Trudi Kasselman is passionate about the healing properties of plants. For many years, it was her dream to grow herbs such as lavender and rosemary at her home on Kasselhoft estate, near Leeudoringstad in North West, distil the essential oils, and produce a range of herbal products.
This finally started coming true in 2007 when she and her mother-in-law, Rina Kasselman, following much research and consultation, distilled essential oil from their first harvest of rosemary and lavender. From these beginnings, the enterprise has grown into a sustainable, profitable business.
Rina and her husband, Chris, live on Kasselhoft, while Trudi and her husband, Danie, along with their children, CP and Tehlilla, farm on the adjacent Bona Bona.
The enterprise currently has 10 000 plants of the Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) cultivar, split evenly between the Abriali and Grosso varieties. These are excellent for essential oil production.
“About 4kg of plant material are needed to produce 25ml of essential oil. After distillation, the oil is stored for 25 days before being sent to a laboratory in Gauteng for the production of some of our products,” Trudi explains.
The lavender plants, which are irrigated, require between 300mm and 1 400mm of water per year. They cannot be over-irrigated and the soil has to drain properly between irrigations. Well-drained, light, sandy, loam or gravel soils in full sun are best, and the plants prefer a soil pH of between 5,8 and 8,3.
Kasselhoft has 0,5ha grown to lavendar. The plants are spaced between 30cm and 60cm in the row, and has an inter-row spacing of between 1,2m and 2m.
The crop is drip-irrigated, as overhead irrigation can result in diseases and cause older
plants to rupture. The plants are harvested twice a year when the lower halves of the flowers start to open. To ensure top-quality essential oil, the harvest must be completed within 10 days.
On Kasselhoft, the flowers are harvested by hand, with the flower spikes being cut 15cm to 20cm below the flowers. Once picked, the flowers are dried and the oil is distilled by Chris.
The plant material left over after distillation is used as additional feed for the sheep and nyala on the farm.
According to Rina, lavender essential oil has many proven benefits, which include relieving stress and anxiety, reducing nervous tension, and decreasing pain. It is also used for skin care (helping prevent acne) and hair care (disinfecting the scalp and boosting hair growth). In addition, it enhances blood circulation and reduces respiratory problems.
The Kasselmans have planted nearly 10 000 rosemary bushes, all of the same variety, namely McConnell’s Blue (Rosmarinus officinalis). According to Rina, the crop is hardy and highly adaptable, and occurs in almost all regions of South Africa.
On Kasselhoft, the rosemary is planted in 1,2m-wide beds and spaced between 40cm and 50cm apart in the row. It is grown under rainfed conditions and requires about 500mm of rainfall a year. It needs full sun.
The essential oil is distilled from both the stem and leaves of the plant. Four kilograms of plant material is needed to produce 35ml of distilled oil.
Like lavender oil, rosemary oil contains many beneficial properties. It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal, and aids digestion, circulation and breathing.
In addition to producing essential oil from these two plant species, the Kasselmans buy in rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil from other herb growers in South Africa.
According to Rina, this oil is known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-hypoglycaemic, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Kasselhoft’s products are marketed under the Ruah brand. (The word ruah is Hebrew for ‘the breath of God’ and underpins the owners’ adherence to Christian business principles.)
Rina and Trudi developed their personal care range in conjunction with a laboratory in Gauteng, and all items are based on the essential oils produced on-farm as well as those sourced externally.
In addition to the cosmetic range, they manufacture products such as bath salts, lavender shortbread, herb candles, herb oils and herb vinegar.
To create extra income in the area, they also source handmade items such as crocheted back scrubbers and exfoliating gloves from local rural women. Such is the demand for these products that Rina and Trudi opened a showroom and shop on Kasselhoft in 2008.
“Since we started, Ruah has created job opportunities in our area. Four men are in charge of the herb fields and five women work in the shop and adjacent industrial unit. They’ve acquired skills such as packaging, stock control, managing orders and computer competence,” says Trudi.
The Kasselman team initially marketed their products via social media channels such as Twitter and Pinterest, selling online and exhibiting at various events. Nowadays, most of the products are marketed by a team of agents or ‘Ruah ambassadors’, as Rina and Trudi prefer to call them.
These people, who are carefully selected, are required to adhere strictly to the company’s marketing and business principles to maintain brand values and uniformity. They buy the company’s products at wholesale prices and have to sell them at the retail prices stipulated by Rina and Trudi.
The body product range is used widely in the hospitality industry.
Long-term plans include extending the team of ambassadors from just over 60 to at least 100 and to increase online marketing. Rina and Trudi also have plans to promote the farm shop more vigorously and increase production of handmade herbal soaps.
The Kasselmans’ advice to prospective new entrants in the agriprocessing field is to invest in a strong team of employees with a shared vision, the same ideals, and the same frame of mind.
Trudi also cautions against expanding too rapidly and irresponsibly, saying that it is better to wait for the right opportunities rather than pushing ahead at the wrong time. Meticulous planning, too, is essential.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use existing expertise. And don’t be afraid; sometimes it’s necessary to take a step in the dark. We nevertheless run the business along stringent principles based on sound record-keeping, while staying true to our Biblical beliefs,” she says.