The distillation of essential oils is a centuries-old tradition in Tunisia. The field production of rosemary oil, as practiced today, was introduced to Tunisia by the French in the nineteen thirties. In those days Spain and the south of France were the major producers of rosemary oil. Since then, the production of rosemary oil shifted from the northern shores of the Mediterranean to the southern shores (Tunisia and Morocco). The distillation in Spain went down drastically during the Spanish civil war. France, due to the high cost of labor, does not produce much rosemary oil anymore.
In Tunisia, rosemary grows wild and is mostly found around the cities of Kef (west), Kairouan (central), and Zaghouan (east). The fields where it grows are mostly the property of the government and are leased off to producers in an auction held in February. There are close to 900,000 acres of rosemary fields in Tunisia. Of this total surface, only 300,000 acres are in good condition for distillation. In an effort to preserve the rosemary fields, the Tunisian government instituted a rotation system. Each year, one third of the good fields are left unused.
In the early nineteen fifties there were two large Tunisian producers 1950s who accounted for the entire production of Tunisian rosemary oil ( 40,000 kilos). As the demand for Tunisian rosemary oil went up, so did the number of producers. Today, there are eight producers large enough to supply the international market. By the late nineteen seventies, the production reached 200,000 kilos. By the mid-eighties, demand for the Tunisian rosemary oil started decreasing. By the early nineties the production of rosemary oil was cut down to under a 100,000 kilos. This decrease in production is partially due to lower demand and partially to unfavorable weather conditions. The production in the last five years has been as follows in Table 1.