An essential oil is a volatile (vaporizes easily) oil from plants. It is the essential oil that gives a plant its characteristic aroma. An infusion of an essential oil is made by adding plant material to a carrier oil. The essential oil is then said to be “infused” into a carrier oil. A carrier oil is simply an oil used to dilute an essential oil. A variety of carrier oils may be used including olive, apricot kernel, grape seed, avocado, coconut and canola.
To make essential oil out of some plants, you would use the skin such as in oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. You use the leaves or needles from other plants to make essential oils such as in making pine oil. Cinnamon essential oil comes from bark. Stems, roots, seeds and flowers are also used. Some of the plants used to make essential oils, though they may be very aromatic, contain only small amounts of oil. An example would be the jasmine flower. It requires special processing to extract the oil in pure form.
You will read on the internet that you can make essential oils by simply adding the desired plant material (either fresh or dried) to a crock pot, into which a carrier oil has been added. The plant is infused into the oil under low heat (150 degrees Fahrenheit). This process can also be carried out using a quart mason jar into which you add the carrier oil and plant material. You place the jar in a warm window sill and wait 12 hours or so for the infusion process to be complete. (Note: if you use this process, add ¼ cup of herbs to 1 cup of oil and cover the jar top with plastic wrap then secure with a rubber band. Remember, this will not give you a true essential oil; it gives you an infusion of the essential oil into the carrier oil.
To make essential oils pure is a bit more complicated. The most common method is steam distillation. To do this you will need to purchase or make a still. Think about how vegetables are steamed. Heat is added to water and the vegetables rest on a tray in the bottom of the pan. As the water heats, the steam passes through the vegetables and voila you have delicious steamed vegetables. The process is similar except, instead of vegetables, you substitute the plant material. Out of this will come the essential oil. Here’s how it works. As steam passes through the plants, it carries essential oils with it into a tube which condenses into a second container.
Another common, and easier method, is to use a water bath. You toss the plants in a glass container with distilled water and boil. As the steam rises, it carries the essential oil with it into a holding container. If you opt to use this method, be sure to use distilled water so as not to impart impurities into your oil.
Once the water and essential oil are in the collection container, it will be necessary to separate the oil from the water using a separator. It is then poured into dark containers to preserve the integrity of the oil. Once this is done, the oil is ready for storage. Essential oils generally have a shelf life of at least a year if stored this way.
Some oils to try your hand distilling are cinnamon (don’t taste the oil no matter how good it smells because it’s toxic), lavender, rose (12 – 15 rosebuds yields 1 drop), the zest of citrus fruit, chamomile, peppermint and spearmint. If you choose to make other essential oils, investigate the usual process used to create the oil before proceeding (No problems for our readersJ). Also, don’t taste any essential oil unless you really know what you’re doing. Some, like cinnamon, are toxic.
After removing the essential oil from the water, what will remain is called a hydrosol.
Hydrosols have a number of uses including:
There are many more uses and we’ll be covering that thoroughly in other posts.
- You should use only organically grown plant material to avoid contaminating your oils with herbicides or pesticides.
- Not all plants are created equal. If you plan on using the oils therapeutically, it’s important to know that the plants you obtain have the active ingredients you need. The same species of plant, depending on where it’s grown, may not contain the active ingredient.
- It’s critical that you don’t overheat the plants when you make essential oils. Overheating changes the chemistry making some beautiful fragrances turn foul. Too much heat can also destroy the plant’s healing properties. For this reason, we recommend against using a dry distillation process.
- If you use the water bath method, make absolutely sure you don’t run out of water.
- Don’t use essential oils full strength on your skin.
Now go have fun and relax