Meet Michael Comte

Cade Wood Picker, South of the Ardèche, France

The Man Who Sources Wild Ardèche Cade

Provence native Michaël Comte helps to protect the lush Ardèche forests and its cade trees by brush clearing – a process which rids the land of fire-spreading smaller vegetation. Instead of selling the brush he collects as firewood, he decided to harness the wood’s precious properties, leading him to provide cade to one of L’Occitane’s distillers.
Learn all about how Michaël became enamoured with this wild and wonderful plant and how he sources the perfect organic ingredients for our cade collection, while protecting the region’s biodiversity.

A family tradition of using cade wood

Michaël grew up in the village of Valvignères in the southern Ardèche, surrounded by the preserved woodland that covers 60 percent of this wild region. The hardy cade tree – with its prickly leaves and rot-proof wood – thrives here. Its branches are sprinkled with small dusky berries which, loved by migratory birds in winter, contribute to the area’s biodiversity.
Cade has been part of Michaël's life since he was young. His family has used it for generations on their grape and sheep farm. He even remembers heading into the forest to gather it with his dad. "As a child, I used to help my father cut cade wood to make vine stakes," Michaël explains. "My grandfather also used the wood to make pens for his ewes."

Harnessing cade wood while protecting the forest

As an adult, Michaël took over part of his father’s unused farm. He cleared the land to prepare it for planting crops and set up a brush clearing business to finance it. He soon began working with the Forestry Commission, clearing brush and protecting the wider forest from fires.
But instead of selling the excess wood as firewood, he looked for an alternative. “It was a shame to let it go to waste,” he says. This is when the idea of distilling the wood chips he collected from the trees was born.

Distilling precious cade essential oils for the first time

As well as having a sumptuous earthy aroma, which is both woody and warm, cade essential oil has beneficial skin-care properties because it's antiseptic, soothing and regulates sebum. Yet there was no market for it back when Michaël first started collecting wood chips from cade trees.
Passionate about promoting this wood so typical of his region, Michaël distilled his chips and offered its essential oil to Philippe Soguel, a distiller in the Drome provençale. Philippe put Michaël in touch with L’Occitane and a new relationship was born. “Our essential oil is now used in the making of cosmetic products for L’Occitane’s men’s range,” Michaël says proudly.

Years in the making, a precious oil is born

Although farmers in Provence have used cade for its aromatic properties for generations – repurposing blocks of it as wardrobe fresheners and burning its sawdust as incense – producing cade essential oil isn't easy. Unlike the other organic ingredients we use, like lavender, verbena and almond, cade trees can't be farmed – they simply spring up naturally throughout the Mediterranean. 
“Cade is a precious essential oil because its wood takes a long time to grow,” Michaël explains. The trees are left to grow naturally and are only cut down when there is a valid purpose – for brush clearing. Using cade for its essential oil is a valorisation of the wood, something which Michaël is very passionate about in order to respect and care for his territory. 

The process behind L'Occitane's cade essential oil

Michaël collects his wood from October to April, when the days are cooler and the air is crisp. He manages the biodiversity of the forest as he clears the underbrush and has signed L’Occitane’s sustainable harvesting charter to show his commitment to environmental sustainability. As part of his work under the charter, he ensures young cade trees are left to grow and old specimens are preserved for reseeding, to protect the ecosystem of this precious tree.
After being gathered, the cade is left to dry for two years before being finely ground. The sawdust is placed in a still, where it takes four hours to extract the opulent oil. It then goes into the still again for another four hours. To fill a still, its takes around 25m3 of cade wood to produce 100 litres of essential oil. “The oil is precious because its production process is long," Michaël explains. "You need patience if you want to get the best cade essential oils."

Celebrating the value in a forgotten plant

While cade often goes to waste during brush clearing, Michaël saw its true value. “Cade trees are no longer used as vine stakes or as firewood, but it now has a new and different purpose," he says. 
It's thanks to Michaël's respect for cade, and his desire to do more with this precious wood, that it now has an important role in both his life and our men's collection. "My family lives on a renovated farm surrounded by many cade trees," he says. "This tree is an integral part of the region, but also part of our daily lives."

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