Following up on our earlier article titled “What Everyone Should Know About Essential Oils“, we are now going to share how Essential Oils are extracted from the plants and why it really matters for oil users to know how the bottle of oil in their hands are being extracted.
Powerful essential oils come from seeds and plants that are verified for their potential to produce high-quality essential oils. The seeds should be selected for their ability to become plants with the highest possible levels of bio-active compounds.
Essential Oils are extracted from various parts of the plants such as seeds, roots, barks leaves, flowers, shrubs, fruits and others. Have you ever wondered why certain essential oils are extracted from specific part of the plants, e.g., peppermint from the leaves, lemon from the rind, cinnamon from the bark, etc…? Perhaps, we can discuss more about this topic in our future articles.
By and large, there are 4 main methods of extraction, though there are others: Steam distillation, Absolute oil extraction, Resin tapping and Cold pressing. In this article, we will just touch on Steam Distillation. We’ll be back to talk about the other 3 methods in subsequent articles.
Most Essential Oils are extracted through steam distillation method that separates aromatic constituents (essential oils) from plant materials. This method protects and preserve the complex therapeutic compounds found in essential oils.
Before harvesting, the experts would test a plant’s pH levels to ensure each crop is gathered at the exact right time.
Once harvested, and dried, plants are placed and compressed in the cookers. Purified steam then rises through the plants, releasing the essential oils into the vapor. The correct temperature of the steam is crucial, and the degree of heat is determined by the plant being distilled.
Long tubes extending from the top of the cookers allow the vapor to condense back into oil-infused water.
This water, containing the essential oils, collects into glass separating flask. Since oil is lighter than water, the oils will float to the top of the flask where they can be collected for use.
Once separated from the water, the oil sits undisturbed to allow any solids to settle. The collecting flask is protected from sunlight exposure and kept cool. This protects the therapeutic qualities until the oil is collected and stored in dark glass or stainless steel containers.
Hydrosol or Flora Water
By the way, the water that has settled down is called hydrosol or flora water and is very unstable in nature. It tends to turn bad in very short time. Some unethical merchants, unfortunately, have passed off flora water as pure essential oils. Now, what happens if you come across someone trying to sell you flora water and claim that it can last for years? You can be sure that chemicals have been added to the flora water to preserve or prolong the life span!
Do You Know…
It takes approximately
- 1 pound of Peppermint plants to produce one 15ml bottle of Peppermint Essential Oil
- 27 square feet of Lavender plants to produce one 15ml of Lavender Essential Oil
A proper, stringent and thorough distillation process can be very costly and time consuming, just to get that small amount of concentrated essential oils. Are there ways to short-circuit the process? Here are a few (unfortunately):
- Short Cut the Distillation Process – Certain steps or parameters along the process is either skipped or relaxed and this can cause undesirable impact to the therapeutic qualities of the essential oils, for example, skipping the pH testing, setting high pressure and/or setting higher temperature to quicken the time taken to extract the oils. In case you do not know, the molecules of the essential oils can break down at high temperature!
- Add Solvents to the Oil – Solvent is added to the extraction process and it helps to extract the oils much faster and easier.However, it is easy to add in solvent but it is difficult to separate them after that. Others may add solvents to good quality oil thereby diluting it. Some companies dilute it up to 90-95% with solvents or cheaper oils that are similar smelling! So, what’s in your bottle of oil?
- Re-extract or Re-distill Plant Material – Distilling essential oils several times or repeating the extraction method with the same plant material. This produces very weak oil.
- Use Non-Organic Plant Material – Companies will use plants that contain pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or who knows what else to make essential oil! Those chemicals not only react with the essential oil but become concentrated in the oil as well.
Before You Buy Your Next Bottle of Essential Oil
So isn’t it true that, before you decide to buy any essential oil, you ought to find out how the oil is actually being extracted and whether it has gone through the stringent and rigorous process & quality controls, from the time the seed is sourced to the time the oil is sealed in the bottle. In this way, you’ll have a peace of mind and feeling assured of the purity, authenticity and therapeutic qualities of the essential oils exactly the way nature intended.
That’s all for now! Stay tuned for our next article on the other 3 extraction methods!
Read our earlier articles on Essential Oils: