Woman in a land of immortelle with immortelle flowers bouquet in her hand

Meet Catherine Sanci

Immortelle essential oil Producer Corsica, France

PERSISTENCE, POWER AND THE ART OF DISTILLATION

From wildflower picker to expert distiller

Once a hand-picker of wild immortelle flowers, today Catherine Sanci is one of the leading producers working in partnership with L'OCCITANE. She persisted in carving her own path, harder to do as a woman in Corsica, to eventually hold the secrets of the immortelle flower – along with a powerful role as both grower and distiller. 

From her early years exploring her rugged homeland to holding the status of expert distiller today, this is Catherine's inspiring story of independence, freedom and harnessing the power of immortelle

DISCOVERING HER ISLAND'S TREASURES

Yellow immortelle flowers bouquet and a grass sickle

Catherine's family has always lived in Corsica, and she is truly a woman of the land. As a child she was happiest out in the fresh air, discovering the island’s secrets. Many youthful days were spent strolling along mountain paths with her childhood friend – a naturopath passionate about the unique plant life of Corsica.

For Catherine, this instilled a lifelong intrigue in herbalism. "As [my friend] always treated me with essential oils, I was interested in learning about aromatic plants," she explains.

Woman in a land with a bouquet of yellow immortelle flowers

Sharing ancient Corsican wisdom

In 2008, Catherine met a homegrown immortelle producer and started her lifelong relationship with the flower. She started to learn the best ways to pluck the vibrant yellow blooms that carpet the island every summer.

"I had to understand how the plant grew and its different flowering stages, learn how to handle a sickle and to work out how much and when to harvest. My job as a picker followed the life of this flower: I got up at 4am to pick flowers around my area and I carried them in canvas bags before delivering them to a distiller.

Immortelle flowers on an old essential oil still

Learning to distil with a Corsican mentor

Catherine wanted to have control of every step of the process, from planting the immortelle seeds to learning the secrets of distilling the precious oil after harvest. She found a mentor, a 65-year-old retired immortelle distiller, who felt he’d reached the time in his life to pass on his skills to a trusted protégé. He slowly revealed the magic of distillation, which Catherine discovered is a “moving and enriching” experience. She adores the process of working with and learning about the aromatic plants – which Catherine says have a different scent depending on when you pick them – before crafting a unique batch of essential oil.

ENCOURAGING INDEPENDENCE

Animated logo showing a producer grabing corn and with the slogan Supporting producers

After opening her first distillery in 2013, Catherine's friend and fellow producer Stephan Francisci encouraged her to meet with L'OCCITANE. A little uncertain at first, the fiercely independent producer – who only distills flowers she’s grown herself – initially agreed to a one-year partnership.

During these 12 months, with the L'OCCITANE team helping out whenever she encountered new problems and giving her space to be independent, it became clear that the collaboration would thrive.

After establishing a relationship based on trust, Catherine agreed to a long-term partnership that she felt was truly genuine. "I feel free but supported at the same time," she says.

A WOMAN OF PASSION AND CHARACTER

Woman cutting down immortelle flowers with a grass sickle in a land

It took Catherine just five years from her first wildflower-picking expedition to become an expert distiller and independent immortelle farmer. Never one to shy away from intricate work and new experiences, she remembers the words of her father – "If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well."

She also attributes her success to falling in love with her job. "You can climb mountains when you're passionate about what you do," Catherine explains.

So what does the future hold? "Now I’ve mastered distillation but I still have the desire to discover plants I don’t know," she muses. "It's been an adventure beyond my wildest dreams!"

Products inspired by the Immortelle flower