These days aromatherapy is widely promoted as a health cure, but few know that country’s first natural oils were extracted in the Karoo. In 1894 a Dane, Fredrick Nielsen, built a little plant on a farm in “Die Gang” (“the Passage”) route between Prince Albert and Klaarstroom. Here he extracted essential and volatile oils from blossoms and citrus rinds. He is said to have found a ready market for him products in the Cape.
In his book Travels in Southern Africa Lichtenstein mentions Frederick Nielsen. “The Dane succeeds well and makes these oils an object of great profit.” As an extension of his oil enterprise Nielsen cultivated aniseed, peppermint and fennel for which there were also ready markets at apothecaries in Cape Town. Newspaper reports of the day heralded this as “the first venture of its kind in Africa.” Formerly all such products were imported from Europe, they said.
Sadly Nielsen’s life went awry when he married an ill-tempered widow. She had no time for his work with fragrances so, like a tincture of volatile oil, he simply vanished and was never heard of again.
Today this valley is well known as one of the best fruit producing areas in the country and every spring heady fragrances fill the air.