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Grow Crops For Essential Oils, Earn Handsomely

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By Joshua Kato

The cosmetics sector in Uganda has been growing in the last few years. Large and small cosmetics processing units have been set up. Additionally, several herbal medicines processing have set up shop. All these require essential oils that are used to produce and mix these cosmetics and medicines. Processors need oils from herbs like rosemary, thyme, mint, aloevera, lemon balm, geranium, lavender, straw berries, mujaja and eucalyptus.

“Growing these weeds is not so easy, but not so difficult because there are already farmers who have specialized in growing them. All that they need is water during the dry season,” Abel Kato, a farmer and processor of essential oils in Sissa, Wakiso district, says.

On the market, a litre of oil from rosemary between sh800,000 and sh900,000. Smaller packages of 10mls cost as much as sh25,000. Interestingly, farmers who are now growing them say there is not so much different from growing other crops. The difference is that these are herbs and not edible crops. Some of these farmers have also got seedlings for the herbs at as low as sh1,000.


It has a nice aroma too. Rosemary is a multi-purpose plant.

“It can be used as a spice for both tea and food, it can be used in cosmetics, it can be used as a medicine,” Kato says.

Other names for the weed include compass weed and compass plant.

Although originally grown along the Mediterranean coast, it has since spread across the globe. Among others, it is used as a spice for food, as an anti-oxidant, an antiseptic, a food preservative, in cosmetics, helps boost memory and its oil is essential in aromatherapy sessions. It can be planted through several ways including as a seed, cuttings or division of roots. It takes 9 months to mature.

The oil is extracted through steam distillation. You need a boiler to complete the process. Put the dried leaves in a boiler then the steam goes through a ring of pipes before it is collected at the end. It is this steam that turns into oil,” he says. Alternatively, rosemary can be simply dried, cut to small pieces and used as a tea or coffee spice. It can also be pounded into  powder which is mixed with tea of food before it is consumed.    


 Peppermint herb has also got its origins from Europe and the Middle East.  This is used for a variety of elements including in processing cough mixtures. It can flourish in mainly moist situations. This can be grown in most parts of Uganda especially those that receive regular rain. But if a person is growing it on a small scale, he can even water it to thrive.s. It is propagated by seedlings and it takes six months to maturity.

Peppermint contains several elements including menthol, it is used in ice-cream, chewing gum, confectionaries, toothpaste, shampoo, soaps and skin care products. It is also said to enhance memory. To process oil out of it, Kato puts it in a boiler and then collects the steam water at the end of the system. Pepper mint can alternative be dried and either pounded into powder or cut to small particles that can be used in tea or warm water.    


This one has also got its origins in Europe too. It grows in hot sunny conditions on well drained soils. It can be propagated through cuttings or divided root sections.  A little kitchen manure can be added during planting.  Thyme is used in aromatherapy, as an antiseptic, in mouth washes, as a sanitiser etc.

They need water regularly so during the dry seasons, you have to make sure that there is a water source for watering them. To ease this process, he hopes to acquire a simple water pump. He also says that just like other plants, other weeds affect them too. 

Processing them into oil and medicine

Harvesting can be done any time and continuously, depending on the need. After harvesting the herbs from his farm, Kato takes them to his relatively small production store at his home.  The production unit can be a room of around 25×25 feet. It  has to be  kept spotlessly clean. Do not allow any contamination with foreign matter because this will compromise quality of the oils. The oil can be extracted using a distiller, which can be acquired from Katwe artisans at as low as sh1m.

He produces the oils and  herbal medicine using a distiller machine which he procured in 2006. The machine, fabricated in Katwe cost him around sh1m.

At the production house, grasses/herbs  are dried under the sun in order to preserve its values. Drying may take over a week. They are then put in a boiler and boiled.  On top of the boiler are several small pipes through which the steam passes into a smaller container. It is in this smaller container that the steam from the boiling herbs is condensed into the oil. The smaller container has got two taps through which the oil passes into several jars for collection.  All these can be fabricated in Katwe. If a farmer has got the right certification, he can then start processing the medicines and cosmetics himself. Quick ones may include cough syrups, mouth washers, dental mixtures, skin balms etc. But you need to take your products to the Chemotherapeutics Research Laboratory at Wandegeya for quality and vitality tests.

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