An oil is “essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant.

Essential oils do not, as a group, need to have any specific chemical properties in common, beyond conveying characteristic aromas. They are extracted from flowers, grasses, stems, seeds, leaves, roots, bark, fruit, moss and tree secretions using various means including distillation, expression, extraction, enfleurage, maceration and head space technology. They are used by the flavour and fragrance industry to create, and then manufacture, flavourings for food and beverages, and perfume compounds for cosmetics, household products and fine fragrances, amongst other items.

Source: Michael Gristwood, SAAFFI;; NEDLAC / Fridge report (details under "Websites & publications" heading)


International business environment

Find updates at, website of the International Trade Centre.

  • The global essential oils market was valued at US$ 7.4 Bn in 2017 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9% from 2018 to 2024 (Market Envision, 2018).
  • Brazil, China, the USA, Egypt, India, Mexico, Guatemala, Morocco and Indonesia are the major producers of essential oils.
  • The EU dominates world trade but no single country here is a major producer.
  • About 65% of world production comes from developing countries.
Source: Market Envision, 2018; A Profile of the South African Essential Oils Market Value Chain 2015 (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – DALRRD).


South Africa: exports and imports

The A Profile of the South African Essential Oils Market Value Chain looks at which countries South Africa trades with and tariffs and issues involved.


Some international websites

Local business environment

The annual A Profile of the South African Essential Oils Market Value Chain (see “Websites & publications” heading) provides a useful overview of what happens in the essential oils sector. Production, processing and trade are looked at.

  • South Africa has the potential to be a major supplier of certain essential oils, such as rosemary, lemon grass, lavender, lemon balm and rose geranium. The eucalyptus oil sector is some 80 years old and is largely self-sufficient and established. Others, like geranium, lavender and chamomile are relatively new.
  • The essential oil industry is driven by two main factors: commercial farmers seeking alternative high value crops to diversify risk and increase profitability; and rural communities, Government and NGO’s seeking high value crops that can be produced on a co-operative basis thereby creating jobs in economically depressed rural areas.
  • The South African essential oils industry comprises over 80 small commercial producers of which fewer than 20% are regular producers. Most oil production is Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape (SAEOPA, 2014).

The Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) writes on its website that although producers have left the industry because of various agricultural and marketing issues, “There is currently a renewed demand for essential and cold pressed oils and South Africa cannot produce enough to even fill our own demands. The future of essential oil production from a producer’s viewpoint was never better than now”. SAEOPA offers to present information on essential oil farming to interested farmer study groups.

Indigenous essential oils

  • Rural communities often wild harvest indigenous plants, either on their own land or that of a commercial farmer.
  • The exploitation of this indigenous plant material holds some interest for rural development, and a number of new cultivation projects are underway, with the aim of ensuring long term sustainability of these industries and enabling rural communities to create wealth from indigenous knowledge. The Western Cape, for example, is promoting the cultivation of Buchu (Agathosma sp.)
  • Other promising indigenous oils are: Artemisia afra. Leonotis leonurus, Eriocephalus sp., Lippia sp., Salvia sp., Helichrysum sp., Cymbopogon validus, Coleonema sp., Tarchonanthus camphoratus, Arthrixia sp.

For more information on the market trends contact the Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) (see “Associations involved” heading). The Indigenous Plant Use Forum (IPUF) is a useful place to engage with what research is happening on plants and their properties.

For the newcomer

Various essential oils have been used medicinally at different periods in history. Medical applications proposed by those who sell medicinal oils range from skin treatments to remedies for cancer, and are often based on historical use of the oils for these purposes. Such claims are now subject to regulation in most countries, and have grown correspondingly more vague, to stay within these regulations.

Interest in essential oils has revived in recent decades, with the popularity of aromatherapy, a branch of alternative medicine which claims that the specific aromas carried by essential oils have curative effects. Oils are volatilised or diluted in a carrier oil and used in massage, or burned as incense, for example.

Carrier oil, also known as base oil or vegetable oil, is used to dilute essential oils before they are applied to the skin. They are so named because they carry the essential oil onto the skin. Carrier oils do not contain a concentrated aroma, unlike essential oils, nor do they evaporate like them. There are a range of different carrier oils each with their own individual properties and suitability towards different treatments in aromatherapy. Infused oils are a combination of a carrier oil and various herbs. True carrier oils are generally cold-pressed vegetable oils such as: Sweet almond, grape seed, avocado, olive oil, sesame, evening primrose, sunflower and Jojoba oil.

Source: Michael Gristwood, SAAFFI;; NEDLAC / Fridge report (details under "Websites & publications" heading)
Sector Segments Essential oils
Cosmetic Personal care

Soap and detergent

Dental care








Eucalyptus and derivatives

Food industry Soft drink




Processed and canned products

Chewing gum


Spice oleoresins


Flavour and floral oils



 Pharmaceutical industry Homeopathy

Health-care products







Source: Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) as cited by DALRRD in its A Profile of the South African Essential Oils Market Value Chain (see "Websites & publications" heading)

Find the excellent introduction to essential oils and user notes in Dr Axe’s The King’s Medicine Cabinet. Download the eBook for free (see “Websites & publications” heading)


  • A wide range of producers grow essential oil crops – farmers both commercial and emerging, farmers looking for alternative crops, co-operative farmers and community projects, as well as the cottage industry. The technologies for extracting and distilling the oils are reasonably easy to access and operate.
  • One of the most important aspects is marketing intelligence – before planting, find out what the buyer wants in terms of quality and quantity. This determines what to plant, how much and also what type of distillation is going to be used. This is a growing market, but it can be a risky business if all aspects of the market requirement are not taken into account.
  • Also important is weed control and management. Your essential oil product will be compromised if weeds are harvested and distilled with the crop.
  • Use essential oils to create products such as creams, bath salts, candles, potpourri and gifts. Attracting tourists is a further form of income.

Find the publications available from DALRRD under the last heading.

Role players specific to newcomers

  • African Rose Tel: 012 841 4027 Although the Company provides technical support and other consulting services to commercial farmers, its primary focus is that of small and emerging farmer development and support.
  • Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP) Tel: 021 808 2918 ASNAPP is a non-profit organisation that helps create and develop successful African agribusinesses in the natural plant products sector.
  • BioAfrica Tel: 073 639 5576 BioAfrica works with farmers and communities who have sufficient land to grow, harvest and produce sufficient essential oil.
  • Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Enterprise Creation for Development Unit Tel: 012 841 2911 The CSIR are involved in projects, especially when this involves rural development projects. Refer to Dr Marthinus Horak’s presentation under the “Websites & publications” heading.
  • Find details for the Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) under the “Associations involved” heading.
  • Scatters Oils Tel: 011 792 2902 Works “from grassroots levels with our farmers and we work hand-in-hand to develop sustainable commercial supply of high quality essential oils. With years of experience we are able to help new and existing farmers with prospective and existing crops”.
  • SEOBI – South African Essential oils Business Incubator Tel: 012 808 3061 Seobi is a company not-for-gain that establishes and supports sustainable SMMEs in the essential oils industry

Various municipalities and provincial development agencies have supported essential oil crop interventions to encourage economic activity in rural communities. The Sarah Baartman District Community and Amathole Economic Development Agency are examples.

National strategy and government contact

Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic)

Representatives of SAEOPA have attended various trade missions sponsored by the dtic. These trade missions are largely considered to have been successful with the prospect of orders being placed. However, in the process, SAEOPA identified several issues that need to be addressed in order to secure market access: (i) The need to consolidate production in order to supply sufficient quantities with consistency. The volumes are required in order to get serious international attention. (ii) The need to have basic testing facilities (e.g. Gas Chromatograph) in order to test oils and to be able to give assurances with regards to quality and characteristics.

Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology (DHEST)

The DHEST is periodically involved in essential oil production. Its interest in the industry is largely channelled through initiatives like the work of the CSIR (in particularly community projects); the SA Essential Oils Business Incubator; the work of the Institute for Natural Resources (at the University of KwaZulu-Natal University); and the chemical sector incubator (Chemin) situated in Port Elizabeth.

Hi Hanyile Essential Oils Enterprise Tel: 083 245 3894


The then DST and Department of Trade and industry-affiliated SA Essential Oils Business Incubator were engaged in assisting Hi Hanyile to transition into a business by providing incubation services, quality assurance skills and services, and market linkages. It supplies wild ginger, Monsonia, Rose Geranium and Lippie Javancia. Watch “An early Christmas for Hi Hanyile Essential Oils and Medicinal Oils Project” on YouTube.

The Department of Health is the governmental body that has ultimate responsibility for this country’s food laws. Visit

Western Cape Department of Agriculture Directorate: Farmer Support Services Mr J Aries – 021 808 5199, Mr W Burger – 044 803 3713

Associations involved

  • Aroma SA
  • Cosmetic Export Council of South Africa
  • Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association of South Africa
  • The Allied Health Professions Council
  • South African Association of the Flavour & Fragrance Industry (SAAFFI) SAAFFI is a Member of the International Organisation of the Flavour Industry (IOFI) and the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the two international organisations that deal with many aspects of Flavours and Fragrances respectively on a global level.
  • Southern African Essential Oil Producers Association (SAEOPA) Tel: 082 081 6077 SAEOPA is an advisor on new, medicinal plant crops and essential oils for market trends, production, packaging, quality control and value adding. SAEOPA offers networking and a data base for plant material, nurseries, distillation and marketing. Mobile distillation units for the extraction of essential oils from herbaceous materials are researched, especially for where electricity and water are not available. These are sized for supporting ‘small’ commercial growers.The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) has been assisting the SAEOPA in 2019 with a conference and new website.

Training and research

See also the “Herbs and spices” page.

  • ARC-Agricultural Engineering (ARC-AE) Tel: 012 842 4000 / 17 britzpj [at] Mobile units for essential oil distilling
  • ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops (ARC-TSC) Rosemary Du Preez Tel: 013 753 7000/ 073 252 7675 rosedup [at] Support given to SEDA-funded essential oil projects.
  • ASNAPP South Africa (Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products) Tel: 021 808 2918 / 20
  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology AgriFood Station Tel: 021 953 8615 agrifood [at]
  • Research done by companies (like Biomix, Agri Farm Development and Buchumoon) is company-specific. Training and agricultural advice is also provided for farmers who will be growing alternative and industrial crops for them. Find their details under heading 9.
  • CSIR Tel: 012 841 2911 Historically, the CSIR has had the most experience (out of all role players) with the essential oils sector in South Africa. It retains an interest where essential oil production is undertaken by rural communities. Work has been done on a wide range of oils, including geranium, chamomile, lavender, peppermint and lemongrass.
  • Elgin Learning Foundation Tel: 021 848 9413
  • FoodBev SETA Tel: 011 253 7300 FoodBev is the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) responsible for facilitating education and training in the food and beverages manufacturing sector. Find a list of accredited training providers on the website.
  • KARWIL Consultancy c/o SAEOPA Research, training is done. Agricultural advice is given for SAEOPA. They develop training materials and business plans for the industry.
  • KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Tel: 033 355 9156 Dr Maria de Figueiredo figueiredo [at] Sheryllyn Moodley sherryllyn.moodley [at] Bongani Mngomezulu bongani.mngomezulu [at] KwaZulu-Natal is characterised by a great climatic diversity enabling the growth of a variety of essential oils. The results of research is conveyed to farmers by email, telephone, reports, farm visits and in-office consultations.
  • The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) released a study on essential oil industry in 2011. Visit
  • OABS Ken Bern Tel: 087 095 2108
  • Pico-Gro Tel: 011 314 1029 Training is done for private individuals, extension officers, emerging farmers and companies.
  • SAAFFI, together with the University of Johannesburg, has designed a B Tech Diploma Course, focusing on many aspects of the Flavour and Fragrance Industry. The course is structured in block format and includes lectures and practical laboratory work. SAAFFI also runs short training courses of less than one day on very specific subjects related to the work of the Flavour and Fragrance Industry. These are announced through its newsletter, details of which can be found on the website:
  • Stellenbosch University Food Science Tel: 021 808 3578
  • South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Tel: 012 843 5000 For information regarding South African flora and biomes …
  • Tshwane University of Technology Prof AM Viljoen Tel: 012 382 6360 viljoenam [at] Essential Oils research: South Africa is a “global epicenter for research on aromatic plants”.
  • University of Fort Hare The Plant Sciences Research Unit Tel: 040 602 2232 The Plant Sciences Research Unit is actively involved in community development projects
  • University of the Free State Dept. of Microbial, Biochemical & Food Biotechnology Tel: 051 401 2219
  • University of Johannesburg (UJ) Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology dmetcalfe [at]
  • University of Pretoria Department of Food Science Tel: 012 420 3202 / 38 [at]
  • University of the Witwatersrand Pharmacy and Pharmacology Tel: 011 717 2175/57 Sandy.vanvuuren [at] Included in Prof van Vuuren’s expertise is “essential oil composition and antimicrobial efficacy”
  • Western Cape Department of Agriculture Outeniqua Research Farm Tel: 044 803 3706

Companies involved

Find the list of SAAFFI members on, some of whom are included below:

  • African Alternative Technologies Tel: 084 941 3993 Advice on essential oil farming & production
  • African Rose Oil Trading Tel: 012 841 4027 Technical support and services mostly to small and emerging farmers
  • AFRIPLEX Tel: 021 872 4976 Manufacturer of natural products
  • Agri Farm Development wim [at] Trainer and advisor for all crops including alternative crops like essential oils and medicinal plants
  • Amathole Economic Development Agency Tel: 043 721 2070 Essential oil projects
  • Aromatech Flavours Tel: 010 010 6174 Manufacturer of snack food seasonings
  • Aromatic Essential Oils Tel: 011 880 0344 Flavours manufactured for the food and allied industries
  • Bidfood Technologies (Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 201 9000 Raw material and spice supplier to the food industry
  • BioAfrica Tel: 073 639 5576 Contracts farmers to grow essential oil crops
  • Buchu Moon Tel/fax: 021 864 3317 Nursery and production advice to all interested producers.
  • Burgess & Finch Tel: 021 900 2500 Aromatherapy products
  • Burpak Da Gama Avocado Oils Tel: 083 263 4899 Avocado and macadamia oils
  • Busby Natural Oils Pure, natural eucalyptus oil
  • CapeNature Tel: 021 483 0000 Authorities in “Indigenous Essential oils” activities (see heading earlier in this chapter)
  • CJP Chemicals Tel: 011 494 6700 Supplier of raw materials to the Flavour, Fragrance, Cosmetic, Food and Pharma Industries
  • Claman (Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 704 5298 Marketing of Robertet Fragrances to the cosmetic, toiletry and household industries
  • Clive Teubes (Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 792 4451 Manufacturer of raw materials for the flavour and fragrance industry
  • Creative Flavors International (Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 760 1830 Manufacturer of flavours for the food and drink industries
  • Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) Tel: 043 704 5600 Co-funders of the essential oil projects
  • Ecoproducts Tel: 079 392 6072 Baobab oil
  • EDESA (Essential Distillation Equipment South Africa) Tel: 082 515 7103 “Custom-built distillation systems for the global essential oil industry”
  • Essentia Products Wholesale supplier of essential oils and carrier oils
  • Essential Amathole Tel: 045 962 1094 Produces a range of organic essential oils and medicinal plant extracts for the global market
  • Essential Harmony Tel: 016 366 7106 Essential oils, vegetable oils and base products (e.g. Shea butter, beeswax, soy wax)
  • Essential Oils Tel: 012 361 2112 A web-based business dealing in pure, unadulterated essential oils
  • Essentially Natural Tel: 076 905 6154 “Secure online shopping”
  • Faithful to Nature Tel: 021 785 3268 The online organic shop supplies essential oils
  • Firmenich (Pty) Ltd Manufacturer of flavours and fragrances to industry
  • Foodspec Co (Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 793 1333 Supplier of food Ingredients and food manufacturing equipment
  • Fruitarom Tel: 011 974 7822 Flavour and fragrance ingredients
  • Herbs-Aplenty Tel: 082 338 5550 A farm-based company. Organic products for the medicinal, cosmetic and food industries
  • Highland Essential Oils Tel: 083 303 8253 Essential oil farmers. Organic and Global GAP certified
  • House of Isis Tel: 011 447 2349 Essential oils, base oils and potpourri oils
  • Icy Herbs Grow, freeze and export herbs
  • Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) Food, Beverages & Agro Industries Tel: 0860 693 888 The IDC has identified the essential oil industry as significant contributor to job creating, higher value agriculture.
  • International Flavors & Fragrances (SA)(Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 922 8800 Manufacturer of flavours and fragrances to Industry
  • John F Marshall Tel: 011 842 7100 Equipment: cold press oil extraction systems
  • Kai-Uru Grape Seed Oil Tel: 073 274 2839 Kai-uru [at] Producer of cold pressed grape seed oil and other grape seed products
  • Lavender Farm Tel: 028 512 3476 A farm-based company supplying lavender oils and other products
  • Maccallum & Associates SA (Pty) Ltd Tel: 031 267 1226 Importer of ingredients for the food industry
  • MT Global Traders Source and supply oils
  • Mystic Mountain Tel: 083 953 8010 Essential oils, carrier oils and body butters
  • Nautica Organic Trading Tel : 031 562 0601 Organic and conventional cold pressed, refined and essential oils
  • Nicola-J Flavours & Fragrances Tel: 011 315 6582 Flavours, fragrances and food colours
  • Parceval Pharmaceuticals Tel: 021 873 3895 Herbal pharaceuticals. An organic farm cultivates “over 100 varieties of medicinal plants”
  • Pico-Gro Tel: 011 314 1029 Bulk herbs and essential oil production
  • Precision Oils Laboratories Tel: 015 307 7208
  • Qobo Qobo Essential Oils
  • Ruah Producer and manufacturer of range of essential oil products
  • Sallamander Concepts t/a Esoteric Oils Tel: 021 591 1944
  • Scatters Oils Tel: 011 792 2902 A premier exporter of organic and natural essential oils from Africa
  • Sensetek Tel: 011 608 4944 Supplier of “fragrant oils, flavour oils and essential oils”
  • SEOBI – South African Essential oils Business Incubator Tel: 012 808 3061 Seobi is a company not-for-gain that establishes and supports sustainable SMMEs in the essential oils industry
  • Sharon Bolel Chemical Marketing – see CJP Chemicals
  • SOGA Organic Tel: 042 230 1376 Organic Citrus Processing
  • SOIL Tel: 035 340 7008 Organic production and supply of essential oils
  • Still Pure Tel: 082 407 3858
  • Sunspray Food Ingredients (Pty) Ltd Tel: 011 473 6800 Citrus oil concentrates and other food ingredients
  • Talborne Organics Tel: 013 933 3172 Involved in ARC and CSIR herbs for essential oils and employment projects
  • The Lavender Company Tel: 033 234 4741 Cell: 082 825 9243 Producer and Manufacturer of range of essential oil products
  • Umuthi Botanicals Tel: 044 877 0320

Chain stores like Clicks and Diskem stock essential oils.

Websites and publications

See also this heading on the “Herbs and Spices” page.



Visit the websites mentioned earlier in this chapter.



  • Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] for the following publications, available from ARC-Agricultural Engineering: (i) Oil processing in South Africa (ii) Oil seed processing using the ram press (iii) The extraction of essential oils from herbaceous materials by steam distillation.
  • Download The King’s Medicine Cabinet: Essential Oil Uses, Cures and Recipes for Healing, an eBook by Dr Josh Axe on the Internet.
  • The Food & Beverage Reporter often has articles of relevance for this sector: news or articles e.g. adding value to products with flavours and fragrances. Visit
  • Weiss, E.A. 1996. Essential Oil Crops. Wallingford, UK: CAB International. ISBN 0851991378
  • Wilson, R. 2002. Aromatherapy: Essential Oils for Vibrant Health and Beauty. This book covers the extraction of Essential oils.
  • Lawless, J. 2013. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Aromatic Oils in Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health and Well Being. San Francisco: Conari Press.
  • At find publications like Oil Processing (Practical Action Publishing) and The Manual Screw Press for Small-Scale Oil Extraction (Potts, K.H. & MacHell, K.)
  • Find a list of publications on medicinal, aromatic, spices and herbs crops on the New Crop Resource Online Programme at Purdue University –



Bizsolutions has an excellent set of interactive computer-based programmes dealing with various aspects of essential oils. These are available from ‘bizsolutions’ by contacting them by email (bizsolutions [at] or telephone (011 447 2757).

  • The Encyclopaedia of Natural Raw Materials programme covers 282 Essential Oils, giving a description of each, the history, cultivation details, different names and photographs.
  • The Universal Aromatherapy Encyclopaedia covers 262 Essential Oils, giving a description of each, the history, different names and photographs. The programme gives indications for the use of the essential oil in aromatherapy as well as its properties and precautions before use. For each Essential Oil, details of the composition are given. The programme has the facility to record personal notes, add photographs and to print off personalised Safety Data Sheets. The search criteria include: Botanical name, Vernacular, Synonyms, Chemotypes, Properties, Indications, Precautions and Molecules.
  • The Encyclopaedia of Natural Raw Materials for Cosmetology covers over 200 Botanicals, giving a description of each, the history, different names and photographs. The programme gives indications for the use of the botanical as well as its properties and precautions before use. For each Botanical, details of its composition are given. The programme has the facility to record personal notes, add photographs and to print off personalised Safety Data Sheets. There is a complete section on formulating cosmetic products, in which one’s own formulation can be captured. The search criteria include: Botanical name, Vernacular, Synonyms, Chemotypes, Properties, Indications, Precautions and Molecules.


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