultural towns of Sant Joan and Vilafranca de Bonany. Birdsong and the hum of insects follows us into a shaded area of the yard. Our conversation focuses on the large copper still standing beside the white-washed wall. The former policeman has been running his essential oils business full-time since 2016. “It’s hard for me to call it a business,” he says, “as it’s so much more.”
Inspiration in Formentera
Like many life changes, it began with the uneasy feeling that he wasn’t doing what made him happy. On the recommendation of a friend, he moved to Formentera where he came to know the herbalist and writer Clara Castelloti. Something awoke within him and his interest for plants grew and deepened with every workshop he took and book he read.
“I see it as a kind of miracle to be able to transform a plant into an oil or water with all that memory and medicine,” he says. A miracle, but not a miracle cure. Despite healing his own asthma, Juan Canaves will never tell you a plant is going to cure you. In fact, he thinks we should be careful not to jump from help to help and ignore our own capacity for curing ourselves by taking real care of our bodies.
Ethical and pure
“People come with many expectations and I try to remove them all,” he says, “I try to release the plants from the obligation of having to do something for someone.” What he can promise, however, is that his essential oils and aromatic waters are pure. His methods are mindful of the environment and performed with total respect.
“The collection stage – the meeting with a plant – is the most important job,” he says. “It can be done quickly, mechanically, aggressively… or it can be done conscientiously, understanding that the plant is a living being, which hears, breathes and feels like us. How you treat that plant is how it will treat you. If you seek its medicine and you take care of it, it will give you its medicine and something more.”
Workshops in Mallorca
Juan distills fifteen of the island’s endemic plants. Among them are rosemary, thyme, laurel, myrtle and citrus. He gathers them according to season, implementing careful rotation to ensure each species continues to flourish. Soon he will be collecting the natural anti-histamine, helychrisum, from Mallorca’s seaside dunes.
Every year he shares the art of distillation and the benefits of connecting with nature at his workshops. “In nature, people relax and conversations tend to be more meaningful,” he says. “I have noticed that plants can make us wake up to the things that really matter.” If not, the solution then perhaps his essential oils and aromatic waters are the starting point of an enlightening journey.
Photos by Sara Savage