How are essential oils made?
So, I get many questions asking me how essential oils are made, so what better way to explain than with a blog!
An essential oil can be defined as: highly concentrated essences & aromas created from non-greasy plant extracts.
So an essential oil ‘making’ is simply defined as the extraction of a natural extract from a plant mainly by distillation although there are other methods.
Essential oils are found in the different structures of a plant, if you think of:
Rose absolute is extracted from rose petals.
Eucalyptus is extracted from plant leaves.
Citrus oil is extracted from the fruit rind of the plant.
Essential oils are a volatile oil meaning they evaporate, if you rub an essential oil on the back of your hand it will not feel oily, whereas if you compare if with putting coconut oil (or another carrier oil) on the back of your hand you will feel the difference.
The oil secreted in the plant can be obtained in a variety of ways: distillation, expression, solvent extraction, enfleurage, macerations and carbon dioxide extraction.
This is the most common method of extraction. A plant is placed in a vat and steam passes through the fat. The steam passes through taking the odiferous molecules with the plant into a condensing tube. This liquid then cools and separates and produced a essential oil and a aromat (flower water, more on this later) and as water and oil do not mix you can extract the oil into a neat form.
Most counties now have lavender farms and will have a display or distillation room available for you to see.
This method is used to extract woody oils and is a very new method. Steam can pass down through the plant rather than up like traditional distillation so that gravity aids the extraction of the oil.
Expression: This method is an old method and was traditionally used for citrus oils where the fruit would be squeezed, and the oil collected in a sponge. However, in more recent times this can be done by a machine.
Solvent Extraction: This is done with rather delicate plants. A liquid solvent is used to dissolve the essential oils from the plan, the remaining matter left when the solvent and plant materials are removed is called a concrete. The concrete is the plants wax and its essential oils, when shaken with pure alcohol this separates the essential oil. This produces an ‘absolute’ essential oil and can be very expensive- examples include rose and jasmine oils.
This is a very historic method of extraction as it is very time consuming so less than 10% of all oils are extracted in this way, Again, it is used for delicate notes. A fat is spread over layers of glass in wooden frames, the fat is covered with petals and the petals removed when they have faded. They are then replaced with new petals and the fat can be separated from the oils which have been collected producing the essential oil.
Carbon dioxide extraction
This method originated in the 1980s and a plant is brought into contact with compressed carbon dioxide at allow temperature. The low temperature avoids damage to the plant through heat. The compression extracts the essential oils, it is a quick process and produced oils of high pure quality- however is an awfully expensive method of extraction.
So, I mentioned earlier about the by-products of some extraction methods- aromats of flower waters. Now these are not just discarded thewy can be of huge benefit to us in aromatherapy. They are often also called hydrosols, they have similar properties to essential oils. They are the aromatic waters left behind during the extraction process of essential oils. They are already diluted so can be used in a variety of ways and often applied to the skin neat, they are often also used in body products in place of the water content- thus improving the fragrance. However, if you choose to buy these you must be careful and read the data as floral waters can often be sold as just simply water with essential oil mixed in- this is not a true hydrosol!
Who knew how much work went into obtaining that small bottle of oil I use in your products?!
Love Lucy Xx
Top, Middle and base notes- blending essential oils exam