Update: A summer full of distilling and planting

Hello friends and supporters, this update is long overdue and I really appreciate your patience over the last few months. It’s been a wild ride so far and I am happy to say that I am thrilled to still be 100% committed to the success of Blue Ridge Aromatics!

In this update I will talk about:

  • Fulfilling the perks for our Indiegogo supporters
  • Building the still and our 13+ distillations over the last 3 months
  • Planting our aquaponic greenhouse
  • Our first essential oil sales

Indiegogo Perks

Good news everyone! Perks will begin shipping out on the 1st of September! Two plant species have been staples of our Summer 2015 distillations; Red Spruce and Leyland Cypress. Read more about these essential oils below. In all, the essential oil that we pre-sold amounts to about 2 liters and we have produced about 1 liter (we have however, produced many gallons of hydrosol). Therefore, we will be shipping the perks in batches in order of Indiegogo contribution (first contributor is shipped first).

I want to say again, thank you for your patience! In short, we have encountered some surprises and navigated a few mistakes that turned into high-value learning experiences. The biggest surprise was the length of time required for the distillation of conifers (especially Red Spruce): 7-9 hours for a 35-50 lb batch (which yields about 5 to 6 of the small Indiegogo perk bottles). Seems an eternity compared to fleshy herbs, which distill in 15-45 minutes!

Still Building

Still Materials

Building the still was time-consuming and challenging but we are totally pleased with the final product! It can hold up to 50 lbs of plant material and automatically maintains constant low-pressure, low-temperature steam for up to 9 hours without refilling. It was built with 100% stainless steel using recycled materials wherever possible. For instance, the stainless barrels held cinnamon essential oil for a ubiquitous Atlanta, Ga based soft drink maker; the stainless screening for the plant material baskets came from unused but discarded washing machine drums (a pallet or two must have been bent in transit); the stainless waterproof electronics box, all of the stainless tubing and many stainless fittings were fortunate scrap yard finds. The dome for the top of the still was a traditional giant stainless Mexican cooking dish known as a Cazo. Of course, stainless steel was used for all welds.

Completed Still

Another key to the distilling puzzle is the receiver/separator; it collects the cooled steam (hydrosol) and oil from the still and gives it space to separate. The oil floats on top of the hydrosol; the latter of which drains from an outlet at the bottom of the separator. We tried building our own separator from stainless tubing… but quickly learned it needs to be adjustable and we need to see what’s happening inside. So we found a great local glass blower to custom build a laboratory-quality one based on some general principles and drawings. It works absolutely flawlessly! Plus, look at it… Beautiful.

Essential Oil Receiver

Summer Distilling

Our first big batch (PR-001) was on May 21st, my birthday! It was 180 lbs of Red Spruce harvested near Hot Springs, NC at an elevation of 3700 ft.  We trimmed the boughs and branches that were dragging the ground and catching vines on a small stand of trees. The 7-8 hour batch times surprised us with a marathon distillation lasting 3 days! Since then, harvests have been smaller but more frequent.

Red Spruce After Harvest

Red Spruce (Picea rubens) essential oil is perhaps a little sweeter and more floral than a Christmas tree in a bottle. Truly delightful aroma. Spruce oils are known in aromatherapy for their stimulating effects (energy and body systems) and lung and sinus health.

Leyland Cypress Ready for the Still

Leyland Cypress (Cupressus leylandii) essential oil has elements of pine and citrus. Most people really like this one! Cypress oils are considered relaxing and beneficial for skin as they are astringent, antiseptic and work well as a deodorant.

*Few studies exist on the analysis and uses of Leyland Cypress and fewer still specifically discuss Red Spruce.  In general, chemical components of related species (i.e. Black and Red Spruce) are mostly the same in slightly different ratios. We recommend testing any essential oil before topical use in a 10% dilution in a carrier oil such as jojoba or coconut.

In all we filled the still 13 times since May 21st and had the opportunity to distill a few small herbal batches, including Southern Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum pycnanthemoides) and Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), both of which we will be doing again in much larger quantities!

We have started trimming (specific) residential trees for free in the Asheville area in exchange for plant materials and have a large Leyland batch coming up!


3 Sets of Aquaponic Grow Beds and 500 Gallons of Fish Tanks at the End

On August 1st we moved into our greenhouse! This is a different greenhouse than the one described in the Indiegogo campaign. It turns out that the grow towers were sun-rotted and crumbling. The initial investment in new tower pots, growing medium and nutrients would have been way out of reach. Then we found Smith Mill Works! This is a 25+ acre former Poinsettia growing facility that is being renovated one greenhouse and warehouse at a time for small-businesses with a focus on local and sustainable goods and services.

Here I met Michael with Aquaponics 4 All and reached an agreement to rent his equipment and half of his greenhouse. We started planting immediately! In aquaponics, fish eat, then produce waste, which is converted to plant-usable nutrients by beneficial bacteria in the floating-raft grow beds. In turn, the plants clean the water of these nutrients and return it to the fish clean and clear. It is a recirculating all-natural and self-regulating system that uses far less water than traditional soil or even hydroponic agriculture. We currently have about 75 beautiful tilapia in the system, ranging from 1/4 inch fry to the foot-long “Goliath” and they are very happy, eating and reproducing vigorously! It’s a much smaller greenhouse and we won’t be able to scale up as quickly but the smaller system is more versatile, sustainable and affordable. It also has the added benefit of 3000 gallons of water as a heat sink for the cold winter months, reducing heating requirements and facilitating simple passive/waste heat options.

Plant starts were purchased locally from Reems Creek Nursery and Sandy Mush Herb Nursery while open-pollinated seeds were sourced locally from Sow True Seed. We have been propagating the following species for distillation (after a month, the grow beds are half full with little plants):

Based on propagation and growth rates, our most likely first greenhouse distillations will be Spearmint, African Blue Basil and Chocolate Mint (I’m in love with the Blue Basil)!

Our First Essential Oil Sales

Cash is king right? In a start-up business, I think it is. Without large equity investors or soul-robbing debt, a new business has to be scrappy. A stretched build time and under-estimated costs led to a further need of capital… so I sold a car, traded a small sailboat for a motorcycle, sold it, and sold my other motorcycle. But that’s totally ok! This is my passion and I would do it again.

We’ve laid the groundwork for wholesale customers and interest has definitely increased since we started having oils to sample! We have to balance this need for cash with our obligations to you, our supporters, with the wholesale relationships we’ve been cultivating and with opportunities to sell our products at full retail in festival/farmer’s market settings. We have allocated half of the oil we have made to our Indiegogo supporters and will continue to do so until the perks are fulfilled. We sold several bottles at a small craft beer festival in Waynesville, NC and have several more at Blaizing Lotus Healing House in downtown Asheville. Blaizing Lotus is owned by my dear friends Joe and Allie and they opened with excellent reviews right around the same time as Blue Ridge Aromatics’ first distillations!

For the next month while our plants grow we’ll be focusing on wild-harvested distillations but we expect to have cultivated oils available by November 2015. We are grateful and amazed at the support we have received in the launch of Blue Ridge Aromatics! Thank you to our crowdfunding supporters, our new customers, and for the enthusiasm from natural healing practitioners and makers!

– Ian Montgomery

Aromatic Alchemist, Blue Ridge Aromatics

Spring in the Southern Appalachians!

IMG_0314Spring has been amazing around here! It was a reminder of why I love the Southern Appalachians so much! Lush. Like a jungle. Fragrant! New scents ride the breezes from every direction and the senses are delighted with sweet springtime goodness!

We encountered this on a Red Spruce scouting expedition to Rich Mountain in Pisgah Nat’l Forest near Hot Springs. Trillium, May Apple, Fern, Clover, Violet, this 4200′ elevation forest floor was something to behold in April! It is also home to a healthy and mature stand of Red Spruce that will be sustainably trimmed for essential oil very soon! We will publish pictures of the trees before and after trimming when we harvest.


Blue Ridge Aromatics is blessed to be friends with raft guides on the French Broad River who love to go on play trips!

The river has been an incredible way to see Summer roll in! Free-flowing, warm, fun and quite pristine, this river is fantastic, and home to several Bald Eagles that like to show off their gigantic wingspans! And communing with the river is such a great meditation!IMG_0119







The next post will be more business-oriented. We’ll talk about building the still, testing and improving the process, our first big harvest and distillation (coming up in less than a week), and fulfilling our crowdfunding supporters’ perks. We’re in motion now folks!

To our Contributors: We Made It!

We did it! Well we didn’t get to $25,000, but since we tried, we raised $5,270 in 30 days! That is phenomenal!

We have adapted our launch strategy to be leaner and smarter to most efficiently use the funds that are your contributions. We have enough to:

  • Purchase materials for and build our distillation unit
  • Pay permitting and collection fees for sustainable harvesting from regional national forests
  • Purchase fuel to distill your perks
  • Purchase bottles for your perks and mail them to you in June
  • Purchase and start seeds for transplant to the greenhouse
  • Purchase growing medium and organic fertilizer for planting over half of the greenhouse in May

The greenhouse’s owners have offered their support in these ways:

  • Repair/replace the damaged roof
  • Repair other hydroponic system failures should they appear
  • Subsidized rent until we begin sales

By contributing, you have shown us your deepest trust and respect and we want you to know that we take that very seriously. We are now accountable to every one of our contributors and surprisingly, it feels great! You have shown us that you believe in us and that you’re invested in the success of this business.

Here are a few special thanks from Ian!

  • Mom, thank you for always listening to me, helping me see flaws in my logic and for a capacity to love that I can only hope to aspire to!
  • Dad, thank you for teaching me about real human consciousness, to love to explore and learn and what it means to place principals at the core of my work! I hope to learn from you again when I pass from this world.
  • Ian Bryan, thank you for believing in and encouraging me to follow my dreams, for giving your time for marketing and planning and for making this a possibility. You are the most supportive boss I ever had and now you are my friend!
  • Tracy Brown, you were the first contributor and you did it without hesitation and at first glance! Thank you for your confidence! (You were definitely a front-runner in the supportive boss department!)
  • Richard McDonald, you put up with me through my ups and downs over the last month! You have given generously, with your contribution, your enthusiasm and with the countless hours you have spent advocating for me and strategizing with me!
  • Don and Robin Meyer, you constantly kept me on my toes and oozed confidence in my abilities and character!
  • Alana Jelinik and Mischa Hedges, you volunteered your time and valuable insights to help me improve the campaign!
  • Katie Vie/River Island Apothecary, meeting with you was absolutely wonderful! You’re enthusiasm and support boosted my confidence and helped me know that I was doing the right thing!
  • Jennifer Flynn, you advocated for me before you even met me! You are the voice that is helping legitimize the industry/market need for a local distiller!
  • Alejandro Moreno, you stepped up (out of your comfort zone) and advocated for me when I needed it most; without even being asked to! You said what I could not and in the process re-invigorated a passionate community of change-makers! You absolutely made the end of this campaign!
  • Green MBAs, your contributions make up the majority of the funds raised in this campaign! You held true to the deep sense of community that we developed together and rallied up a storm at the end! I think we may be on to something here… Let’s all start the businesses that we would love to! Let’s do it together! You can bet you have earned my contribution to your campaign!
  • Nils-Michael Langenborg, true to your style you showed up out of nowhere and absolutely crushed that final push to $5,000! Thank you so much man!
  • And finally, to all of you who shared on social media, when you probably didn’t want to (I know I don’t usually want to)! You shared again and again! 421 times (doesn’t count the shares I don’t know about)! You shared enough to get us to the 2nd page of search results for “Asheville Essential Oils” and absolutely fill the first page and a half of search results for “Blue Ridge Aromatics!”

The next several weeks will be really exciting! This is the part we’ve been looking forward to… we’ll keep you posted about the progress we’re making! Thank you!

Spring is Here, Let’s Plant


Happy St. Paddy’s day! Happy Spring too (March 20th)! Another week has flown by and our cause has continued to spread in Asheville and beyond! We have raised over $2,600 and the campaign has been visited 1,450 times! Thank you for your help so far! Let’s bring it home with the best week yet! Our Indiegogo campaign ends in 7 days; Thursday, March 26th at 11:59 pm (PST).

We can build the still, new contributions help plant the greenhouse.

Since our campaign has exceeded $2,500 we can now build a (slightly smaller) distillation unit! This means that all new contributions go toward planting the greenhouse and securing feedstock for our inaugural distillations! Our next goal is $5,000. At this funding level we will be able to: build our distillation unit, secure wild-harvested essential oil feedstock, distill wild-harvested essential oils and hydrosols, begin organic seedlings and prepare the greenhouse for transplanting in May!

Local Enthusiasm Keeps Blowing Us Away

Whenever we share our vision with local healing arts practitioners and natural product makers we are rewarded with enthusiasm across the board! We have been speaking with local aromatherapists, massage therapists, herbalists, acupuncturists, aromatherapy product blenders, soap and beauty product makers and natural product associations! The comment that we keep hearing is ubiquitous: “I have been wanting a local essential oil producer for years!”

The Final Week

We’re going to need your help to reach that $5,000. If you’ve been watching this campaign and have not yet contributed, now is the time! If you shared us early in the campaign, thank you and please do so again! This is the final push, let’s make it happen!

Little Campaign Lull, Big Local Progress

Since our campaign update a week ago, we have raised an additional $900. This is slightly less than our first week but is actually pretty good for a period that is usually a lull in campaigns! The number of visitors to the campaign page have doubled from 550 to over 1100 so we really appreciate your continued sharing!

Our targeted outreach has finally put us in front of some local media influencers and we believe this week will begin to show the fruits of these efforts. Wish us luck at today’s Pitch for Pitchers event, at Twin Leaf Brewery, where we’ll be giving a 60-second pitch of our business followed by a 2 min Q&A session to hopefully win a pitcher of beer and $50! The beer doesn’t matter much and would probably be given away anyway but the exposure will be great!

We’ll also be attending the inaugural conference: Bringing it Home: Building a Local Economy for Everyone, next Wednesday, March 18th. This conference aims at improving our regional economy and ultimately local wages and access to entrepreneurial services.  

Again, we want to thank you for your continued support and urge you to please continue sharing the campaign. We are very near to a funding level that will allow us to build a still (although somewhat smaller than the one we would build if we meet our goal). Crossing the $2,500 funding threshold will ensure that we are able to fulfill the perks you all have signed up for and facilitate boot-strap growth should our fundraising stop there!

If you haven’t yet, follow us on twitter and facebook for more updates and goings on! Thanks again friends! We can smell the herbs growing now!

– Ian Montgomery, Blue Ridge Aromatics

Indiegogo Campaign: https://igg.me/at/blueridgearomatics

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blueridgearomatics

Twitter: @BAromatics https://twitter.com/BAromatics

Linkedin: https://linkd.in/1AnnEEX

Website: https://blueridgearomatics.com

We Broke $2,000!

Great news everyone! Our Indiegogo campaign just broke $2,000 this morning! This is significant because we are very near to raising enough to build a small still. We’re still quite a ways from our $25,000 goal but raising $2,500 will mean we can build a still to produce wild-harvested essential oils regardless of how the rest of the campaign turns out!

Thank you to all of our contributors who have made this possible! Let’s kick this campaign into high gear! Please share!


Local. Essential. Oils. Not words that usually go together…

Local. Essential. Oils. Not words that usually go together…

The first week of Blue Ridge Aromatics’ Indiegogo campaign has been a swift one! Old friends and new supporters have honored us with their confidence and generosity to over $1200 (5% of our goal) and counting! Our campaign page has been visited 550+ times, so that’s great too! Thank you for your help getting the word out!

We’ve also been hitting the streets and the feedback we’ve been getting from local businesses when we introduce ourselves is astounding! Local. Essential. Oils. Not words that usually go together…  They do now!

Demand for locally produced essential oil and hydrosol is strong and far beyond our initial production capacity. We aim to meet this demand with fair prices. Favorable natural and business climates, along with a rapidly growing industry will allow us to grow into a significant national producer of organic and native wild-crafted essential oils; providing dozens of valuable jobs in the Asheville area.

A buzz is forming, help us make it louder!

If you have shared our campaign on social networks, thank you so much! Please do it again 🙂

This week we’re going to get a little more targeted in our outreach. If while reading this, you think of any specific people you know in a natural healing profession or perhaps makers of health & beauty products like soaps or candles, please make a note of it and send them a link to our campaign page! We may be just the authentic essential oil supplier they’ve been looking for 😉

Indiegogo Campaign: https://igg.me/at/blueridgearomatics
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blueridgearomatics
Twitter: @BAromatics https://twitter.com/BAromatics
Website: https://blueridgearomatics.com

Indiegogo Campaign Press Release

Blue Ridge Aromatics Essential Oils To Offer Marketplace First in Western North Carolina

ASHEVILLE, NC – February 25, 2015 – This week marks the launch of Blue Ridge Aromatics, an Asheville start-up committed to strengthening the Western North Carolina region’s health and wellness marketplace by delivering locally cultivated and produced essential oils. Housed in a previously vacant 6,000 square foot hydroponic greenhouse near Weaverville, the new Asheville-based startup is preparing its March crop and implementing the systems needed to grow organic herbs and distill them into pure essential oils.

Quality and Integrity: National Market Opportunity
Presently there are no essential oil growing operations or distilleries in Western North Carolina, but Blue Ridge Essential Oils has its sights set on the national distribution opportunity. “In an industry that sources products in isolated batches all over the world, how can practitioners and other users know for certain the growing and handling conditions, the authenticity of the species and the quality of their essential oils?” asks Ian Montgomery, company Founder and President. “From planting the seed, to harvest, distillation and bottling, we handle our products every step of the way and can absolutely guarantee their quality.”

Demand and Distribution: The WNC Market Opportunity
Sourcing high-integrity oils is difficult for health & wellness professionals who are concerned about the environment as well as the health of the community. The demand for quality is especially felt in Asheville, home to over 170 businesses that practice aromatherapy and 7+ schools of natural healing.

“When I buy essential oils I have no idea, most of the time, where they came from,” says Betsy McClellan, former owner of Relax & Rejuvenate in Asheville. “So the benefit of sourcing locally, combined with knowing that the oils I am using are unadulterated, is very appealing.”

Banking On Asheville: A Crowd-funding Story
Blue Ridge Aromatics is placing its bets on Asheville’s burgeoning startup scene and Western North Carolina’s extraordinary track record for supporting local businesses. Montgomery has launched a crowd-funding campaign to compliment his own investments, with the goal of raising $25,000 for the construction of a commercial steam-distillation unit. Other uses of funds will enable the company to purchase supplies and plant the greenhouse. Hosted on IndieGoGo.com, all donations are rewarded with products from the first harvests, which will ship as early as mid-July 2015. To support the campaign, visit https://igg.me/at/blueridgearomatics.

About Blue Ridge Aromatics
Blue Ridge Aromatics grows, distills and distributes the highest quality handcrafted organic essential oils and hydrosols possible from its greenhouse facilities in Asheville, North Carolina. Upon harvest, pure essential oils are steam-distilled by hand. Never diluted or adulterated in any way, each batch is tested using Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) to ensure purity and authenticity. Learn more about Blue Ridge Aromatics at www.blueridgearomatics.com.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are concentrates of the natural aromatic components of plants. In addition to attracting beneficial organisms, these aromatic compounds make up a substantial share of the plant’s natural defense system against disease and pests. Therefore, many essential oils have anti-bacterial or anti-fungal properties.

Essential oils are widely used in aromatherapy and the natural healing world, in baths/soaks, in diffusers for aroma, as well as in the fragrance, body care and flavoring industries. Are our essential oils “therapeutic” or “clinical” grade? Yes. They are 100% pure, unadulterated, all-natural essential oils. As such, they are highly concentrated.

Essential oils and hydrosols are fantastic natural alternatives to plug-in and other synthetic home-freshening options. For those that are new to this world, a single drop of essential oil on a light bulb will produce a beautiful room-filling aroma for hours. Put a drop or two in your humidifier for continuous dispersal!

A secondary product of the distillation process is called hydrosol (or floral water). Hydrosol is distilled water infused with a small amount of suspended essential oil and thus with the aroma of the plant. It is often used as an undiluted spray for linens, air freshening, cleaning, skin application and more.

FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Due to their concentrated nature, pure essential oils should not be used by expecting mothers. Please conduct thorough research and/or consult with a natural healing practitioner before using. Essential oil should be properly diluted in a carrier oil (dilution varies by species) before applying to your skin.