Plants are like small chemical laboratories that produce very useful substances both for themselves and for us. These molecules can be extracted in a variety of ways, depending on their chemical-physical characteristics and their therapeutic use. Let’s see how essences are made and how an essential oil distiller works.
Essential oils: what is it?
Essential oils are substances found in flowers (petals), fruits (peel), resin, and bark of many plants. They are volatile, soluble in alcohol and oil but not in the water, and this often makes them difficult to extract and purify from impurities. The most popular essential oils are:
How to get essential oils?
There are various methods for extracting natural essential oils.
The essential oils present in citrus fruits (e.g., orange, bergamot, mandarin, lemon) are obtained by pressing the fruit peel.
Enfleurage is a technique used to extract the essential oils present in the most delicate parts of plants, such as flower petals, which cannot be processed at high temperatures. This is a very ancient method. It consists of applying the petals to a layer of fat so that the fat directly absorbs the essential oils. The petals are often changed until the fat is saturated with fragrant oils. Finally, the fat dissolves and the essential oils are separated.
Solvent-based extraction is used for delicate aromatic plants (such as rose and jasmine) whose oils do not resist heat. It consists of chemically bonding essential oils with a solvent and then removing them to obtain pure essential oils.
What is an essential oil distiller?
The steam distiller is used for most aromatic plants that contain essential oils that are poorly soluble in water and resistant to heat.
The principle of operation of the essential oil distiller is simple: the vegetable penetrates with steam, the plant tissue breaks and releases the essential oil; the steam carries the essential oil. Finally, the essential oil vapor is cooled and therefore separated, as the vapor cools and condenses and has a different specific gravity than essential oils.
How does an essential oil distiller work?
The distillation device is hermetically sealed to prevent vapors from escaping. A fitting connects it to a water-cooled refrigerant to condense the vapors. Here are the steps in the distiller process:
- Plant parts (fresh or dried) are placed in a closed container.
- A stream of water vapor forms at the bottom of the container, which passes through the parts of the vegetables and evaporates the volatile oils they contain.
- The steam and evaporated oil pass together through a refrigerated condenser.
- The essential oils are extracted from the water at the surface of the separator, while the water is collected at the bottom.
Essential oils obtained in this way with the help of a distiller are not identical to those found in plants. They are modified by distillation processes and temperature, but they are also purified from any substances present in the plant. Therefore, it is important to know the chemotype, that is, the chemical composition of essential oils.