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Distilling essential oils is an art and a science! And most essential oils distillers use methods of extracting essential oils that use solvents or attempt to adulterate the oil prior to distribution.
Honestly, like many things out in our world, the process of distilling can be good for the consumer (and the environment) or not so good, so please take the time to be an educated oil user!
What are the Methods of Extracting Essential Oils?
There are many different ways to extract essential oils and a complete listing and description is provided here. This section will mainly deal with the details and methods of steam distillation.
What is Steam Distillation?
Distilling essential oils by steam distillation can be accomplished three different ways. They are:
What is Water Distillation?
This method is where the plant material is placed in boiling water. The steam and oils are captured and then separated out to produce the essential oil. Clove essential oil is collected using water distillation.
What is Water/Steam Distillation?
This method is where steam and water are pushed around and though the plant material. And then the steam and oils are captured and then separated out to produce the essential oil. Nutmeg oil is collected using this method!
What is Straight Steam Distillation Method?
Distilling essential oils using the straight steam method involves pushing steam through the plant material and then picking up the essential oil. Lavender essential oil is distilled in this manner!
How do the Methods Vary?
In all of the methods, steam is used to rupture the oil membranes in the plant and release the essential oil. The steam carries the essential oil to a condenser and then as it re-liquefies the lighter essential oil floats on top.
The water and oil are then separated out, and the water is referred to as the hydrosol or hydrolat, or flower or floral water. And the oil of course is the essential oil!
The size and material of the cooking chamber, the condenser type and the separator all can change the outcome of the oil.
For instance, the cooking chambers that are best are made of non-reactive metal. This minimizes the essential oil from being adulterated (changed) by reactive metals such as copper and aluminum. The best metal that is non-reactive is stainless steel!
Also, vertical steam distillation seems to produce the best quality oil when distilling essential oils. There is no risk of overheating the plant material!
What other Factors Effect Distilling Essential Oils?
They are other factors such as temperature and pressure that affect the quality of oil. For instance, if the pressure or temperature is too high than the oil is changed. It is like over cooking vegtables!
Additionally, the chemical constituents of the oil when over heated become changed or adulterated. The oil pH and polarity can even be completely altered!
So, it has been found that low pressure and low temperature is extremely important to producing therapeutic grade oils. This is how ancient cultures distilled oils for thousands of years!
Can you give the proper pressures and temperatures for Cypress or Tea Tree or Melaleuca Alternifolia Essential Oil?
Sure, here they are!
So as you can see, it is like following a cooking recipe! And we all know what happens when we short cut recipes!
How do Essential Oil Distillers Adulterate or Cut their Costs?
There are many ways unethical distillers cut their costs. Here are a few:
Are there Reliable Essential Oil Distillers and Companies?
Yes there are responsible essential oil companies and producers. They care about the safety of their consumers and the quality. And they won't but us in harms way so they can make a big buck.
Those company owners who sit behind a desk and profit by selling essential oils of poor quality are General Contractors for Essential Oil (GCEOs)! GCEOs don't grow, distill or analyze essential oil, and frankly they don't have the expertise to do so. They just subcontract everything out and worry about the bottom line, not the safety of the consumer.
What do we Consider When Choosing an Essential Oil Distiller or Company?
I am happy to help you in this area. There is a whole section devoted to discussing what to look for and how to select a company that is distilling essential oils correctly! Please click here for more information.
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