This Is How to Be an Essential Oil Maker in the Hudson Valley

After learning her trade in Ukraine, Elena Pellicano crafts essential oils to balance hormones and improve moods in East Durham.

When Elena Pellicano was 16, her mom got very, very sick. She had a digestive disorder, and her doctor told her that surgery was the only solution. Yet she was worried about the after-effects, so she sought an alternative solution instead. In a last resort, she turned to essential oils — and lemon oil in particular — to ease her pain.

One year later, she was healed.

“She cured all her problems,” Pellicano, who grew up in Ukraine, recalls. At the time, she was fascinated by the healing powers of essential oils, having observed their effects firsthand. Interested in learning more about their potential curative properties, she began to dig around for information.

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Elena Pellicano
Photo by Lee Jones (United Kingdom)

Step One: Experiment with oil

“There wasn’t internet in those days,” she notes. To fill in her gaps of knowledge, she asked locals in her community and read as much as she could. Slowly but surely, she started her own collection of essential oils. Each time she bought a new one, she tested it out on herself and gauged if and how it worked.

Elena Pellicano oils
Photo by Stephen Pellicano

Step Two: Embrace the unexpected

Then, at 21, she caught the chicken pox.

It was a rough period for Pellicano, who suffered from a high fever that hovered between 103- and 105-degrees Fahrenheit. Add to that the fact that, according to Ukrainian custom, she couldn’t take a shower with chicken pox, and the disease became almost unbearable.

One day, she couldn’t take the scratching anymore, so she snuck to the bathroom with her arsenal of tea tree oil, shampoo, and sunflower oil. Experimentally, she mixed a few drops of the oils into her shampoo, then rubbed it all together. When she woke up the next morning, she was chicken pox-free.

Elena Pellicano 1
Photo by Stephen Pellicano

Step Three: Pour your heart into it

Pellicano was shocked, then hooked by the possibility that she could cure her own illnesses with essential oils. Soon afterward, she began sourcing the best oils she could find from manufacturers in places like Egypt, India, and Italy.

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Over the course of the next 20 years, she cultivated an arsenal of essential oil knowledge. When she needs bergamot, for instance, she only buys it from Italy, which she declares has the best version in the world. The same goes for Sicilian lemon, which she sources straight from Sicily.

When it comes to rose oil, meanwhile, things get a little trickier. Although there are two main types of rose oils, they vary greatly by region. As she explains it, a Bulgarian rose oil smells and functions differently from a Himalayan rose oil, which relies upon different growing environments and soil composition.

Elena Pellicano 2
Photo by Lee Jones (United Kingdom)

Step Four: Don’t give up

In 2013, a very pregnant Pellicano emigrated from Ukraine to the Catskills, where her husband, Stephen, owned a home in East Durham. Although she wanted to jump right back into the oil-making scene, customs and paperwork put a two-year hold on her plans to assemble the oils she needed.

Never deterred, she persisted through each roadblock and ultimately found her stride in the Hudson Valley. Now, she’s the proud owner of more than 600 oils in her personal collection.

Elena Pellicano oil 1
Photo by Stephen Pellicano

Step Five: Expand your horizons

Pellicano is a successful entrepreneur with a thriving essential oil business that extends both locally and internationally. From her self-taught origins, she’s risen in fame to become something of a health and wellness expert in the region. In addition to her thriving Etsy business, through which she sells fan favorites like frangipani and lotus oils, she also leads classes on essential oil and perfume making through Airbnb’s Experiences program.

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In the perfume course, participants learn the ins and outs of essential oils, including how they’re made and what they can do for natural health, then create their own signature scent. More recently, she also added a honey tasting workshop to showcase the sweet offerings in the local and international honey scene.

“I love the fact that Airbnb makes it so easy to connect with travelers / clients from all over the country and even reach a global audience,” she says.

Outside of her business, Airbnb holds special significance for Pellicano, since she and her husband used it when they started dating. When they relocated to the Catskills, Stephen recommended that Pellicano look into the Experiences platform as a way to advertise her perfume making and connect with travelers to the region.

“It turned out really well,” she enthuses.

Elena Pellicano 3
Photo by Lee Jones (United Kingdom)

Step Six: Write your own formula for future success

While Pellicano loves where she’s at with her self-made career, she always has an eye to the future. Currently, she’s working to expand her retail presence, since she sells primarily through Etsy and at Sunflower Market in Woodstock. In season, she sells at the Woodstock Mower’s flea market as well.

Elena Pellicano oil 3
Photo by Stephen Pellicano

Step Seven: Take a breath — and a break

She’s hustling, to be sure. Yet even in the midst of donning her dozens of hats, she always makes time for priority number one: her family. Her husband remains her biggest supporter, and her daughter is her best excuse to take “fun” breaks in the Hudson Valley. In fact, the duo already has big plans for the dog days of the season.

“I’ll be spending the hottest summer days with my five-year-old daughter at Zoom Flume Water Park,” she says.

Work-life balance, achieved.

Related: How to Be an Ice Cream Maker in the Hudson Valley

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