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‘Tanglad’ goes mainstream, yields essential oils

April 2, 2010

By Jo Martinez-Clemente
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:42:00 06/28/2008

BACOLOD CITY — IN HER time, your lola must have boiled this for use as antiseptic to wash off acne or even athlete’s foot. Today, in the generation of take-home dinners, we are familiar with its tangy taste that flavors litson manok.

“Tanglad” or lemon grass, a backyard plant, is going mainstream as its oil is now being extracted for industrial use.

What is abundant in the country is the West-Indian lemon grass or Cymbopogon citratus variety. It contains active ingredients such as the myrcene, effective as antibacterial and pain reliever. Its other active components are citronella, citronellol and geranilol.

The lemon grass is 65- to 85-percent citral. The combination of higher myrcene and citral makes the lemon grass oil less irritating to the skin and thus a good ingredient for cosmetics makers.

Its antibacterial ingredients, on the other hand, can be used for pharmaceutical purposes.

Negros farmers

A nongovernment group called the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (Adfi) wanted to provide farmers with alternative sources of income.
Set up in 1990, the Adfi is a proponent of sustainable agriculture through organic, diversified and integrated farming systems.

In 2004, Adfi chose as their project site an isolated upland area of Mambugsay in the South of Negros. According to Aladino Moraca, an officer of the Adfi, it was a training at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) that introduced the Adfi to lemon grass oil essence and there, they saw the prospects of lemon grass oil production as a good project.

After years of research the Adfi was able to establish the viability of lemon grass for essential oil as well as fabricate a high-efficiency distillery plant. Farmers were encouraged to plant lemon grass in their backyard or in patches of idle lands. In time, the Mambugsay Essential Oil Producers Association was born. Adfi provided the distillery plant and a ram pump for the provision of water while farmers committed to grow the grass using organic fertilizers. The first plant started operations in 2005 and today, a second plant had been established in Escalante, Negros Occidental.

According to Nelson Cabalu, Adfi’s coordinator on Organic Agriculture and environmental protection, even as the planting areas were only in patches, the total land planted to lemon grass has reached 6.2 hectares. They expect to increase this to 10 ha during the year as membership has also grown from 28 to 42 farmers.

Distilling process

To extract oil from lemon grass, Adfi fabricated a distiller that can process 400 kilos of lemon grass leaves per load. On a rainy day, this can yield an average of 1.5 liters of oil but higher at 1.9 to 2 liters during dry months. It takes 2 to 3 hours to produce the oil doing a very simple process: Hydro steam distillation, condensation and cooling to separate the oil from the water.

The water acquired from this distillation process is called Hydrosol or Hydrolat. As a by-product, it is a pure natural water or plant water essence that contains the same components of the oil but in lower concentrations. This makes the water very suitable in the production of skin care products such as lotions and creams or even as facial cleansing toner in its pure form.

To ensure a steady supply of leaves, farmers have scheduled harvesting. It takes six months to grow the lemon grass but once the leaves are mature for oil extraction, farmers cut the leaves but retain about 15 to 20 centimeters of the plant rooted on the ground so it can grow leaves again. Second cropping can be done after two months.

Fair Trade

According to Moraco, the Adfi practices fair trade thus farmers are paid based on actual oil produced by their leaves. A liter of oil will give a farmer about P1,200.

Adfi develops products from the oil so they can have revenues they can plough back into their programs. Aside from selling organic unadulterated lemon grass oil to industrial users, they also have “Negros Oil” which Adfi’s Enterprise Development Coordinator, Marilyn Celis, says is used in aromatherapy by mixing lemon grass oil with virgin coconut oil.

They also sell Hydrosol to industrial users. Aside from Manila and Cebu, Celis says they also get orders from France and Brussels but hopes that more will get interested in using lemon grass oil for their products.

Last year, the Adfi took part in a Business in Development Challenge (BID Challenge) mounted by the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and won P100,000 as one of the 10 finalists. Their prize money, says Celis, enabled them to develop a new product line out of Hydrosol. The product branded as “Citra Pure” is a hand sanitizer that will soon be out in the market.

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