Mosses, from Macedonia to Lozere

Mosses, from Macedonia to Lozere

Mosses, essential ingredients in perfumery

If it is correct to talk about « mosses » with a perfumer, a botanist prefers the term lichen. In perfumery, the large family of mosses is composed of the extracts of these small and discrete plants.
The extraction of moss has existed since the 15th century when it was used for perfuming gloves and wardrobe interiors. It is more so however, within modern perfumery and particularly “fougere accords” and the “chypre accords” introduced by the famous Chypre created by François Coty in 1917, that moss attained its nobility. It became essential in “chypre bases” and indispensable for woody masculine notes.
These lichens exist all over the Mediterranean region and in the Balkans. Their harvest reached its peak in the 20th century with several thousand tons. The industry developed a wide range of extracts from concretes to resins, absolutes to molecular distillations, all of which were adapted for a large variety of uses.
Since 1991, IFRA (The International Fragrance Association) has recommended the reduction in the use of these extracts due to the presence of potentially allergen constituents. Its consumption has dramatically declined in the last 20 years, leaving perfumers with only pale synthetic alternatives.

Since 1988, Biolandes has been extracting mosses in its factories in France, Morocco and Bulgaria. Today, thanks to the work of its researchers, Biolandes manufactures a wide range of pure and natural products adapted to IFRA’s recommendations, in order to continue supplying perfumers with these exceptional extracts.
We offer you a journey of discovery across the universe of mosses, landscapes, men and women who have carried on this threatened tradition.

Lichen for Perfumery

Although we commonly use the word moss, the term is incorrect because it is actually lichen, a discrete association of fungus and algae. These small plants attach themselves to the bark of trees.

Two lichens

There are two main lichens used in perfumery, Evernia prunastri, called “oakmoss” which is picked from the trunk of young oaks in Macedonia and Evernia furfuracea, called “treemoss” which attaches itself to the branches of Scots pines and which we harvest on the Lozere plateau.

Landscapes of preserved mountains, In France, Lozère...

Cold winters, wet springs, hot summers, altitude and especially pure air are the necessary conditions for lichens to develop.
We find these ideal conditions in Lozere, or more precisely in the Margeride area, where peaks covered in forests of Scots pines reach an altitude of between 900 and 1000 m. It is the favourite hide out for treemoss.

... And in Macedonia

To the west of Macedonia, in the Samokov region, there are vast mountain expanses whose slopes are exposed to the humidity of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean sun. It is the ideal land for growing oaks whose branches are covered with moss, until recently known as “yougo moss”.

Men and women together for the harvest. In Lozère ...

His name is José and hers is Maria. They were born in Portugal but just so happened to end up living in Lozere. It is Saturday morning the “moss day” because during the week they work at the factory. They have to start working at dawn because there is a lot to do.

... In Macedonia

At the exact same moment and a few thousand kilometers from Lozere, Dragan is already working with his family.
The objective is the same, to pick the most moss possible.

Two different techniques : in Lozère, lichen and a little wood

In Lozere, Evernia furfuracea grows onto dead branches of Scots pines. José climbs the tree like a real acrobat and uses his sickle to cut the branches covered in lichen, while Maria picks this treasure up from the ground. Together they need a whole day of hard labour to pick 400 Kg of this precious load made up of a mixture of lichen and small branches.

In Macedonia, only lichen

In Macedonia, Dragan and his family have already been picking for more than two hours. Evernia prunastri proliferates on the trunks and branches of the oaks. It is necessary to climb up the trees, scrape the trunks and scratch the branches to collect the precious lichen. If any wood or bark falls on the ground it has to be immediately removed so as not to change the quality of the oakmoss. The best pickers will collect 10 Kg of moss by the end of the day.

The collection

The day is coming to an end and it is time to go home. The pickers gather together and compare their harvest while enjoying a relaxing moment.

On the way to the collection centre

This is the moment when the collector, an indispensable intermediary in the moss trade, appears on the scene. He goes from village to village, from one collection point to another, to collect bags representing several days work, with his lorry. He is the one who controls the quality, who pays and organizes the harvest according to the demands of the extraction factories.

Traditional pressing. In Macedonia ...

The lichen is pressed into a ball at the collection centre, so that there is less volume to transport to the extraction factories. It is an extra necessary step in the process which is still carried out in a traditional way in Macedonia.

... In Lozere

The method is just as traditional in Lozere, and the pressing trade is passed down from father to son as with the Cellier family.

From lichen to the extract

On the way to the extraction factories…

First step in extraction, plant hydrolysis

At the factory, the men undo the moss balls to put them into the extractor. The moss is then wet and heated using steam. It is this indispensable step, hydrolysis, which generates the powerful and tenacious fragrant molecules which are characteristic of moss.

An extraction night and day

The extractors are filled with damp moss. The extraction can begin and will last about twelve hours time during which the lichens will release their complex substances.

A large number of procedures for a multitude of products

Over the years, a great number of derivatives have been developed from the primary extract, for specific uses.
Among them are the traditional absolutes, obtained by a hot extraction method, which release notes of damp undergrowth with smoky facets or absolutes known as “Sylvestris absolute”, developed by cold extraction, which possess a fresh and marine odor.

The regulations are becoming stricter and stricter

Mosses are slowly disappearing from the perfumer’s palette. This is because of certain natural constituents present in lichen which cause allergic reactions to a few people prone to allergies.
In 30 years, the collection of lichen has been divided by 5.

Mosses irreducibles

Thanks to work carried out by research teams, Biolandes has developed innovative processes which reduce the concentration of allergen molecules to trace amounts without changing the olfactive properties of the mosses.
This range of pure and natural extracts is consistent with IFRA’s recommendations.

The future...

The regulations could become even stricter and reduce once again the use of these indispensable extracts. We are keeping hopeful and have confidence that the legislators will take reasonable measures which do not create problems for the pickers, perfumers and consumers.

The moss in Perfumery : the plant, origins and harvest

There are 2 main species of lichen used in perfumery:
Evernia prunastri which grows on young oaks and is the oakmoss traditionally picked in Macedonia and also Morocco.
Evernia furfuracea which grows on Scots pines in Lozere and is called treemoss. This lichen can also be found on the branches of cedar trees in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It is also called cedarmoss.
The resource is overabundant and its exploitation does not alter the biodiversity. These lichens are not a threaten species and picking them provides many people living in these rural areas with work.

Oakmoss: this is the most important today and an estimated 500 t are produced in Macedonia. The production is virtually inexistent in Morocco.
Treemoss: the production is estimated at roughly 150 t per year and is constantly decreasing.
Cedarmoss: it is not regularly picked and its use is more marginal. It is less powerful than treemoss and has been used as a cheap alternative for a long time.

The moss in Perfumery : yield and products, Biolandes

Roughly 100 Kg of lichen is required to produce 1 Kg of traditional oakmoss or treemoss absolute. Treatments carried out to reduce the quantity of allergens reduce the yield even more. In the world market, the total amount of absolute from moss extract is estimated at around 10 t per year.

Since its creation, Biolandes has been manufacturing moss extracts:
its oakmoss concretes are produced in its Zimnitsa factory in Bulgaria, due to the proximity to Macedonia.
Treemoss concretes are produced in its Valréas factory in France.
Cedar and Moroccan oakmoss concretes are produced in its El Kelaa factory in Morocco.
All the concretes are transformed into absolute in Le Sen in the Landes region of France.