Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik September 27, 2016 - 2:30 pm

Tundra harvests make dollars and scents for Kuujjuaq producers

"We couldn’t afford to use it so we decided to produce it"

SARAH ROGERS
Jaanimmarik high school students pick Labrador Tea from the land outside of Kuujjuaq. An Independent Learning Path class has been producing essential oil from the piney, citrus-scented plant. (PHOTO COURTESY OF S. CHENARD)
Jaanimmarik high school students pick Labrador Tea from the land outside of Kuujjuaq. An Independent Learning Path class has been producing essential oil from the piney, citrus-scented plant. (PHOTO COURTESY OF S. CHENARD)
Kuujjuaq youth prepare their harvested spruce boughs for distilling during a March 2016 workshop. (PHOTO COURTESY OF S. CHENARD)
Kuujjuaq youth prepare their harvested spruce boughs for distilling during a March 2016 workshop. (PHOTO COURTESY OF S. CHENARD)
Without a dedicated facility, teacher Suzanne Chénard set up the distilling equipment at her own home, where students come to process the Labrador tea and black spruce. (PHOTO BY S. CHENARD)
Without a dedicated facility, teacher Suzanne Chénard set up the distilling equipment at her own home, where students come to process the Labrador tea and black spruce. (PHOTO BY S. CHENARD)
The final product: the Girls project is now using their essential oil to scent homemade soaps, body creams and lip balm. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
The final product: the Girls project is now using their essential oil to scent homemade soaps, body creams and lip balm. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

KUUJJUAQ—Emina Gordon, 14, like many Nunavimmiut, grew up picking berries in the late summer and fall around her home community of Kuujjuaq.

There’s one plant, however, that Gordon had never picked before, until this year: Labrador tea, a hearty and fragrant shrub that covers the tundra.

But the amount of Labrador tea she’s picked this year alone should make up for it.

Gordon, an Independent Learning Path student at Jaanimmarik high school, takes part in the “Girls Project,” the first Nunavik producers of locally-sourced essential oils.

The project began out of necessity—the essential oils the girls needed to scent their handmade soaps was too expensive.

You might have heard of this group before; in 2014, the same class launched a social enterprise called the Uvvautik soap factory, making a variety of scented handmade soaps for sale to the community and through Nunavik Creations.

When essential oils provided to be a pricey ingredient, the girls’ teacher, Suzanne Chénard, couldn’t help but wonder if the tundra would provide some of what the group needed.

“The lowest price we could find for a five-millilitre vial of Labrador tea essential oil was $32,” Chénard said. “It’s so expensive. We couldn’t afford to use it, so we decided to produce it.”

Chénard and her students set out to pick Labrador tea—and lots of it. The group did its first distillation with 27 pounds of the piney and citrus-scented plant. The girls also harvested local black spruce needles.

With it, they produced 57 millilitres of essential oil.

“So how many five-millilitre containers does that work out to, and for what price?” Chénard asks, using the opportunity to encourage her students to use math.

Gordon wrinkles her brow in thought, and then responds: 11 vials. With a total worth of about $350.

To produce the first batch of oil, Chénard invited a southern Quebec-based essential oil producer to Kuujjuaq last March.

The producer ran a local workshop, guiding Chénard and her students through the process of distilling both Labrador tea and black spruce.

Not only are the girls proud to produce a locally-harvested product, Chénard touts the medical and nutritional benefits of both plants.

Black spruce is known to release blockages and open the respiratory system, while Labrador tea has long been used as a tonic for liver and kidney disorders as well as a topical ointment for skin problems.

The group doesn’t have its own distilling facility just yet. Chénard has the equipment set up in the covered porch at her home, where she hosts her students when they’re ready to distill.

The equipment must be heated with propane gas, which the group gets at a discounted rate from a local distributer.

With the new scents, the Girls Project has been able to expand its offerings: in addition to soap, the group makes body creams and lip balms.

But Gordon says her favourite product remains the Labrador tea-scented soap.

Nunavik Creations has approached the group to sell its new products, and they’re available for sale to the general public by contacting Jaanimmarik school.

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