Juan A. Cànaves

“We urgently need to look back to nature again”

Juan A. Cànaves (Palma, 1980) devoted twelve years of his life to working as a local policeman – a profession that failed to make him happy. Until one day he walked into the apothecary’s shop of his teacher in Formentera, and plants changed his life forever. 

“Although my family had always worked on the land, I wasn’t particularly interested in plants as a child. When I finished secondary school I started working as a plumber, but what I really wanted to be was a firefighter”, tells Joan. He didn’t get into the fire brigade, but the preparation proved useful in obtaining a job as a member of the local police force. But really, Joan felt no vocation for this work, “and even so I did it for twelve years of my life. I realised why later on...”.

At the age of 27, a friend invited him to spend a few days on Formentera and he was so captivated by the island that he stayed, living there for six years. To pass the time, Joan enrolled in a course on plants, “but when I walked into the apothecary’s shop of Clara Castelloti, my teacher, something inside me exploded, awakening a tremendous inquisitiveness in me, a strong desire to learn, even though I had never been very connected to plants”, he explains.

For personal reasons the day came on which he had to leave Formentera and return to Mallorca. As his weariness of his work as a local police officer grew, so his passion for plants increased. To the point that, in early 2016, he travelled to Peru with the aim of finding out more about the wisdom of plants. In the Andean highlands, Señora Carmen explained to him everything they do and how they do it. 

On his return to Mallorca, he came up against reality again. “Having made contact with that ancestral knowledge, going back to work, opening up my locker, putting my uniform on, taking out my gun… More and more, I found myself thinking that wasn’t for me”.

Until one day he plucked up the courage to stop fighting for something he did not believe in. “I handed in my definitive resignation without thinking twice; it was a feeling that came from deep down. A lot of people told me I was crazy, but it was clear to me that I had to close that door, because if I left it open, I wouldn’t be able to devote myself to plants with all the intensity that I wanted to”, says Joan.

His parents supported him from the outset - “they told me that if that was what I wanted, I should go ahead”. But one of the remarks that made the most impact was what a friend of his said to him: “Look Joan, your wings only grow in when you launch yourself into flight”. So that is what he did.

Around that time he met Marion, his partner and now the mother of his son, and they went to live together in Sant Joan.

After several years of hard work and quite a few sacrifices, Joan can now gather the fruits of his labour. With his brand Najuana, he creates waters and essential oils from wild plants harvested by hand, artisanally and with great respect for nature. “The name Najuana is a play on words using the name of my favourite plant, Estepa Joana (Hypericum balearicum), the village we live in, Sant Joan, and my name”.

When they see the still he uses to distil the plants, many people call Joan an alchemist, but he rejects that label. “I define myself as an herbalist and distiller. I know about the plants I work with, but there are many I don’t know about. My teacher used to say to me it’s better to know a lot about a few plants, than a little about many”, he recalls.

Sometimes Joan finds it hard to define what his job is. “I extract the pure essence of plants. But if I delve a little deeper, I feel that my work is to show the way towards the heart of plants, and help improve our communication with nature. I feel that we urgently need to look back to the earth, to take care of it as it deserves and receive its blessings”.

“The way we approach plants, touch them, cut them... It all has an influence on the final result. The plant needs to feel comfortable and protected. We can take whatever we want to, but we have to be subtle, the plant suffers if it is not treated well. If I were to prune using a chainsaw, all of that noise and aggressivity would be impregnated in it, and that would have an impact on the distillation”, he explains.

Joan believes that with our increasingly overcrowded cities, “we are losing [...]


Read this article in full in IN PALMA 65. And if you like, subscribe to IN PALMA for 1 year and get the next 4 issues of the magazine delivered to your home.

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