Dorset Herbs and Essences Ltd is a new business in Okeford Fitzpaine. Rachael Rowe went to meet the owner.
A blaze of vibrant orange marigolds in a field appears like a scene from an Indian market on a hot summer day but there’s a subtle difference. In the background is the unmistakable greenery of Okeford Hill. This is Dorset Herbs and Essences where nine herbs and plants are being cultivated for their oils, teas, and culinary properties in Okeford Fitzpaine.
The Frampton family have farmed in the area for over 50 years. Justin Frampton has 70 acres in and around Okeford Fitzpaine. Dorset Herbs and Essences is located in a south facing field at the top of Castle Lane with a spectacular view of the hills. Justin’s thoughts are: “If we’re going to do it, let’s make it interesting and not just another lavender farm.”
The plants have all come from Bulgaria which has a reputation for the finest herbs in the world in terms of essence, yield, and quality; a fact that Bulgarian partner Yordan Borukov is only too eager to tell me. I rub a few leaves of lemon balm in my hand and the strength of the scent is uplifting. Later, some of these leaves in a tea taste delicious. The plant root stock is organic and the farm is working towards full status which they aim to achieve in two years. Planting has taken the form of a Bulgarian star with seven points which features in the business logo, and the different varieties grown in sections. Eventually there will be a walkway around the farm which will be wheelchair accessible and dog friendly.
A thousand Damascena roses have been planted on the farm. Their petals are gathered for rose oil and the scent when they were in full bloom earlier in the summer was incredible. Rows of white yarrow flowers blend with the backdrop of Okeford Hill. Yarrow has health benefits, including for high blood pressure. There are curry leaves too, and sage. In a further corner, rose hips are being cultivated. Camomile is another herb grown on the farm and this, with several other herbs grown here will be used to make teas and infusions. Lavender plants are in abundance and Justin has created several bee cell hexagon shaped areas which he hopes people will adopt. There are also plans to grow saffron in the autumn months.
The oils will be distilled on the premises, a process that takes around two hours. In an old shed huge bunches of lemon balm are drying, along with boxes full of marigold leaves for calendula oil. The shed even has a bit of Okeford graffiti. On a beam above the herbs are the names H A Corben and J Sherwood dated August 1967. What, I wondered, would those two local characters have made of the shed’s new venture.
Dorset Herbs and Essences has also started honey production from two zest hives. The activity of the bees around the lavender was prolific and clearly contributing to the quality of the honey. Both honeycomb and honey will soon be available for sale from Okeford Village Store. I was lucky enough to taste some of the first honey produced there and it was rich in flavour- and will probably fly off the shelves of the village shop.
Dorset Herbs and Essences will open to the public in future but welcomes visitors and enquiries. To arrange a visit or adopt a lavender bee cell contact Justin Frampton on https://www.facebook.com/dorsetherbs