Our Last stop-off point in the Elqui Valley was Pisqou-Elqui ( Pisqou refers to the local alcohol, made from distilled grapes), the aim being that the kids see the stars through one of the telescopes situated here, the skys being among the best in the world for star gazing. My aim was to find out if there were any herbalists around, this was begining to prove more difficult than I had expected.
We stayed at Hostel Pedro run by a guy called Santiago, who had been married to a French womam so conveniently he spoke French....the problem here, he explained was that many outsiders had settled in the region and bought with them Reiki, Shiatsu, aromatherapy etc, which they sell to tourists and the local herbal knowledge is not valorised, either by the newcomers or the locals who love tablets and modern medicines.
I accepted the fact that it I wasn't going to find anyone working directly with plants here and would have to wait until we moved on. However by chance, I wandered into a shop in front of the hotel and found Patricia Soto, my first cross-cultural herbalist.
Patricia makes soaps, body and facial creams and toilet waters from the plants she grows in the mountains 3 km's from Pisqou Elqui. She was very happy to be interviewed and the first international member of Herborists sans frontiers with The Lyonnais school of Medicinal plants!!
Patricia grows plants and runs a shop selling her organic cosmetics and other locally produced crafts. Her brand name is Elquimia, a play on words with the name of the valley and the word alchemy in spanish, which is alchimia.
Interview with Patricia
How long have you been producing plants in the region?
Not long, 5 or 6 years, I was working in the film industry in Santiago and I wanted to change my life, I bought an old farm in the mountains, read books and did some courses on plants and my project was born.
What do you grow?
My plantation is quite small, I have lavander, sauge, rosemary, oregano, roses, lemon grass, pines, ylang-ylang, jasmin, calendula, which are all grown organically and I collect wild plants as well.
You have focused on organic cosmetics, why?
I use plants medicinally with family and friends but people here do not want to buy them, the trend is for modern medicines so I concentrated on making my commercial product for the face and body.
You must have a lot of work with the plants, making the products, the shop etc, how do you manage it all?
My work is my life, I am passionate about plants, the watering, weeding etc is a natural part of my day, I do however have someone serving in the shop.
Can you describe your relation with the plants you use and plants in general?
Marvellous !! I have a very strong relation with the plants, they have taught me alot of things, the essence of one's being, the plants and the mountains are my life.
Have you a favourite plant?
Your packaging is very professional and appealing, can you tell me a bit about your products and choice of packaging?
It took me a long time to be happy with the final result, I make my products from A-Z and I wanted this to be clear in the labels as many people in the valley are making and selling products for tourists that are actually full of added chemicals, stabilisers etc. The choice of container was not easy either as there is very little choice here in Chile.
What would you be looking for in a cross cultural herbalist network?
Contact with other people who work with and love medicinal plants, a place to share information, experiences and get advice.
When I get back to the ELPM in France, we will send Patricia a contract and I hope we will be able to develop a spanish speaking section of our new project.