What is an Essential Oil?
An essential oil is the oil base of a particular plant. Depending on the plant, the essential oil created from it can include the roots, bark, leaves, stems and flowers of the plant. Essential oils contain the “essence” of a plant and are more like a clear liquid base than an actual oil, again this depends on the type of plant in which the essence is coming from.
It is important to note that an essential oil is not the same thing as a fragrance oil. With a fragrance oil, its main purpose is to smell nice and can add a concentrated scent of the plant to any area. Fragrance oils also use chemical additives to help the oil scent throw to be as far as possible.
Essential oils are strictly plant derived and are used mainly for the overall health and well being of an individual. Here we are going to take a closer look at the process of essential oil distillation and show you how you can create your own essential oils at home. To learn more about the health properties of certain plant essential oils, see Calendula Essential Oil Information and Four Peppermint Essential Oil Benefits.
Adding Carrier Oils
One of the key ingredients to the essential oil distillation process is in using a carrier oil. When distilling the “oil” from the plant the resulting liquid is not much like an oil at all and is rather more like a thicker but runny type of plant based liquid. Using a carrier oil gives the plant essence more of an oil consistency and helps to dilute the plant essence enough to where it is safer to apply to skin and is also more readily absorbed by the skin.
Carrier oils are also plant derived but are more than just the essence and rather an actual oil in its consistency. Carrier oils are made mainly from the fatty sections of nuts, seeds and kernels of a plant. The kind of carrier oil that is chosen depends on the type of absorption and health benefit being sought from making the essential oil. Common types of carrier oils used for essential oil creation are listed as:
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Hemp Seed Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Apricot Kernel Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Olive Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Rose Hip Oil
Carrier oils can be purchased through your local Whole Foods Market or other local organic herb shop. A good resource for buying carrier oils online is Mountain Rose Herbs.
Steam and Water Distilling
There are two main commercial methods that can be used for organic essential oil distillation. These methods include steam distillation and water distillation.
In steam distillation, the plant is steamed in an enclosed container. As the plant is being steamed its tissues begin to break down and the result is a collection of the plants essential oil combined with water vapor. The basic set up to using steam is that the plant is enclosed in a separate chamber where the steam is then piped into where the plant is. After the plant breaks down, the end result is cooled and then added to a carrier oil.
In the water distillation method, the plant is put into water and then boiled. Once the plant has been sufficiently boiled, the oil is then removed from the water base and cooled.
In each method there is the need to keep an eye on temperature, water vapors and plant break down. Some plants will need to be water distilled because they won’t make it through the steam distillation process, while other plants will need to be steam distilled because the resulting oil from the water process is not enough. The current most popular method for commercial distillation is the steam method which requires the proper equipment in order to get the essential oil.
Here we are going to go over a non-commercial distillation method with a few modifications, so that you can learn the basics of essential oil distillation in your own kitchen.
Crock-pot Distilling at Home
In order to make essential oils at home using your own essential oil distillation process, there are a few items that you will need to get started.
Those items are as follows:
- Carrier Oil
- Mason Jar
- Measuring Cups
The first thing you want to do is to mix your plant and carrier oil together. Take the plant and measure out two quarter ounces of it, then mix that with one cup of the carrier oil. If you are looking to make more essential oil than that, then just make sure you have two quarter ounces of the plant per cup of carrier oil.
Once you have your ingredients mixed together, take the crock-pot and set it to the low setting. Pour your mixture in and let cook in the crock-pot for at least four to five hours. Remember to check the oil frequently in order to keep an eye on what’s going on and see how well your crock-pot is working.
After the four to five hours in the crock-pot, turn off the cooker and pull the middle section out with pot holders to cover your hands. Set the middle container of the crock-pot on the stove or on a heat resistant trivet if you have one.
Next take the lid off of your mason jar, and place the cheesecloth over the opening. Have someone hold the jar for steadiness and then pick up the container with the oil in it and slowly pour the oil into the jar using the cheesecloth as a strainer. Once all the oil is in the jar and has been strained, let the jar cool down some more. When the jar is sufficiently cooled down, place the mason lid back on and store your newly made essential oil in a cool dark cupboard away from the light. If stored in this manner, your homemade essential oil should be good for up to six months.
*images are royalty free and are edited by the author using Picnik
Sources: The College of Botanical and Healing Arts, student materials (COBHA)
Journal of Essential Oil Research (JEOR)