How to extract essential oils

Essential oils production

Why are essential oils so expensive?

Essential oils are very select products that are usually expensive. This is because large areas of soil and many plants are needed to grow plants that produce these essential oils.

How much plant is needed to produce essential oil?

Lavender essential oil

To cite an example, half a ton of lavender raw material is needed to produce a liter of lavender essential oil.

One of the most expensive essential oils is rose essential oil, because these plants cannot be grown mechanically and must be collected manually. In Bulgaria the roses are hand picked and for distillation 50 to 100 flowers are needed for a single drop of essential oil.

For this reason essential oils are usually expensive (approximately € 5 per 10 ml ampoule, some reach up to € 20). It is also worth mentioning that, when used, very little is needed.

Essential oil extraction methods

There are various modes of extraction of essential oils, which are contained in the different tissues of plants, housed in microscopic sacks or in their cells.

Different techniques are used to extract the oil:

  • Distillation with a still
  • Expression distillation
  • Extraction with solvents.

Steam distillation with still characteristics

essential oil steam distillation method
The still is the main instrument in steam distillation.

Essential oils can be made with a device called a still. High pressure steam is injected through the plant tissue, leaving the essential oil in the steam.

The resulting steam is cooled again and the essential oil can be separated from the water because it floats on the surface. This is the method that is used for most oils.

If a still is available, the essential oil itself can be produced at home. The essential oils that we produce produced with the plants that we are going to collect from our fields are more fragrant and have a higher aroma quality than the oils of many commercial brands.

Another advantage of the still is the obtaining of the hydrolate, which is the scented water that the plant gives off (from the distillation essential oil and  water vapor is obtained. This vapor  condenses in water,  forming what we call hydrolate). Hydrolate is useful for making natural cosmetics such as homemade creams.

Where can you buy a still?

Receiver to separate liquids obtained by the still
Container to separate liquids obtained by the still. In case of essential oils, the essential oil of water. The essential oil (B) is floating on water (A). By tilting the container, the water flows out of the tube B (separation by decantation)

If you want to buy a still or  alembic, it is usually possible to find it in naturist fairs or in specialized stores that sell this type of products.

However, in some countries the sale of stills is prohibited because they can also be used to produce alcohol distillates, which would be taxed.

Other methods of obtaining essential oils

  • Expression: It consists of directly squeezing the oil from the skin or bark of the fruit. For example, as it is obtained in orange essential oil.
  • Extraction with solvents: Volatile substances are used to dissolve the aromatic bags of plant tissues, this extract is refined to achieve an absolute call, such as jasmine essential oil.

Essential oil producing countries

  • India is a major producer of essential oils of exotic woods, flowers and spices such as Jasmine, Sandalwood and Patchouli.
  • The best geranium oil comes from Reunion Island in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Australia is the largest producer of tea tree oil.

punto rojo More information on essential oils

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

3 July, 2021

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