Production Of Essential Oil
It’s hard to say with absolute clarity when mankind discovered essential oils and aromatherapy. The general consensus is that the Egyptians, the Indians and the Chinese simultaneously began exploring the healing effects of the aromatic element of plants, fruits and flowers in their own unique ways.
What started out as merely crushing the botanical ingredients to release the tiny fraction of the aromatic oils in them, turned into two refined processes: effleurage, which involved the use of animal fats and vegetable oils, and steam distillation, which involved the use of water and heat.
I kid you not folks, they did find distillation pots dating back to 3500 BC at archeological sites in Egypt. So, now you can be sure that essentials oils certainly figured in Cleo’s beauty secrets.
Essential oils continued to scale heights as most cultures from antiquity discovered their marvelous effects on the mind and body. Then, there was a lull of a few decades at the start of this century. But, in recent years these aromatic extracts have made a stupendous comeback.
There is no business like oil business!
As was surmised by Ms. Monroe of the Newyorker, today essential oils enjoy a position that is bang in between perfume and potion. The two largest essential oil makers in the country are doing brisk business at a billion dollars in sales per annum. In the United States alone, nearly 70 kilotons of essential oils are consumed each year.
Of course, the bulk of these are oils are used as edible flavoring agents; think orange, lemon and peppermint. But other oils are fast catching up and currently make up 21% of the annual sales.
I am sure I don’t have to tell you that the largest essential oil manufacturers are no longer the only players in the market. Many others have also jumped into the fray, yours truly included. So, if there are so many sellers out there, then…
Why we are talking about making essential oils here?
Regardless of who is supplying your essential oil needs, there are two problems with these aromatic offerings of Mother Nature. The first is, of course, the price tag, which can go quite high depending on the oil you are interested in.
Second is the quality of the extract. I am going to go back to the billion dollar in sales essential oil manufacturers here. One of these companies had an egg in their face moment a while ago. An overzealous marketer for this manufacturer started a crowd funding campaign meant to fund third party testing of the company’s, products and that of its competitors.
The tests were done alright and two of the said company’s oils were found to contain chemical additives. The point I am trying to make here is that there are only two ways to be absolutely sure about the quality of essential oils – you either buy from a company that has a 100% record of being honest or you whip up the oils at home.
The third and the last reason to consider making your own essential oils is potency of the product. Steam distilled oils (all essential oils except some citrus oils) are extremely strong. In fact, they are so strong that they can only be used after significant dilution.
So, for those who don’t want to bother with the correct dilution rates or have extremely sensitive skin, methods to make essential oils at home, which yield diluted or gentler extracts, may be a better option.
After reading all that I bet you just want to head to the sections that tell you more about the process of making essential oils. So, without further ado, let me get right down to them.
Essential Oil Extraction Equipment
Assuming that you are interested in the steam distillation of essential oils, you will find a vast array of equipment available in the market.
- Copper stills that will set you back by $400-$1,000.
- Small scale professional distillation units that will dent your bank account by $1,500 to $10,000.
- Exclusively meant for home use microwave distillation units that are reasonably priced at $150-$350.
- Lab-style all glass distillation apparatus which will set you back by a few hundred dollars.
The prices and the output vary greatly as does the requirement for the quantity of botanical raw material. However, the operational principle remains the same. So, instead of telling you about each unit, I am going to start by discussing the role played by the different components of essential oil extraction equipment.
- The boiler: This is basically a pot that holds the raw material. If the setup is meant for hydro distillation, you will mix water and the plant matter in this pot. If the assembly is designed for steam distillation, this container will only hold the water and will be placed below the unit that holds the botanical raw material.
- The distillation column/container: This unit holds the plant matter and usually has a perforated bottom that allows the steam to waft up and into the container and through the botanical material held in the container.
- A source of heat: This could be anything from the kitchen stove to a propane or alcohol burner used in laboratories.
- Steam transfer tube: This tube is attached to the lid of the distillation column/container. It carries the steam from the distiller to the condenser.
- The condenser: This is usually some form of tubing that is submerged in water/ice, which allows it to cool the steam, emanating from the distiller, to its liquid form.
- The essencier or separator: The steam that is cooled to its liquid form in the condenser flows into the separator. This is essentially a glass container with a wide/narrow/round/bulb-like bottom that allows the lighter oil to float on top of the hydrosol.
The boiler, distillation column and its cover assembly together are called the still. This distillation unit is available in copper and glass. In professional setups, industrials stills are typically made of stainless steel. Glass is an inert material and borosilicate distillation apparatus is the top choice for laboratories.
Copper stills are usually used by DIY’ers, hobbyist and small scale manufacturers. The use of copper helps to eliminate the bad odor caused by the hydrolysis of the esters in the hydrosols and the oils.
Plus, copper is a very good conductor of heat and allows for even dispersion of heat energy through the plant material. Moreover, the metal brings its own antibacterial properties to the table, which helps hydrosols to last longer and gives essential oils an added edge.
Both glass and copper still are available for direct/dry steam distillation as well as hydro/water distillation. Copper stills are available in 3 designs:
- The famed alembic copper still, which has a boiler, distillation column, lid and swan neck steam transfer tube. This can be used for both steam and water distillation.
- The alquitar distiller, which has a smaller size and works exceptionally well as a stove top distillation unit. It has the condenser on top of the distillation column. This design is similar to the one used in the new-age microwave steam distillation pots (I will talk about this in the coming sections).
- The rotating column alembic distiller is specifically designed to handle multiple distillation batches and can be used for dry steam as well as water distillation.
Is It Possible To Make Essential Oil At Home?
Well, I will make this simple – Yes, you can make your own essential oils.
In fact, the old–world methods work exceptionally well for home extraction of essential oils. Of course, I am not saying that you can get the same quality or quantity as you would from a professional manufacturing unit. Also, you cannot employ all types of extraction processes at home.
But, you can definitely make aromatic extracts that will prove to be good enough for personal use. Actually, one of the benefits of making your own essential oils is that you end up with products that can be used in multiple ways. Moreover, depending on the process used, you also get hydrosols for free with the essential oils.
Having said that, there is an affordable way and an expensive way to make essential oils at home. It all depends on how you intend to use the oils and how often and how much of these oils you intend to make. Let me start by talking about the most affordable option and then we will move on to the pricier methods.
The simple and affordable option: One way to extract oils is through infusion. In simple words, you simply dunk the botanicals in a jar of oil and let them sit in there for a few days to allow the natural volatile compounds from the plants to mix with the carrier oil.
On the plus side, you cost is negligible; I mean all you need is a cold pressed, unrefined carrier oil, a glass jar, your favorite herbs/flowers or spices and a few minutes a day. The oils don’t have the intense aroma of essential oils, but they are fragrant enough to be used in skincare preparations and even in soap and incense making.
These macerated oils have a short shelf life and they are certainly not pure essential oils. But they work well for those who have sensitive skin. Also, macerated oils are no good for use in diffusers. But, these oils can be used for massage and they can be added to your bath water, if you don’t mind scrubbing the tub clean of the oily residue every few days.
The more expensive option: Steam distillation is the other method that you can use to make your own essential oils at home. Although you can make your own distillation equipment, buying a still is something you should consider if you intend to distill often enough.
The thing to understand here is that a still is a one-time investment, and just the initial cost of this option. Distillation will get you pure essential oils, although the quality may not be at par with the stuff that’s commercially available if you don’t have enough experience and the right apparatus.
That said, the ongoing cost is also a factor with this process. Typically, a few handfuls of botanical ingredient will only get 3-4 drops of essential oil. So, if you want to get to the point where you extract a few milliliters of oil at one go, you will need a still with a 40 liter capacity and a few kilograms of botanical ingredient to go with that.
To get a gist of what I am talking about take a look at the plant material to oil yield ratios of some popular essential oils and hence why they are expensive:
- 20 lbs. of rose petals for 1 ml of rose otto essential oil.
- ½ lbs. of lavender flowers for 1 ml lavender essential oil.
- 10 lbs. of melissa leaves for 1 ml of lemon balm essential oil.
- 10-12 lemons for 1 ml steam distilled lemon essential oil.
- 5-6 oranges for 1 ml steam distilled orange essential oil.
- ½ – ¾ lbs. sweet basil leaves for 1 ml basil essential oil.
- 1 lbs. chamomile flowers for 1 ml chamomile essential oil.
- 5 lbs. geranium flowers for 1 ml geranium essential oil.
- ¼ to ½ lb. oregano for 1 ml oregano essential oil.
- ½ lb. rosemary for 2 ml rosemary essential oil.
I have already discussed the price range of various distillation units. So, this should give you a fair idea of the cost of distillation. Like I said, the advantage here is that along with the essential oil, you also get the hydrosol through the distillation process. This hydrosol can be used in a variety of ways, including in skin and health care products and in cooking.
How To Make Essential Oil With And Without A Still?
Assuming that you are still keen on steam distillation as your preferred procedure for the extraction of essential oils at home, let me tell you how to carry out the process with and without a still. Just to clarify, whether you choose to invest in a still or not, the distillation procedure is not going to change.
This means, that you will have to find substitutes for various parts/components of traditional distillation apparatus/a still. Let’s start with the no-still distillation process and then we can move on to extraction of essential oils by using a still.
Making essential oils with a microwave extraction unit:
These are available for a few hundred dollars and can be used to distill 1-3 ml of aromatic extracts at a time. Personally, I like to use these microwave kits for making essential oils from herbs like rosemary, oregano and sometimes mint.
But more of the first two because these herbs have a higher essential oil yield at 1-2%. So, one of the larger units that can accommodate about 1 -3 lbs. of chopped herbs can get you about 1-2 ml of the oil. The process used is steam distillation, so the quality of the extracts is top notch. This is how you go about distilling the oil.
Step 1: I always like to buy organic produce to make my oils, regardless of the extraction process used, and I would strongly recommend that you do the same.
Step 2: Wash the herbs and pat dry with kitchen towels and then leave them on the counter to air dry for about an hour.
Step 3: Chop the herbs lightly, making a conscious effort to use more leaves and tender stalks than the hard stems.
Step 4: The microwave kit calls for the use of an ice core in the condenser (the kit includes the mold and manufacturer instructions). So, I am going to assume that you will have this ready at this point.
Step 5: Pack the chopped herbs lightly in the borosilicate pot, leaving room for the column and the beaker, which acts as the receptor for the distillate.
Step 6: Put the ice core in its place and place the lid of the jar on it.
Step 7: Place the setup in the microwave and run the unit at its highest setting for 6 minutes.
Step 8: Allow the pot to cool for 6-10 minutes. Just let it stand in the microwave.
Step 9: Remove the pot out of the microwave. Check the temperature of the pot, which should be warm/hot at this point but not scalding hot.
Step 10. Open the borosilicate pot and remove the beaker out.
Step 11. Pour the liquid from the beaker into the small round bottom flask provided with the kit.
Step 12. Roll the round bottom flask in between your palms while holding it on the counter. You’d be surprised how easy it is to drop the little thing. By rolling, what you are trying to do is make the lighter bubbles work their way up to the narrow mouth of the flask.
Step 13. Use the dropper/pipette provided with the kit to remove the oil from the flask and put it into the small dark glass bottles, which are also thoughtfully supplied as part of the kit. And viola, you have your very own homemade oregano or rosemary essential oil.
I have used the microwave essential oil home-extraction kit as an example. You can find other products in the market that are meant for home distillation.
Usually, these are stove top distillation units. But, the source of heat does not matter and makes little difference to the distillation process. The only exception is black pepper, which performs notably well when exposed to microwaves instead of steam or direct heat.
That said, you can make your own home distillation kit with equipment that you may have in your kitchen and garage. For instance, you can use an old tea kettle, the stainless steel kind for hydro distillation.
Alternatively, you can use a pressure cooker or a fish steamer; the kind with 3 containers placed one on top of the other or a stove top espresso maker, also known as a moka pot (personal favorite).
But, I have to warn you that making your own distillation apparatus is a lengthy and complicated process that involves the use of power tools. Also, the oil quality may not be very high in case of hydro distillation (this is explained further).
However, the set up cost is minimal and you can find videos and instructional articles on how to get the setup going. So, it’s certainly a good starting point to see if the whole idea of distilling your essential oils at home sits well with you. With that out of the way, let me explain how you can use a still to extract essential oils.
Making essential oils with a still:
Assuming that you have got yourself an alembic distiller, let me tell you how you can use it to extract the aromatic essence from your favorite botanical ingredients.
Copper stills are designed for hydro and steam distillation, while you can employ all 3 forms of distillation (hydro, steam and combined hydro-steam) with glass distillation apparatus. Personally, I feel that a copper still is the best for home use. It is sturdy and offers better value for money because it comes in a range of sizes. And this is how you can use a copper still…
Step 1. Fill the boiler or the round bottom container that you will place on the stove with water.
Step 2. Pack the distillation column with the biomass, and I mean really pack it tight if you want to get more than just a few drops of essential oil from the procedure. If you have some extra left, pack it into the alembic (onion-shaped) lid that sits on top of the distillation column.
Step 3: Connect the pump that is meant to cool the water around the condenser coil or fill the container/pale that holds the condenser coil with ice cubes.
Step 4. Put the separator right below the copper tubing that comes out of the ice/water pale, so that the liquid distillates can be captured.
Step 5. Turn on the heat and wait till liquids starts trickling out of the condenser coil.
Step 6. If you have used ice cubes in the container that holds the condenser coil, make sure to add a few more every couple of minutes.
Step 7. The distillates should trickle out of the condenser and not flow out of it. If the flow seems too fast (like its coming out of faucet), turn down the heat.
Step 8. Once the essencier/separator is full, remove the essential oils, floating on top, into a dark glass bottle, and store the hydrosol in another glass bottle (also dark).
Whatever equipment you are using for distillation, don’t forget to wash it with a mixture of hot water (use what’s left in the boiler) and citric acid (squeeze a few lemons in the water or use some white vinegar)
How To Extract Essential Oil Using Alcohol
Essential oils are hydrophobic in nature and that’s actually the only reason these extracts are termed as oils because they don’t mix well with good ol’ H2O. But, alcohol is another story. In fact, the volatile constituents of essential oils readily mix with alcohol, making it a fantastic solvent for the extraction of these volatile compounds.
This extraction method is easy and effective, and if you want, it is possible to separate the alcohol from the aromatic extract with just a bit of degradation to the final quality of the oil. There are 3 ways in which alcohol can be used to extract essential oils. I will start with the easiest and then work my way up to the hardest. But first, let’s talk about:
The type of alcohol needed: I know that a lot of sites state that you can make do with any cheap vodka or grain alcohol. But, the ethanol (ethyl alcohol) content in these is just not enough for the volatile compounds in the plant matter to dissolve completely.
In simple words, you will get a tincture and some essential oil but the quality of the yield won’t be as good as it would be if you were to use a solvent with a higher content of ethanol. At the least, you need an ethanol concentration of 75% (read that as 151 proof).
It would be even better to work with 95% concentration (190 proof). Now, you may have heard about Everclear, which is a grain alcohol that offers the required ethanol percentage for solvent extraction. That’s the one you ought to use.
The plant material: Once you have the alcohol ready, start thinking about the botanical matter to be used in the extraction process. Always stick to only one herb/spice/flower/root/resin. If using rose blooms, you will only need the petals.
For jasmine and other small flowers, you will have to use the entire bloom.
Cut the stalk/stem as short as possible. Herbs and leaves will have to be chopped, simply use a pair of scissors. Roots will have to be sliced and woods and resins will have to be cut into small pieces. The idea is to maximize surface exposure of the plant material to the alcohol.
With your botanical ingredients ready, this is what you have to do:
Step 1. Put the chopped plant material into a mason jar, filling it halfway with the biomass. Unlike with a still, you don’t have to pack the plants tightly into the jar.
Step 2. Pour enough alcohol to cover the plant material and get to the three quarter mark in the jar.
Step 3. Replace the lid of the jar and place it in a warm and dry place. You can put it in the pantry or on the window sill if you like.
Step 4. Agitate the bottle 3-4 times a day. Simply give it a good shake and place it back in its place.
Step 5. Give the alcohol about 48 hours to act on the plant matter. Then, filter out the biomass using a non-bleached cheese cloth.
Step 6: Add a fresh batch of botanical ingredient to the jar and cover with the filtered alcohol. Repeat steps 1 to 6 one more time to make a total of 3 rounds.
Step 7: At the end of round 3, you will have a strong tincture of the herb/plant material used. But, the amount of oil in it will still be around 1-1.5 ml.
Step8. You can use the tincture as is or you can filter the oil by using one of these three processes:
- Distill the infused alcohol in a copper still.
- Replace the lid of the jar with a thin muslin cloth and keep the jar open for a couple of hours, which will lead to the evaporation of the alcohol.
- Put the jar in the refrigerator. The alcohol will not freeze but the oil will congeal on top in case of some plant materials.
Once the oil droplets are visible, use a pipette to draw them out and transfer them to a dark colored glass bottle.
How To Extract Essential Oil Using Oil?
This is another infusion/solvent extraction method, with the sole difference that oil is used as the solvent here instead of alcohol. It is one of the oldest methods of extracting volatile compounds from botanical matter, and it is still a common practice in Ayurveda.
It draws from the principle that like ingredients mix with each other or dissolve in each other. Since, essential oils are hydrophobic (hate water) but lipophilic (love oil), they readily mix with carrier oils.
The resultant mixture will not yield pure essential oils. However, since aromatic extracts can seldom be used on their own without dilution, a macerated oil is truly the next best thing.
Any fixed oil can be used for drawing out the aromatic elements from plant matter. However, some oils tend to perform better than others. So, let me start by talking about the right carrier oils for the job and then we will move on to the actual extraction process:
Things to consider when choosing the carrier oil: Maceration does lower the stability and the shelf life of the carrier oil, given the fact that volatile compounds degrade rapidly when exposed to heat, moisture and light. Because these aromatic extracts get mixed with the base oil, the final product has a lower shelf life than the carrier oil used and it is more sensitive to heat.
Hence, it makes sense to start with a very stable oil. You will want to avoid oils with high iodine content like borage seed, rosehip seed, hemp seed and others like them because they are delicate oils that will not perform well if heated.
The oils that offer the best results: Personally, I prefer jojoba oil if I intend to use the extracted oils exclusively for skincare formulations.
Sunflower and sweet almond oil are good choices if you intend to use the aromatic extract for oral and topical use. However, almond oil has a relatively short shelf life and sunflower oil does not offer exceptional emollient benefits.
Olive oil is another good choice along with coconut oil, but both of these have distinctive aromas of their own which can influence the aroma of the essential oils. Sesame seed and tea seed oils are also fantastic choices for making aromatic extracts given their skin healing properties.
The process: From roses to resins and from mint to mandarin, oil is an exceptional solvent for the extraction of aromatic compounds, regardless of the type plant matter used. Having said that, just like with alcohol extraction, you will have to start with small pieces of the biomass to provide greater surface exposure.
So, this is how you’d take the extraction process further:
Step 1: Start with 50 to 60 grams of botanical ingredients and 100 ml carrier oil.
Step 2: If extracting the oil from an herb, chop the leaves and the tender stalks using a pair of scissors. For flowers, pour 1-2 tablespoon of the carrier oil on the flower heads or the petals and then bruise them using a mortar and pestle. Resins can be powdered or broken into smaller pieces. Woods should also be cut into small pieces; the smaller the better.
Step 3: Put the biomass into a clean and dry mason jar and cover with the remaining oil.
Step 4: Cover the jar with its cap and give it a good shake. Then, place it in a warm and dry place, preferably one that receives direct sunlight, like the window sill.
Step 5: Maceration should be done for 4-6 weeks but you will have to give the jar a good shake at least twice a day, once before placing it in the sun and once before putting it back in the pantry at sundown.
Step 6. For a strong infusion, filter out the biomass using a cheese cloth every 5-7 days and replace with fresh botanical matter.
Step 7. Filter the final yield through a cheese cloth to completely clear the oil of plant matter, which can develop mold if left in the oil.
Step 8. Store the macerated oil in a dark glass jar, preferably under refrigeration. If stored normally, macerated oils can last anywhere between 3 to 6 months, while refrigerated oils have a longer life span of 9-12 months, depending on the fixed oil and plant matter used.
That said, always clean all your tools, counter and the mason jar with rubbing alcohol before macerating the oil. This kills the microorganisms that cause the oil to go bad.
How To Extract Essential Oil From Dried Herbs?
Dried herbs tend to lose a lot of their aromatic compounds so, you will have to invest more time into extracting whatever is left behind. Given the miniscule quantity of cellular waters and volatile oils in dried herbs, just oil or alcohol won’t cut it.
For maximum extraction, it would be best to use a combination of both alcohol and oil. I am also going to show you another method of extracting aromatic compounds from dry herbs that I learnt from a practitioner of Ayurveda (Ancient Indian medical system).
The first thing to understand is that both these methods only work for dried spices and herbs and not for dried flowers and citrus peels. Also, never use a combination of herbs for oil infusions. You can mix two different macerated oils if you feel like it. But use only one botanical ingredient for the maceration.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the two extraction methods:
Method 1: Start with 2 heaped tbsp of dried herbs, 2 tbsp Everclear (don’t use rubbing alcohol), 1 cup carrier oil (olive oil, sweet almond oil or fractionated coconut oil will do). Mix the dried herb with Everclear in a mason jar.
Close the lid of the jar and let stand for two hours, agitate the jar and let stand for another two hours. Then, add the oil to the herb-alcohol mixture. Replace the lid of the jar and give it a good shake. Allow the mixture to stand overnight or for 5-7 hours. Next day, place the jar on the window sill or in an area where it receives direct sunlight.
Don’t forget to shake the jar 2-3 times a day. After 4 days, filter out the dried herbs from the oil-alcohol mixture, using a non-bleached cheese cloth. Add 2 tbsp of dried herbs to the infused mixture and repeat the process given above. In all, you have to go for 3 rounds of herb infusion, including the first.
After the third round, filter out the botanical ingredient and cover the glass jar with a muslin cloth. Keep it open with just the muslin cloth covering its mouth for 12-18 hours. This will help to remove the alcohol from the mixture and will leave you with a super-strong infused oil. Without refrigeration, this oil stays good for 6 months.
Method 2: This Ayurveda-derived method is frequently used for macerating oils with dried woods, roots and leaves. You start with a cup of dried herb. Add just enough water to the dried matter to submerge it completely. Allow the mixture to stand in a covered bowl overnight.
In the morning, grind/process the soaked botanical mass in a food processor. You are going for a paste-like mixture but don’t add more water to it. Pour this mixture into a pan along with 2 cups of carrier oil. Sesame seed oil works best for this method.
Heat the oil and once it is near boiling, turn down the stove to medium and let the botanical ingredient simmer in the oil till it takes on a charred appearance. This may take 3-4 hours or longer, depending on the herb/ingredient used.
You will notice that the herb paste will be greatly reduced in quantity. Once the process has been completed, allow the oil to cool down to room temperature. Then, filter out the charred herb mass and store the oil in a dark glass bottle. Even without refrigeration, this oil lasts for 6-9 months.
Essential Oil Extraction Methods / Types Of Extraction
1. Steam distillation:
One of the oldest methods of essential oil extraction, in this form of distillation, only steam or dry steam as it is known is used to release aromatic/volatile compounds from plant matter. A still is used for the process; this is simply a container that serves as the boiler and generates the steam and sometimes also holds the plant mass.
The design of the still allows the steam to flow through the plant matter before it exits from a tube and flows into the condenser. This part of the assembly cools the steam down to its liquid form, which then flows into a separator.
Because most essential oils have a lower density than water/hydrosol, they float on top and the essencier/separator has a tube at the top, which serves as an outlet for the lighter oils.
Below the layer of the aromatic oils is the hydrosol, which contains the liquid soluble compounds from the plant. The lower tubing in the essencier serves as an outlet for the hydrosol. The design of the condenser and essencier can vary, but their functions remain unchanged.
Steam distillation is used to extract essential oils from almost all types of plant matter. In fact, it is also known to work on dried botanicals like woods and roots. Because the biomass is not directly exposed to water, there is minimal hydrolysis (water exposure degradation) of the volatile compounds.
2. Hydro/water distillation:
Think of this is a more medieval form of distillation that was used before steam distillation turned into the gold standard for essential oil extractions. It is still used in the traditional distillation of ittars or absolutes in India, mostly with agarwood and sandalwood.
Hydro-distillation is also used for plant matter that does not perform too well when subjected to dry steam. For example, rose petals tend to stick to each other when exposed to dry steam, which leads to improper and incomplete distillation of the aromatic elements.
As the name suggests, the plant matter is submerged in water for this process. The mixture is then boiled in the still (usually a single container contraption because there is no need to generate steam separately).
As the plant material and water mixture boils, the heat helps to release the volatile compounds from the plant matter. These, then, float into the condenser and from there, after being cooled to a liquid state, into the separator/essencier. You already know what happens after that.
Hydro distillation fell out of favor because it is a lengthy process. Also, since the biomass is in direct contact with water, there is a high rate of hydrolysis. Moreover, the plant matter often settles at the bottom of the still and burns, which not only causes the degradation of the volatile compounds but also leads to an objectionable odor in the finished product.
3. Steam plus hydro distillation:
This is the middle ground derived from the two distillation techniques explained above. So, it has the benefits of both and just a few shortcomings. Let me start by explaining how the process works. Steam is used in the distillation process, but instead of passing it directly through the biomass, it is passed through a mixture of water and plant material. Notice, how elements of both techniques are used in the process.
Because this allows for better control of heat, and there is no direct exposure of the plant matter to it, there is no risk of burning. Also, limited heat means a lower scope for hydrolysis, although some degradation does occur. That said, this is now the commonly used method for the steam distillation of delicate biomass such as flower petals.
Because the botanical matter is suspended in water, the pieces/petals don’t stick to each other, which results in more complete distillation. Also known as field distillation, the process is a popular method for distillation of essential oils of lemongrass, agarwood and citronella in India and other Asian countries. Once steam is generated through the process, it is treated in the same as in steam and hydro distillation.
4. Solvent extraction:
This is a two-step process that involves the use of a solvent to extract the aromatic components as well as waxes and dyes from plant matter. The mass is then purified to extract essential oils from it. Hexane is the solvent of choice for the process and at least in the initial stage it does not involve the use of heat or pressure difference. The biomass is simply soaked in the hexane and allowed to stand for 3-4 days.
After this, the spent plant matter is filtered out to get a viscous mass. This is put through a round of evaporation in a vacuum evaporator, which leaves behind an almost solid, waxy, dark colored and extremely fragrant compound known as a concrete. The waxiness and the dark hue come from the natural waxes and the dyes in the plant matter.
Ethyl alcohol is mixed with the concrete to separate the waxes from the volatile compounds, which are soluble in alcohol. The oil infused ethanol is then put through distillation/filtering/centrifuging to get the volatile extract, which is known as “absolute”.
Different solvents are used in the two stages of the extraction process and although they are eventually removed, traces of these solvents do remain in the final product. This is one of the primary reasons why absolutes find use in the perfume industry and in aromatherapy to the extent of use in the diffuser.
However, they cannot be used in skincare or for topical therapeutic application. Usually, very delicate plant matter that has very little oil to offer (think flowers here) are put through the solvent extraction process.
5. Carbon dioxide extraction/Super critical solvent extraction:
This is a variation of the solvent extraction method in the sense that instead of hexane, carbon dioxide under pressure is used as the extracting medium. When subjected to temperature and pressure above the critical point, CO2 turns into a substance that has the properties of both a gas and a liquid.
It expands like gas to fill up a space or vessel but has the density of liquid. Because this supercritical CO2 is highly stable, it acts as the perfect solvent for aromatic extracts. Like with other forms of solvent extraction, the super critical CO2 is simply introduced into a tank that contains plant matter but there is no soaking involved.
Like steam, the CO2 picks up the volatile compounds and is then directed into another tank which has normal pressure and temperature that turns the CO2 back into its gaseous form, leaving behind 100% pure volatile extracts.
Since CO2 is natural, non-toxic, stable and non-inflammable, the extracts are of top notch quality and can be used in the perfume industry as well as in topical therapeutic and skincare products. Because the temperature used in the extraction process is lower than that of steam distillation, there is a lower risk of denaturing of the volatile compounds.
Plus, the exceptional solvent that it is, CO2 works just as well for plant matter that has extremely minute quantities of essential oils to offer as it does for biomaterial that is loaded with volatile substances. Wondering, why it isn’t used very often, then? Because the equipment is extremely expensive and well beyond the reach of most local essential oil manufacturers.
6. Assisted hydro/solvent distillation:
As the name suggests, this is still distillation or solvent extraction but in this case the processes get a boost from ultrasound or microwave energy. These technologies are very new. So, they haven’t caught on as yet. But, they promise better and purer yields, so they have definitely garnered the attention of manufacturers from all over the world.
Typically, microwave energy is used to aid in hydro distillation. Because there is no direct heat exposure involved, there is no risk of the plant material settling to the bottom of the still and burning.
Although the home based microwave essential oil extraction kit is kind of based on this technology, industrial grade apparatus has a large microwave oven with a tube going up and right out of it to the condenser.
Other than that, the remaining components of the unit are the same as those used in steam distillation. The use of microwave energy has been found to offer better essential oil yields and a lower risk of hydrolysis because the extraction process is completed faster.
Ultrasound is used to improve both solvent extraction and distillation yields because it increases the surface evaporation average, which means that for any given amount of water/solvent, you get a higher amount of distillate and an increased oil yield. This technology is primarily used for extracting essential oils from leaves, seeds and flowers.
This is another name for an old world solvent extraction technique that remains in vogue to this day. A fixed/carrier oil is used to extract the volatile, lipophilic compounds from plants. Often, the resultant product has more juice than distilled oils because oil as a solvent captures even the heavy molecules of phytochemicals, which don’t make it into the vapor that results from distillation and yields the aromatic extract.
The method is simple and the final product although not as intensely fragrant as essential oils offers most of the therapeutic properties of the latter. The extraction process involves soaking the chopped up botanical matter in oil for a period of one week.
The mixture is frequently agitated to prevent the buildup of mold and to release more of the volatile compounds into the solvent. Depending on the plant matter used, the process may be repeated two to three times with a fresh batch of botanical matter each time that is infused in oil that is filtered from the first and/or second infusion.
Macerated oils typically have a shorter lifespan than oils derived through other forms of extraction. Yet, this remains one of the preferred methods in Ayurveda and the traditional Chinese medical care system. Also, macerated oils can be used as the base for skincare and topical formulation, without the need for dilution, in most cases.
This form of extraction is very rarely used these days given the amount of time and effort needed to get the job done. An offering to the world of aromatics from France, enfleurage is now considered more of an art form than just a process to derive aromatic compounds from plants.
The process involves the use of stable fats to capture the aromatic essence of botanical ingredients. As you may have guessed, the method is almost exclusively used with delicate flowers that continue to emit and produce volatile compounds even after they have been plucked; case in point, tuberose and jasmine.
Glass plates are loaded with fats (animal or plant based) by manually applying the lipids to both sides of the plates. These are kept in shallow wooden crates and flowers are hand-spread on the fat-laden plates. Each crate is topped by another. So, while the flowers directly touch the top layer of fat on the glass plate, the layer on the bottom is not in direct contact yet gets to soak up the aromatic compounds that waft out of the flowers.
The process can be carried out with cold (room temperature) or heated fats (hot enfleurage). In both cases, the botanical matter is left in place for a day or two and then replaced by a fresh batch of flowers. This is done several times till the fats completely imbibe the aromatic essence of the botanical material. The saturated and highly fragrant fats are then scraped off the plates.
Known as enfleurage pomade, this mixture of fats and volatile compounds is then washed with alcohol to separate the volatile compounds from the fats and the floral waxes. The alcohol is then subjected to an evaporation process, which leaves behind the absolute of the flower. The mixture of fats and floral waxes is often used in soap making and skincare products.
9. Cold press extraction or expression:
This technique is exclusively employed for the extraction of essential oils from citrus fruits. In case of these tangy offerings of nature, the oil sacs are in the rind. So, the fruits are put through a conveyor machine, which exposes them to spikey wheels that puncture the rind and consequently the oil sacs.
The whole fruit is then either crushed or pressure washed. The resulting liquid is captured into a tank and put through centrifuging which separates the essential oil from the liquid. Expression is a completely different process from steam distillation. So, it also captures those compounds which have a large molecular size and hence do not find their way into the distillate.
One such class of compounds is known as furocoumarins/furanocoumarins, which cause phytophototoxicity in humans. Grapefruits are an exceptionally rich source of these compounds. Other citrus fruits like lemon, lime, bitter orange and bergamot also contain these compounds.
So, all these oils can lead to phototoxicity if they are derived through cold pressing. In contrast, the essential oils of these citrus fruits, when extracted through steam distillation, do not contain furocoumarins, hence do NOT cause phototoxicity.
10. Florasol based extraction:
This is a fairly new process that has yet to gain traction in the essential oil and food additive sector. Once again, a variation of the solvent extraction technique, in this case, a refrigerant called florasol is used instead of hexane.
The extraction itself is carried out at near normal (room) temperature and pressure and the process takes place in a sealed chamber, which means that the plant material is not exposed to oxygen, heat or pressure differences. Hence, the scope for denaturing of the volatile compounds is minimal.
Another advantage is that only the volatile compounds and not the plant waxes are soluble in florasol. So, the resultant extract is free of dyes and plant waxes, unlike concretes and absolutes. Of course, there is always the possibility of trace amounts of florasol remaining back in the final product.
However, at this point, there just isn’t enough evidence to support the presence or absence of the solvent in the resultant oils. Also known as the phytonic process, the oils extracted through this technique are known as phytols because they are the truest to nature, in terms of the fragrance and the therapeutic benefits of the plant material that they are derived from
1. How To Make Basil Essential Oil
Because basil leaves offer an essential oil yield of 0.1% to 0.4%, 100 grams would get you about 0.1 to 0.4 grams or approximately 0.1-0.4 ml of oil. So, I would recommend that you start with 500 grams or 1 kilogram of sweet basil, which will get you 1-4 ml of essential oil and make the process worth your while.
Given the amount of biomass and the yield percentage, I would recommend steam or microwave distillation for this extraction. In fact, sweet basil performs exceptionally well under steam distillation.
Assuming that you have your still ready, this is what you need to do:
Step 1: Buy organically grown sweet basil and cut the thick stems with scissors, retaining only the tender stalks on top and the leaves.
Step 2: Chop the plant matter or grind using a food processor but don’t add water to it while processing. If you intend to use an alembic still, there is no need to chop the herb.
Step 3: Pack the biomass into the distillation column of the still or in the microwave extraction jar.
Step 4: If using an alembic still, also fill the onion-shaped lid with the botanical material.
Step 5: Fill the boiler of the still with water before placing the column on the boiler and closing the lid.
Step 6: Apply heat (stove/microwave) to the distillation apparatus.
Step7: Collect the distillate that flows out of the condenser into a separator or a beaker. A separator is a better choice for steam distillation done with a still.
Step 8: Remove the oil floating on top of the hydrosol with the help of a dropper. Store it in a dark glass bottle, preferably under refrigeration, just in case, you could not do a clean sweep of the oils and also got some of the hydrosol along with it.
Step 9: Don’t discard the liquid distillate, which is basil hydrosol. You can use it for cooking, liqueur making, vinegar making, soap making and in skin care formulations.
2. How To Make Black Pepper Essential Oil
Depending on the quality of the peppercorns, you can easily get a yield of 1.5% to 2.5% from this spice. Also, essential oil extracted through microwave assisted distillation of black pepper corns is exceptionally close to the natural form of the spice, in terms of its phytochemical content and aromatic aspects.
So, for this particular spice, I would recommend that you go with a microwave essential oil extraction unit. If you have one handy, this is what you will need to do:
Step 1: Start with 100 g of pepper corns. As always, organic is the best and in this case also check the date of packaging. Remember that it takes months for spices to go from plant to product shelves. So, pick pepper that has not been packaged more than 1-3 months before the date of extraction. The thing to understand is that the longer spices spend time on the shelves the more oils and aroma they lose.
Step 2: Crush the peppercorns using a mortar and pestle or a spice mill. You are not going for pepper powder here, but large bits.
Step 3: Remove the crushed corns into a bowl and add 2-3 tbsp of water. You don’t want a runny or even a pasty mixture. You are simply getting the pieces a bit moist for the extraction.
Step 4: At this point, you should have the condenser assembly of your microwave essential oil extraction unit all ready to go (the ice cone should be set and ready to be fixed on the lid).
Step5: Pour the moist bits of pepper corn into the distillation jar and start with a cup full of water. Use the highest energy setting of the unit and microwave for 6 minutes.
Step 6: Allow the jar to stand for another 5-6 minutes in the microwave, which will give it enough time to cool.
Step 7: Remove the beaker and pour the liquid into the round bottom flask provided with the kit.
Step 8: Then, use a dropper/pipette to remove the oil floating on top of the hydrosol, and transfer it into a small, dark glass bottle.
You can also use glass steam distillation apparatus for extracting essential oil from black pepper. If you are using a traditional still. I recommend placing the crushed corns on a (flour) sieve that is placed on a grill inside the boiler. This way, you can be sure that the heavier pepper particles don’t settle to the bottom and burn as heat is applied to the still.
3. How To Make Chamomile Essential Oil
Chamomile essential oil can be derived through steam distillation as well as maceration, and you can use fresh, dried or frozen flowers for the extractions. This will have no bearing on the oil yield, which is quite low at 0.05%-0.1%. So, you will need at least 1 kg of flowers to get about 0.1 ml essential oil.
Although distillation is the generally adopted process for the extraction of chamomile essential oil, the specific gravity of the oil is low, which means that the resultant distillate is a sort of emulsion. Often, solvents are used in the distillation process to get past this problem. Plus, it takes about 5-6 hours to get the oil if you are distilling in a regular copper still.
The only advantage here is that chamzulene or the blue compound only gets extracted when the flowers are exposed to heat. So, solvent extraction at home, won’t get you a blue oil. That said, let me explain both processes to you:
For steam distillation, you will need at least 1 kg of dried/fresh chamomile flowers with their stems removed.
Step1: Pack the flowers in the distillation column (pack them real tight) and fill the boiler with the required quantity of water
Step 2: Place the still on heat and boil till you run out of water.
Step3: Collect the condensate and separate the blue essential oil droplets floating on top from the hydrosol.
Step 4: Add fresh plant matter to the distillation column and fill the boiler with water as well as the hydrosol you collected from round 1 of distillation.
Step 5 Repeat the process 2-3 times more and you should get about 0.5- 1 ml of chamomile essential oil.
For solvent extraction, you can start with a lower quantity of dried chamomile flowers. Usually, 250-500 grams of plant matter is enough. You can use oil or alcohol as the solvent.
Step 1: Pour the solvent into a mason jar and add the dried flowers to it.
Step 2: Close the lid of the jar and agitate the mixture by giving the jar a good shake.
Step 3: Place the jar in direct sunlight for the day. Give it a good shake at the end of the day before you place it in the pantry.
Step 4: Repeat every day for 4 days if using alcohol and 7 days if using oil.
Step 5: Filter out the flowers using a cheese cloth and replace with a fresh batch of the botanical ingredient. Soak it in the infusion that you got after filtering the first batch of flowers.
Step 6: Repeat all the steps from 1-4. Filter the infusion one more time, but this time go for two rounds of filtering to remove all the plant matter.
Step7. Store the oil in a glass jar and you can get about 5-6 months from it even if it isn’t refrigerated. If you have used alcohol, you can store the infusion as-is or you can cover the jar with a piece of muslin cloth and allow the infusion to stand for a day on the counter, which will allow the alcohol to evaporate. You can then, scrape off the oil from the insides of the jar and store it in a small dark glass bottle.
4. How To Make Cinnamon Essential Oil
Cinnamon bark offers a fairly good essential oil yield of 0.8% – 1.5% but the steam distilled oil has about 80% cinnamaldehyde, a substance notorious for causing skin irritation.
In contrast, when maceration is used for extracting the aromatic aspects of cinnamon bark, the amount of cinnamaldehyde is significantly low in the resulting oil. Plus, you get loads of other beneficial phytochemicals that would not make it to the final product of the distillation process owing to their higher molecular size. So, here is how you can macerate cinnamon bark.
You will have to start with enough cinnamon sticks to fill a mason jar. If you are going for a strong extraction, I recommend that you break the sticks into smaller pieces.
Personally, I like to use a nut cracker for the job. But, you can a pestle. The idea is to get smaller pieces not to turn the bark to powder. Once you have that ready, this is what you need to do
Step 1: Fill the mason jar with cinnamon sticks/pieces. You will need to have enough pieces to fill all the way to the top (not the brim) of the jar.
Step 2: I prefer to use sweet almond oil for cinnamon maceration because the slightly nutty aroma of the almond oil goes well with the woody, sweet fragrance of cinnamon. But, you can choose another oil if you wish. You will need enough oil to fill the mason jar to the top. You are going for complete immersion of the cinnamon pieces/sticks in the oil and about half an inch more on top.
Step 3: Heat the oil; don’t boil it or it will burn and lose several of its beneficial properties in the process. You just want it very hot.
Step4: Pour the hot oil in the mason jar that contains the cinnamon sticks/pieces.
Step 5: Pour the oil all the way to the top and give it a few minutes to cool (about 3-4 minutes should do the trick).
Step 6: Cover the jar with the lid and place it on the window sill if you still have some daylight.
Step 7: Every day in the morning shake the jar well and place in the sun. Try to accommodate one more good shake in the afternoon, when the sun is at its hottest.
Step 8: At the end of the day, agitate the jar once again and store in a dry place.
Step 9: Repeat for 20 days and then filter out the cinnamon pieces with a cheese cloth. Even if you have used cinnamon sticks, I would still ask you to filter the oil to remove small bits of the spice from the oil.
Step 10: Transfer the oil to a dark colored jar if possible or simply cover the mason jar you have used with some colorful craft tape
Macerated cinnamon oil can be used topically and orally. However, I would not recommend using this oil as the sole base for any formulation intended for skin care. Usually, a 1:3 mix with another carrier (3- other carrier) works very well. The oil does not have to be refrigerated and you can get about 6-9 months from it if you don’t introduce water into it.
5. How To Make Clove Essential Oil
This is one spice that won’t disappoint when it comes to its oil yield. We are talking about a mammoth 15%-20% here, which means that even a small quantity of 100 grams can get you almost 10 ml of volatile extracts. The essential oil has one of the highest percentages of eugenol at nearly 60% of total weight.
Steam distillation works exceptionally well for clove buds but a regular copper still may not be suitable unless you intend to use a stainless steel sieve to cover the perforations of the distillation column. Glass distillation apparatus works best but you can also use microwave essential oil extraction units.
This is how you should go about the process:
Step 1: Crush the clove buds in a mortar and pestle or put them through the spice mill aiming for the largest particle size possible. You are going for a coarse grind that simply cuts the buds into smaller pieces without actually turning them into a powder.
Step 2: Fill the distillation jar with the clove bud pieces and sprinkle about 2-3 tbs of water on top. Mix using a spoon and then put in place the rest of the assembly, including the condensation unit that includes the ice cone.
Step 3: Place the unit in the microwave and run the machine for 6 minutes at its maximum setting.
Step 4: Allow the extraction jar to cool inside the microwave cavity for about 5-7 minutes.
Step 5: Remove using oven mitts and place on the counter. Open the jar to access the beaker in the center.
Step 6: Remove the contents of the beaker into the separator (the tiny round bottom flask).
Step 7: Use a pipette to remove the water that floats on top. Yes, clove oil has a higher density than water. So, the droplets will sink to the bottom. Don’t throw the water away. It makes a fantastic base for salad dressings and can even be used in cocktails and other beverages.
Step 8. Remove all the water from top. You will draw some oil in the pipette as well when you reach the bottom of the flask but that is alright. It is important to get all the water out because moisture will lead to the faster degradation of the oil.
Step 9: Once you only have the oil left behind, transfer it into a dark colored glass bottle and put it in the freezer for one day. Next day, check for icicles in the oil, which should be promptly removed. Thereafter, the pure clove essential oil can be stored as you would normally store your essential oils.
6. How To Make Coffee Essential Oil
Commercially, coffee essential oil is almost exclusively extracted through cold pressing, although solvent extraction is used for the removal of caffeine from coffee beans. At home, combined oil-alcohol maceration is the best option in my opinion.
Normally, cold pressed coffee oil (which is generally known as coffee essential oil) contains no more than 1.5% caffeine. Your morning cup of java will have a few hundred times more. This is because caffeine is soluble in water and ethanol, exceptionally soluble in hot water and only marginally soluble in oil.
So, if you want to use your home extracted coffee essential oil as a flavoring compound or for its antioxidant properties, you can macerate only with oil. Make no mistake this oil can do wonders for your skin if used topically.
But, if you exclusively want to use coffee to beat down those ungainly under eye circles and puffiness, you will need more caffeine content than what oil maceration can offer. This is how you can go about the process:
Step 1: Start with 1 ½ cups of coffee beans (unroasted), 1 ½ cup carrier oil and ½ cup Everclear, a crockpot and a mason jar.
Step 2: If you want to bring down the extraction time, you should roast the beans, but make sure that you roast them right before the extraction procedure. The thing about botanical ingredients is that the longer they stand once removed from the plant and processed, the more oils they lose.
Step 3: Crush the coffee beans lightly. Personally, I favor using my mortar and pestle for this because you need really large particle size; think 6-7 pieces from each bean and any decent grinder or coffee mill will give you more than that.
Step 4: Set aside 3 heaped tablespoon of coffee bean pieces and pour the rest in a crockpot.
Step 5: Add the oil to the broken beans in the pot and place on heat. Keep the flame low and cover the pot. Cook for 10-12 hours till the coffee beans don’t take on a distinctly darker color. Stir every half an hour or so and keep the flame low to prevent burning.
Step 6: Once you set up the crockpot on the stove, put the 3 tbsp. of coffee bits in a mason jar and add ½ -1 cup of Everclear to it. Close the jar with its lid and give it a good shake. Let the alcohol and coffee mixture stand for 10-12 hours while the oil in the crockpot gets infused with the coffee beans.
Step 7: At the end of 10-12 hours, the oil in the crockpot will turn a gorgeous brown. Turn off the stove and allow the oil to cool to room temperature.
Step 8: Then, add it to the mason jar (oil and the cooked beans), which has the alcohol-coffee mixture in it. Once again, tighten the lid on the jar and shake it to mix all the ingredients.
Step 9: Place the jar on the window sill if you have daylight. If not, do so the next day.
Step 10: You will need to expose the mixture to direct sunlight for 5-7 days.
Step 11: After this, filter the oil using a cheese cloth. If you have used a coffee grinder to process the beans, you will have to filter 2-3 times to get most of the sediments out.
Step 12: Put the filtered oil-alcohol mixture in a sterilized (wipe with alcohol and allow to dry) mason jar. Cover the mouth of the jar with a cheese cloth and let it stand on the counter for 12-24 hours.
Step 13. Most of the alcohol will have evaporated at this point and you will be left with a caffeine rich and extremely fragrant coffee oil. If you want to speed up the process, you can gently heat the oil to push the alcohol out of the mix.
If you don’t want to go through the two-step process, simply double filter the oil that you get after 12 hours of cooking and store it in a dry mason jar.
7. How To Make Frankincense Essential Oil
If you pick a bottle of frankincense essential oil from the market, you can be very sure that it is steam distilled. However, this is one resin, which offers more when macerated than distilled.
You may/may not have heard about the famed boswellic acids, the anti-inflammatory compound that has been studied for its beneficial effects in preventing many forms of cancer. Well, this substance does not make it to the oil that is derived from steam distillation.
In contrast, the heavy molecules of the triterpene along with many other beneficial phytochemicals do find their way into frankincense macerated oil. For the maceration, this is what you need:
Step 1: If you intend to exclusively use your frankincense oil topically, then I recommend using jojoba oil as a carrier but if you also intend to use it orally, then go for virgin olive oil. You will need 1 part oleoresin to 2 parts of oil.
Step 2: Grind the resinous crystals to a powder using a spice mill or the coffee grinder. Opt for medium particle size if you have that option. Although you can get more of the beneficial stuff from the resin in its powder form, it does take longer to filter out the powder than the coarse grounds.
Step 3: Put the oil and the resin powder into a mason jar and place the jar in a double boiler or a pot filled with water. The level of the water should be such that it goes above the level of the oil in the jar, but does not get too close to the lid. Also, make sure that the jar stands firmly in the pan/boiler. If it seems shaky, hold it down by putting an extra jar in there to occupy the free space.
Step 4: Assuming that you have the whole set up on the stove, switch on the heat and bring the water to a boil.
Step 5: Stir the oil-resin mixture once the water begins to boil to prevent lumping. Thereafter, cover with the lid and allow the water to simmer around the jar and its contents for a good 3-4 hours. You may need to add more water to cover that much time.
Step 6: At the end of the fourth hour, switch off the stove and allow the water to cool along with the jar and its contents. This can take up to half an hour.
Step 7: Remove the jar and wipe clean the exterior surface using kitchen towels. You don’t want to introduce any moisture into the oil.
Step 8: Filter the oil using a cheese cloth and a funnel. You can directly filter into another mason jar if you like.
Step 9: Allow the oil to stand for 12 hours and the insoluble particles if any in the oil will settle to the bottom. Remove these sediments by filtration or by separating the clear oil on top from it.
Macerated frankincense oil has a rich, brown color and an aroma that is very close to the plant matter it is extracted from.
8. How To Make Garlic Essential Oil
The sulfur-rich herb offers a modest essential oil yield of 0.1- 0.2%, which means that 100 grams of peeled garlic cloves will get you approximately 0.1-0.2 ml of a very pungent, yellow colored oil. Steam distillation is the best process for extracting garlic essential oil and usually an hour of distillation in a traditional still will get the job done.
Here are step-by-step instructions on handling the process:
Step 1: Peel and crush 500 grams of garlic cloves. No need to grind to a paste; you are simply trying to get smaller pieces of the cloves.
Step 2: If using an alembic still, cover the perforated bottom of the distillation column with a sieve to prevent the biomass from slipping into the water.
Step 3: Fill water in the boiler and place the distillation column on it. Then, put the alembic head on top of the column and turn on the heat.
Step 4: Once you see a few droplets of distillate trickling out of the condenser, turn down the heat to medium. You are going for a rate of 1-2 drops per second and the idea is to get about an hour of distillation time from the water in the boiler. Now, this may/may not be possible depending on the capacity of the boiler unit. If it isn’t, stop when you have collected as much as 2/3 of the water quantity in the form of distillate.
Step 5: Remove the distillate into a separator and give it a few minutes, in which time, the water/hydrosol will settle at the bottom of the flask and the oil will float on top.
Step 6: Pipet the oil out and into a dark colored glass bottle. Store the hydrosol in a glass jar under refrigeration.
9. How To Make Ginger Essential Oil
You can get as much as 1-3% essential oil yield from fresh ginger rhizomes, depending on the type of ginger used. Personally, I have never managed to get more than 1.5% from store-bought ginger, possibly because of all the time it spends under refrigeration after it has been removed from the soil.
That said, you can also use dried ginger root for distillation. This is how you can go about the process:
Step 1: Slice fresh ginger root into thin wedges without peeling it. You will need 100 grams of the rhizome to get 1 ml essential oil. Given the small quantity of raw material needed, I would recommend the use of a microwave extraction unit for this.
Step 2: Assuming that you have the condenser unit ready to go with two ice cones to cover you, put the ginger slices into the distillation pot and place the condensate beaker in the center of the raw material.
Step 3: Cover the distillation put with the remaining parts of the condensation unit and its lid.
Step 4: Place a cup of water in the microwave along with the extraction unit.
Step 5: Run the machine at max setting for 5-6 minutes and then allow the extraction unit to sit inside the microwave oven for 7-10 minutes till it is cool enough to be handled comfortably.
Step 6: Open the lid of the condensation unit and remove the beaker that holds the distillate. Pour the distillate into the separator flask and agitate it gently, while holding it firmly on the counter.
Step 7: About a minute of gentle shaking will bring the oil droplets to the top of the flask. Use the pipette/dropper provided with the unit to remove the oil from the flask, and transfer it to a dark colored glass bottle.
If you want to use a homemade still for this extraction, try the tea kettle still or the fish steamer still. In both cases, place the rhizome slices in a colander or a sieve to keep them from settling to the bottom of the flask. Use 1:3 ratio of plant material to water and you should get about 0.8-1% of yield from it.
10. How To Make Grapefruit Essential Oil
In case of grapefruit like a lot of other citrus fruits, steam distillation is one of the best ways to extract essential oils from the rind. Although you get a lower yield of about 1-2%, the volatile extract does not contain furocoumarins, so you don’t have to worry about developing photosensitivity from the topical use of the oil.
Having said that, the important thing to remember is that the oil sacs are present in the rind of the fruit and not the white endocarp (the spongy, white skin) that sits close to the wedges.
So, let me start discussing the process by telling you how to get the raw material ready for the extraction.
Step 1: Start with 3-4 kilograms of grapefruit (if using a still) or 5-8 fruits (if using a microwave distillation units). Instead of peeling them and then attempting the laborious task of separating the endocarp from the rind, simply use a cheese grater to get the rind clean off the endocarp and the wedges. The advantage of grating the rind off is that you also puncture the oil glands while you are at it.
Step 2: For this fruit, it is best to use steam distillation as opposed to hydrodistillation. So, you can either work with a still or a microwave extraction kit. In both cases, fill the distillation unit with the grated rind. In case of a still, use a sieve to stop the grated bits from falling into the water and getting charred as they settle to the bottom of the boiler.
Step 3: Fill the boiler with water and put the distillation column and the lid of the unit in place.
Step 4: Switch on the stove with the still on it and allow the water to come to a boil. You will notice the distillate trickling down through the condenser tubing in about 8-10 minutes.
Step 5: Maintain a rate of 1-2 drops per second. If the distillate seems to be coming down faster, turn down the heat.
Step 6: Once you have captured more than 2/3rd of the water in the boiler, turn off the heat and remove the distillate into the separator.
Step 7: Wait for a few minutes and you will notice the oil floating on top of the hydrosol. Soak it up using a glass dropper or a pipette. Immediately, transfer into a dark glass bottle. Store the hydrosol in a glass jar/bottle under refrigeration.
11. How To Make Jasmine Essential Oil
As I had discussed earlier, jasmine is one among very few flowers that continue to produce and give off volatile compounds long after it has been plucked. This is one of the reasons why enfleurage is a preferred method to capture the aromatic essence of these dainty white blooms.
Yes, the process is time consuming but in my opinion it is also very satisfying if you can manage to get it going at home. The best part is that you don’t need a special set up. Usually, you will be able to manage with the things that you can find in your kitchen.
This is how you go about the process:
- You will need a hard plant butter. I prefer kokum for this purpose because it retains its solid state at room temperature and even a bit above and it has a very light aroma of its own. You can just as easily work with another plant butter/oil such as virgin coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, or shea butter.
- You will need fresh jasmine flowers every day, given the modest flowering rate of the shrub, I would not recommend relying only on the output of your garden or yard, unless you have at least 15-20 plants to boast of.
- For the set up, you will need a large pan/pot with a lid/cover and 4 quarter/bread plates (glass or porcelain) that can be accommodated inside the pan/pot and a butter knife.
Once you have all these items ready, including enough flowers to fill the pan/pot. This is what you need to do.
Step 1: Start by sterilizing all the tools and the counter by giving them all a good wipe down with rubbing alcohol. Once the alcohol has dried, you are ready to start. I highly recommend that you don a pair of sterile gloves for this.
Step 2: Put a thin layer, about 1 flower bud thick, at the bottom of the pan. Then, spread the plant butter on both sides of one plate, as you would peanut butter on a slice of bread (same thickness of the layer). Do, not apply the plant butter on the periphery of the plates. Place the plate on the layer of flowers.
Step 3: Put more flowers on the upper/exposed side of the plate. Once again, you are going for a one bud thick layer. Cover this with the second plate that is smeared with plant butter just like the first plate.
Step 4: Repeat with the two other plates, alternating a layer of flower with a butter-covered plate.
Step 5: Once all four plates have been stacked one on top of the other, cover the last plate with flowers. Use the remaining flowers to fill the pan. Cover with the lid and allow to stand for 24 hours.
Step 6: Repeat the process with fresh flowers the next day. But, do not cover the plates with a fresh coating of butter. The idea is to use the same butter to soak up the volatile compounds from the fresh blooms. So carefully remove the plates, one at a time and place in another pan or on a sterilized counter. Remove all the spent buds from the pot and then start stacking the plates back with a layer of blooms in between two plates, as you did the first time around.
Step 7: This process will have to be repeated 3-5 times. Typically, in the home setting because the layer of fats is very thin, 3 rounds prove to be more than enough.
Step 8: After the desired number of rounds, remove the spent botanical matter and scrape the butter off from both sides of all plates and into a dark colored glass jar. And that, my friends, is your home-mad enfleurage pommade!
Although you can use alcohol after this point to extract the absolute from the infused plant butter, why bother when you can get the same divine fragrance and all the therapeutic benefits of the essential oil of jasmine and some more from this mix? You can also use this technique for other flowers, such as violets and tuberoses.
12. How To Make Lavender Essential Oil
This all-time favorite essential oil is extracted through the steam distillation of fresh and fresh dried (flowers that have started going from purple to brown on the plant) flowers. The yield is between 0.8 and 1.2%.
Now, the thing to remember here is that the oil glands that hold the much loved extract are primarily in the petals of the tiny purple flowers but some can also be found in the leaves and the stems of the plant.
If you want to extract lavender essential oil at home, this actually works in your favor because you can use almost the entire stalk with the fresh flower on it to give you enough bulk in the distillation column. An alembic still is the best for the distillation of lavender essential oil.
Here are step-by-step instruction for the distillation process:
Step 1: If you cannot find the required amount of fresh blooms, go ahead and use a combination of fresh and dried flowers. Because the dried blooms are tiny, they may pass through the perforated base of the distillation column, so place a fine mesh sieve on the base and then pack in the botanical mass.
Step 2: You will need about 200-300 grams of plant material to get about 1-2 ml of essential oil. Depending on the still size, I recommend starting with 500 mg. Don’t bother to cut the stalks of the flowers. Simply packs the leaves, stems and flowers tightly into the distillation column. The idea is to avoid air pockets that will stop the steam from heating up the entire botanical mass.
Step 3: Fill the boiler with water and assuming that the boiler is already placed on the stove, fit the distillation column on the boiler pot. Then, fix the alembic top of the still and cover all joints with rye flour paste. This stops the steam from escaping.
Step 4: Next, set the condenser unit as per manufacturer instructions. An hour of distillation is usually what it takes to get the entire yield of volatile compounds from the plant material in the still.
Step 5: Bring the water to a boil; you will know it’s boiling when the distillate starts to trickle out of the condenser.
Step 6: Collect the distillate into a large beaker/glass container or directly into the separator/esencier.
Step 7: Allow the hydrosol laden with the essential oil to stand for 15-20 minutes and a yellow layer of oil will appear on tip of a hazy fluid. Remove this oil with a pipette and store in a dark glass bottle.
Step 8: The slightly hazy liquid is lavender hydrosol mixed with soluble volatile compounds from the plant matter. You can distill this further but the oil obtained would not be of the best quality. Instead, store the hydrosol as-is under refrigeration and use it for soap making and in skin care formulations.
I like to freeze the hydrosol to give it a longer life span. Once frozen, it can last for 6-7 months without the use of preservatives. I have these small silicon ice-cube molds that I use for the job and then I transfer the hydrosol cubes into a glass jar and place them in the freezer. Then, it is only a matter of removing 1-2 cubes as need be.
13. How To Make Lemon Essential Oil
Like grapefruit and many other citrus essential oils that are derived through cold pressing, lemon essential oil is packed with antioxidants and offers several therapeutic benefits but the furocoumarins in it cause photosensitivity.
Fortunately, the zesty fruit performs quite well even when subjected to steam distillation offering a furocoumarin-devoid yield of almost 1-1.5%.
As with all other citrus fruits, the oil sacs are in the rind and not in the sour wedges or even the spongy, white endocarp that lies in between the wedges and the rind. Because the amount of raw material needed is fairly small, I would recommend the use of a microwave extraction unit or a homemade tea kettle still for this process.
Once you have the unit ready, this is what you need to do:
Step 1: Start by grating the rind off 10 lemons. If you have the condensation part of the extractor ready; (the ice cones are all set), then transfer the grated rind to the distillation pot. Otherwise, collect it in a plate and place in the refrigerator till you have the apparatus ready.
Step 2: With the rind in the distillation pot, place the glass beaker in the center and cover with the condenser lid.
Step 3: As always, you should place a cup filled with water in the microwave.
Step 4: Nuke at maximum setting for 5-6 minutes; then, allow the extraction apparatus to cool for about 10 minutes.
Step 5: Remove the distillation pot out and open the lid to access the beaker with the condensate in it.
Step 6: Pour this distillate into the round bottom, glass container and allow to stand for 15 minutes.
Step 7: You should see the yellow oil floating on top at this point. Use a dry dropper or a pipette to extract the oil from the separator and store it in a dark glass bottle.
As always, the remaining distillate should be stored in a larger glass bottle or jar under refrigeration. This can be used to make face packs, to flavor beverages and even as a room spray.
14. How To Make Lemongrass Essential Oil
This is another botanical ingredient that performs well when exposed to steam. You can expect a yield of 0.8 to 1.2%, which means that about 200 grams of the fragrant grass blades will get you about 0.8-1 ml of essential oil.
The most important thing to remember when extracting lemongrass essential oil is that it is one of the richest sources of citral, a known allergen. So, you need to be careful when handling the distillate.
That said, a traditional copper still would be the most appropriate for steam distillation of lemongrass. Alternatively, you can use a homemade, fish steamer still. Once you have the distillation apparatus ready, this is what you need to do:
Step 1: You will need about 200 grams of lemongrass. Because you are not using the herb for cooking, you basically get to dunk everything in the distillation column, the upper stalks, the bulb, the blades and the thick outer leaves covering the bulb. Slice the bulbs and chops the blades and leaves into smaller pieces using a pair of scissors.
Step 2: Then place the boiler on the stove and fill it with water.
Step 3: Stuff all the green stuff into the distillation column, packing it in tight to remove all the air pockets and to help the steam to linger around longer.
Step 4: Place the column on the boiler and then close the top with the alembic lid.
Step 5: Use plumber’s tape or rye flour paste to seal all the joints.
Step 6: Switch the stove on and wait till you see droplets of liquid flowing out of the condenser. Turn the heat down to medium at this point, so that the distillate trickles and not flows into the separator.
Step 7: Once you have distilled 2/3rd of the water in the boiler, allow the distillate to stand for about 15-20 minutes and then separate the oil floating on top, with a dropper. Store the oil in a dark glass bottle and the hydrosol in a glass jar under refrigeration.
15. How To Make Lime Essential Oil
This is another citrus fruit that yields an oil laced with furocoumarins if extracted through cold pressing.
Unfortunately, even if you were to macerate the rind, the heavy molecules of furocoumarins will make it into the infused oil and although the quantity of the phototoxicity-causing compound may not be as high as it is in cold pressed oil, it may still pose a problem for those with sensitive and very fair skin.
The good thing is that you don’t need a lot of raw material for distillation and you get a fairly decent yield of 1-1.5%. So, if you work with the rind of 10-12 limes, you should get about 1-1.5 ml essential oil easily.
As always, I recommend the use of organic produce for distillation and a small hydro or steam distillation still for the job. Because I have covered the use of microwave essential oil extraction kits extensively above.
Let me tell you how you can use a homemade tea kettle still for the distillation of lime rind. I am going to assume that you have the tea kettle ready with a copper pipe running out of its spout and attached to the condenser.
In turn, the condenser has to be placed in an ice bath or submerged in cold water that is kept in constant circulation with the help of an electric pump.
Step 1: Use a cheese grater to grate the rind off the fruits. Use gentle pressure because you are trying to not grate through the white endocarp that separates the rind from the citrusy wedges inside.
Step 2: Place a small colander in the tea pot or you could place a grill with a fine mesh sieve on it. Put the grated rind in the colander or the sieve.
Step 3: Slowly pour water into kettle till the level is just an inch below the brim. Put the lid of the kettle on it.
Step 4: Assuming that the copper tube is secured in the spout, use some plumbing tape to seal it in place.
Step 5: Place the condenser tube in a tub/pale and attach the copper tube coming out of the spout to the condenser.
Step 6: Keep a glass container under the outlet tube of the condenser to catch the distillate. Put ice cubes in the tub/pale that holds the condenser.
Step 7: Switch the stove on maintaining the heat at medium high throughout the process.
Step 8: Once the distillate starts to trickle into the glass beaker, turn down the heat to low or medium low. Because a kettle does not hold a whole lot of botanical matter, you won’t need a lot of energy to keep it at the boiling point.
Step 9: As soon as the beaker is filled with the distillate, replace with another container and pour the distillate into a separator. Alternatively, if you allow the beaker to stand for about 20 minutes, you will see the oil layer accumulating on top of the hydrosol.
Step 10: Use a pipette to remove this oil from the beaker. Transfer it directly into a dark glass bottle. The fluid left behind in the beaker is your lime hydrosol and it can be used a variety of ways.
Personally, I like to store home extracted oils under refrigeration, after giving them a day in the freezer. This helps to remove any moisture that may have stubbornly stayed behind
16. How To Make Mint Essential Oil
This is another herb that should be steam distilled to get all of its cooling goodness in the oil. The thing to remember when steam distilling peppermint is that the oil glands are located deep inside the plant tissue of the leaves. Plus, the herb droops fairly quickly and easily. So, you want to start with fresh botanical material and get down to distillation as soon as possible.
If you are growing your mint, the best time to harvest is right before flowering. If you are buying the mint, always purchase organic produce and pick the freshest bunches available.
Distillation of peppermint offers a yield of 0.5% to 1.5% when done at home, although the commercial yield is almost twice of that. You can use any type of still for the distillation of this herb because you can use both steam and hydro distillation with peppermint.
In fact, for this particular herb, you could simply use an old coffee pot (borosilicate) with copper tubing inserted through its lid and packed with plumber’s putty.
Alternatively, you can buy a round bottom flask, the kind that is used in laboratories along with the stopper and a glass tube for a few bucks. The condenser coil will have to be purchase separately for both types of set up.
Other than that, you will only need a tub that is large enough to hold the condenser and some more tubing that takes the distillate from the condenser outlet to the reservoir and a separator. I leave the choice of the set up to you, but once you have that ready, this is what you need to do:
Step 1: Pluck the mint leaves as they contain the majority of the oil glands. Chop the leaves with a knife, which will expose the deeper tissue and the oil glands.
Step 2: Put the chopped leaves in the distillation container. Unless you are using the standard distillation setup meant for steam distilling, I would recommend that you use 2 parts plant material to one part water in the home-made stills discussed above.
Step 3: If you are using the set-up discussed above, you should place the borosilicate ware into an oil bath, which simply means a pan with enough oil in it to get to at least half the level of plant material in the glassware.
Step 4: Place the pan on the stove and the glass ware in the center of it. Then, pour oil in it to get to the desired level.
Step 5: Switch the stove on and allow the oil to heat. The water in the flask will start boiling well before the oil. Actually, you don’t want the oil to get to the boiling point. So, adjust the heat accordingly.
Step 6: If the rest of your setup is in place as it should be in about 10 minutes, you will start to see the trickling of the distillate from the condenser tube into the reservoir.
Step 7: Continue to heat till the water is reduced to 1/3rd of its original quantity. Depending on the type of tube cover that you have for the flask, you may/may not able to add more water without stopping the distillation. But, you will need to get two rounds of distillation from every batch of botanical raw material. So, if you need to stop, do that and refill water into the glass ware and start again.
Step 8: Pour the distillate collected in the reservoir (this can be any glass container really) into a separator. A glass separator, the kind that is used in laboratories is not very expensive but it sure comes in handy if you intend to do a lot of distillation at home. So, regardless of the type of still you own, I would certainly ask you to invest in one of these.
Step 9: Separating peppermint essential oil from the hydrosol can be tricky because the oil is almost transparent, so you will have to wait till you get a layer that is at least 1 cm thick to be able to spot it easily.
Step 10: Once the oil is visibly floating on top of the hydrosol, you can use a pipette to separate it from the hydrosol or open the essencier valve and allow the hydrosol to flow out till you get to the point where only oil remains in the separator. Then, simply remove the oil into a dark glass bottle.
17. How To Make Orange Essential Oil
The tangy, summer fruit is one of the few offerings from the citrus family that provides an essential oil, which does not contain the offensive furocoumarins notorious for their phototoxic skin reactions. So, you don’t have to steam distill orange rind to get the oils.
In fact, you can get a greater output by using a modified form of cold pressing plus solvent extraction. Of course, it is also possible to steam distill orange rind to get the essential oil. But since I have already discussed the steam distillation of citrus rind, I reckoned, it’s time to discuss a new method. So, here is it for you:
Step 1: Start with 10-12 large oranges. You will have to peel the fruit since you will only be using the rind. Set the wedges aside for juicing later.
Step 2: Use a sharp knife to remove the white endocarp lining the rind on the inside. Chop the rind into small pieces, which will help in the grinding
Step 3: Put the rind in the food processor and run the machine at its highest setting for about 3 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the pulp into a bowl and add an equal quantity of alcohol to the bowl (1:1 proportion of alcohol and pulp). Pour the mixture into a mason jar.
Step 5: Close the lid of the jar and shake vigorously for a few minutes. Then, let stand on the counter. Allow the alcohol to soak up the volatile compounds in the rind for about 12 hours. Continue to shake the jar every hour.
Step 6: After 12 hours, place the mason jar in the freezer for several hours (5-6 hours should do)
Step 7: Remove the mason jar out of the freezer. Most of the pulp will be frozen solid. But, the alcohol with the oils in it will float on top. Quickly pour it into another mason jar.
Step 8: Use a muslin cloth and a loom band/a string to cover the mouth of the mason jar that has the alcohol mixture in it. Allow it to stand on the counter and most of the alcohol will evaporate in 5-8 hours.
Step 9: Use a spoon to scrape the highly fragrant oil from the walls of the mason jar. Immediately, remove into a dark colored glass bottle and store under refrigeration.
Like store-bought sweet orange essential oil, this homemade extract will also last for 7-10 months. You can get even get a year if it’s stored in the refrigerator.
18. How To Make Oregano Essential Oil
For an herb, oregano sure does offer a fairly generous essential oil yield of 2-3%, which means that even 200 grams of the herb can get you 1-1.5 ml of essential oil. Like all the other herbs I have discussed in this article, oregano too is an ideal match for the steam distillation process.
Because the herb is not particularly expensive and you can use the leaves and the tender stalks and stems for distillation, I recommend using an alembic still for this process. If you have the set up ready, this is what you need to do.
Step 1: Put the boiler on the stove or the hot plate and fill it with water. Normally, about 2-3 inches below the brim allows the steam to comfortably waft up and through the perforated base of the distillation column.
Step 2: Pack the distillation column and the alembic lid with the plant material. Fill the column and then press hard and fill some more. You are going for a tight packing, so that the steam stays around the plant material for longer and picks up more juices along the way.
Step 2: Put the distillation column and the lid back in their place and seal all joints using flour paste or plumbing tape.
Step 3: Attach the steam transfer tube to the condenser and place the collection container below the condenser outlet.
Step 4: If you using a water pump to refresh the water and cool the condenser, fill the container that houses the condenser with water and attach the pump to the tubing in the container. A simpler way is to use ice cubes.
Step 5: Heat the boiler and give the water about 10 minutes to generate the steam, which will take another 8-10 minutes to make its way through the herb mass and into the condenser. So, your first few drops of the distillate will trickle into the collection jar/beaker in about 20 minutes after the application of heat.
Step 6: Allow the distillation to go on for 45 minutes to one hour or for as long as the water in the boiler lasts. If you get around 30 minutes of time from the water, add some more and continue to distill with the same biomass.
Step 7: Oregano essential oil will float on top of the hydrosol if the latter is allowed to stand in the collection container for about 20 minutes.
Step 8: Use a dropper or a pipette to remove the oil. Another way is to use a separator that has a nozzle at the bottom, which can be used to empty the hydrosol from the essencier. With the hydrosol gone, you are left with only the oil.
Like with all essential oils, store your home distilled oregano essential oil in a dark glass bottle. If you have used a dropper/pipette for separating the oil from the hydrosol, freeze the extract and you will be able to separate any vestiges of hydrosol that may be left behind in the oil.
19. How To Make Pine Essential Oil
Depending on the part of the pine tree that is put through distillation, you can expect a yield of 0.8-1%. However, for this botanical material, I prefer to use maceration because it also allows for the extraction of the oleoresins in the plant material, which would not make it to the steam distilled oil.
So, this is how you can make pine essential oil at home:
Step 1: I prefer to exclusively use pine needles for this maceration but you can also use the twigs and cones. However, I feel that maceration does not help to extract the oils from woody material as completely as it should be extracted. So, start by cutting/plucking the pine needles from the branches.
Step 2: Remove any needles that are brown, dead or decaying and wash the rest. Blot the excess moisture with paper towel and then air dry for an hour.
Step 3: Maceration calls for the use of bone dry botanicals because the introduction of moisture into the carrier oil will significantly lower it’s shelf life, bringing it down to a mere few weeks.
Step 4: Once the pine needles are dry, use your mortar and pestle to bruise the needles.
Step 5: Put the bruised plant matter into a mason jar and cover with a carrier oil. I prefer virgin olive oil for this maceration but you can use jojoba, sweet almond or any other oil that you like.
Step 6: Put a double boiler filled with water on the stove. Place the jar in the boiler such that it does not tip over when the water boils.
Step 7: Boil the water and then turn down the heat to medium/low and continue heating the contents of the jar for an hour. Add water into the double boiler as needed.
Step 8: Turn off the stove and allow the jar to cool.
Step 9: Remove from the double boiler, wipe it dry and store in the pantry for a week (notice no shaking of the jar involved in this case).
Step 10: After 7 days, filter the oil using a cheese cloth or a fine mesh sieve. Transfer the infused oil to a new/fresh mason jar and store in a cool dry place or under refrigeration.
20. How To Make Rose Essential Oil
You may know that rose essential oil/absolute is one of the most expensive extracts in the world, and for good reason. You get a measly yield of just 0.02- 0.03% from rose petals, which means that if you were to attempt steam distillation at home, you would end up investing thousands in highly fragrant rose blooms before you get enough essential oil to make a difference.
So, for rose oil, I highly recommend maceration as an ideal home-extraction method. Take a look at the infusion process:
Step 1: You will need about 5-6 rose flowers, pick highly fragrant blooms and partially/freshly open buds instead of flowers in full bloom. You will need about a cup of rose petals and 5-6 roses ought to get you that much.
Step 2: Pluck the petals and transfer into a Ziploc bag. Use a wooden mallet or spoon to tap the petals with the aim of bruising them. You are not going for a paste of the petals; you simply want them lightly bruised, so spend no more than 2-3 minutes on this step.
Step 3: Remove and quickly put into a mason jar. Assuming that you started with a cup of rose petals, pour an equal quantity of a carrier oil into the jar, covering the petals completely.
Step 4: Replace the lid of the jar and place on the window sill so that it can be exposed to direct sunlight.
Step 5: At the end of the day, remove from the sill and place in the pantry or in any dry area.
Step 6: The next day, remove the spent petals by filtering the oil through a cheese cloth. Pour this oil right back into the mason jar and add another cup of bruised rose petals to it. Repeat steps 1-5
Step 7: After 3 rounds of this, you will have a highly fragrant oil on your hands with a slight tinge of pink (if red/pink roses were used). Double filter this oil to make sure that you get rid of all plant matter.
Step 8. Store the oil in a cool dry place and use as you would rose essential oil. If stored in a cool, dry place under hygienic conditions, you can easily get 6-9 months of shelf life from this oil.
21. How To Make Rosemary Essential Oil
The yield of this common kitchen herb is about 1-2%, so it lends itself perfectly for steam distillation. Plus, steam distilled rosemary oil has many extraordinarily beneficial phytochemicals like the famed rosmarinic acid, which may not get entirely extracted through the process of maceration.
So, with this herb, go for a round of steam distillation and to do that, you will have to get your copper/ glass still out.
Step 1: Place the boiler/unit meant to hold the water on the stove. Fill it with water, keeping the level a few inches below the brim.
Step 2: You don’t have to chop the herb because in case of rosemary, the oil glands are in the tiny hair like growths on the leaves. However, if you have harvested the rosemary from your own garden/yard and have long stems, cut these to get smaller pieces and also remove overly woody bits of stem.
Step 3: Pack the herb into the distillation column fairly tight and place the column on the boiler. Close with the alembic top and put the remaining pieces of the assembly in place (steam transfer tube, condenser and distillate collection container)
Step 4: Now all that is left to do is add ice cubes around the condenser (if you are using a copper still and condenser) or start the water pump if using glass distillation apparatus.
Step 5: Switch the stove on. It takes about 15- 20 minutes for the distillate to start trickling down the condenser tube.
Step 6: Collect the distillate, which is a mixture of rosemary hydrosol and essential oil.
Step 7: Approximately 200 grams of rosemary will give you around 0.5 ml of essential oil, which will flow on top of the hydrosol. Recover it by using a pipette to soak it up and out of the reservoir.
Step 8: Collect the oil in a dark glass bottle. Close the lid tightly and store in a cool dry place.
22. How To Make Sage Essential Oil
Common sage or Salvia officinalis offers an essential oil yield of 1-2% like the other famous members of the Lamiaceae family. But, the distilled oil can contain as much as 50% of a class of compounds known as thujones.
While these don’t really create trouble when used topically, if ingested, they can and have led to acute neurotoxicity. This is one of the reasons, why extreme caution is advised when using Salvia Officinalis essential oil is any form or manner.
Personally, I like to play it safe than be sorry. Hence, instead of distillation, I always advice the maceration of this herb for extracting its aromatic and therapeutic aspects. Take a look at how you can create a safe oil with the infusion process:
Step 1: You will need a cup of chopped sage and 2 cups of a carrier oil to go with that. Given the flavor of the herb, virgin olive oil or even sesame seed oil works fine for this infusion.
Step 2: Put the chopped herb into a mason jar and pour oil all over it. As long as the plant matter is submerged in the oil and you have an inch on top, you should be fine.
Step 3: Close the lid of the jar and give it a good, hard shake. Place the jar in sunlight every day for about a week.
Step 4: Then, filter the herb out using a muslin/cheese cloth or fine mesh gauze. This oil is edible and can be stored without refrigeration for 4-6 months.
23. How To Make Thyme Essential Oil
This herb offers a slightly higher yield than the other members of the Lamiaceae family, at 1-3% of the botanical mass. Like rosemary and mint, the best way to extract thyme essential oil is through steam distillation.
A copper still works the best, but you can also use glass distillation apparatus or a homemade still.
Step 1: As always, you should get the distillation set up ready before reaching for the botanical ingredients. It’s a good idea to start with 300 grams of thyme, so that at the least, you can get 1 ml of essential oil from the distillation process.
Step 2: The oil glands that carry the spicy aromatic compounds of the herb are on the surface of the leaves, so you don’t have to bother with chopping. But, only use the flowering tops, the leaves and the tender stalks at the top, and not the woody stems.
Step 3: Once you have the boiler full of water and on the stove, fill the distillation column with the plant material, packing it in tightly to remove all the air pockets.
Step 4: Put the lid on and get the condenser assembly in place along with the cooling medium (water or ice that you are using) ready.
Step 5: After this, all that is left to do is switch the stove on and give the water 15-20 minutes to start boiling and sending steam into the distillation column.
Step 6: As soon as you see the first few drops of distillate dripping into the collection container, get ready to turn down the heat to medium. The trick to ensure the right degree of heat is to watch for the rate at which the distillate flows into the collection container. As long as it’s a trickle that offers no more than 1-2 drops per second, you have the right amount of heat going.
Step 7: Typically, for herbs, you will need to steam distill the raw material for at least an hour to get to the 1% yield and longer if the biomass is capable of offering more.
Step 8: Like most other oils, as soon as you remove the distillate into the separator, micro droplets of oil will start to rise to the surface. In about 20 minutes, you should see a clear demarcation between the thin oil ring floating on the surface and the slightly hazy hydrosol below it.
From here, you can either use a dropper to remove the oil out of the essencier or simply use the outlet nozzle of the essencier if it has one, to let the hydrosol out. Do not discard the hydrosol. You can use it in cooking, for flavoring, in skin care formulations and for therapeutic purposes.
24. How To Make Turmeric Essential Oil
Like Ginger and other rhizomes, it is possible to put turmeric roots through the steam distillation process to extract the volatile compounds it harbors. Because the rhizome offers a yield of 2-3%, you can get as much as 1-2 ml from a small quantity of biomass (200-300 grams).
But, I still prefer to use maceration to extract the therapeutic and volatile compounds from this oil. I bet you are wondering why! Well, one word says it all- Curcumene. Yes, I am sure you have heard about this wonder anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that allegedly has the power to beat down cancer and many other ailments.
Now, the roots have the highest quantity of this phytochemical although the rhizomes are second only to the roots, the distillation process, in my opinion, does not extract all the curcumene compounds from the fleshy stems of turmeric.
Let’s not forget that this is a highly lipophilic substance, which means that it is only released and activated when exposed to oil. So, why bother with steam, when turmeric loves oil so much?
Plus, if you intend to exclusively use this extract orally, it is also easy to add piperine to the mix (this is the compound that makes curcumene super bioavailable). So, without further ado, let me tell you how to macerate those gorgeous golden rhizomes.
Step 1: Wash and dry the rhizomes completely before you get down to chopping them. It is very important to not leave behind any moisture. So, if you also need to air dry for an hour or two to be sure, go ahead and do that.
Step 2: Chop the rhizomes, without peeling them, into thin slices. Put them in the mortar and gently crush/bruise them. You are not trying to puree the turmeric because getting the paste out of the oil will be very hard. You simply want smaller and crushed pieces, so all the cellular fluids from the rhizomes are released into the oil.
Step 3: I prefer to use an edible carrier oil for this maceration. So, I always tend to go with virgin olive oil. A ratio of 1 part turmeric to 2 parts oils works the best.
Step 4: Put the bruised turmeric slices into a mason jar and follow with the oil. Put the lid of the jar back on and shake it to mix the two ingredients together.
Step 5: Place a double boiler or a pan filled with water on the stove and place the oil jar in the water. The water level in the pan should reach above the level of the oil in the jar.
Step 6: Switch on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Then, turn down the heat to low and allow the oil in the jar to soak up the natural goodness of turmeric.
Step 7: Continue the hot water bath for 3 hours. Then, simply switch off the stove and give the jar enough time to cool. Remove from the water bath and wipe the outside of the jar clean with paper towels.
Step 8: Thereafter, place the jar on the window sill every day for 3-5 days. At this point, the oil will take on a deep, rich golden color. Shake the jar everyday through the 3-5 days.
Step 9: Filter the plant material using a cheese cloth and store the macerated oil in a clean and dry glass bottle. This oil can be used both topically and orally.
25. How To Make Vanilla Essential Oil
Did you know that, actually, there is no such thing as vanilla essential oil? I kid you not!
What is sold as vanilla oil in the market is either an absolute, a CO2 extract or simply an infused oil. Although the absolute and the CO2 extract is often used as a flavoring agent even in edible products, I believe an infused oil is a better, safer and more affordable option.
Plus, if you have about 4 vanilla beans on hand; yes that’s all you will need; you can make your own aromatic and flavorful vanilla oil. This is what you will have to do:
Step 1: I recommend the use of a carrier oil with a very mild aroma for this one. Sesame seed is my favorite but you can just as well use coconut or sweet almond oil. Take 1 ½ cup of oil in a clean and dry mason jar.
Step 2: Next, with a very sharp knife, cut the vanilla beans, vertically, in half. Use a spoon to scrape out the content and put it in the oil. Don’t discard the outer shell of the beans as yet. Chop it up and throw it all into the oil.
Step 3: Close the lid of the jar and swirl the contents around a few times.
Step 4: Then, use a double boiler or your crockpot to give this infusion a hot water bath. You simply place the jar in a double boiler or crockpot filled with water.
Step 5: You will need low heat for this but you will have to allow the infusion to go on for 12 hours at a stretch or 3-4 hours every day for a period of 4 days.
Step 6: If you are going for 4 days of cooking, remember to give the jar a good shake before each heating session.
Step 7: After 12 hours of exposure to heat, open the jar and filter the oil using a cheese cloth.
Step 8: Enjoy your vanilla infused oil in cooking and topical formulations.
A Few Things To Remember About Making Essential Oils!
- Except for certain plants, most will offer some amount of essential oils when subjected to steam distillation. So, although I have recommended maceration in some places, it really up to you.
- Regardless of the extraction method you are using, always remember to clean and sterilize all your equipment, apparatus, tool and even the counter before starting the process.
- Always seal all the joints of the still with plumbing tape or rye flour paste.
- As far as possible use organic products for essential oil extraction.
- Although it’s not a requirement, I would still recommend that you store home distilled essential oils under refrigeration.
- Infused oils should definitely be refrigerated and keep an eye out for any haziness in the oil. If you see particle matter months after filtration, this is a clear sign of mold growth and means that the oil should be tossed.
- Use a coil snake to clean the condenser coil after every distillation.
- The still and other distillation equipment should be cleaned with a solution made from 1 cup citric acid/4 cups white vinegar to one gallon of water.
- Wear sterile gloves when handling plant material for extraction and as you go through the process.
- Home extracted oils (steam distilled, macerated and alcohol extracted) are every bit as potent and strong as store bought oils of their kind, so do a patch test before using them topically.
- Keep all essential and macerated oils away from children and pets.
- Like commercially available essential oils, all volatile extracts derived through steam distillation and alcohol extraction should be diluted before use.