When producing Essential Oils, the most common method used is what is
known as "Steam Distillation".
This appears to be the best method so far for extracting most Essential
Oils, although the CO2 method is also becoming quite popular as we will
Most Aromatherapists feel that an essential oil is not a "true"
essential oil unless it is steamed distilled and therefore oils
extracted from the other methods should be called exactly what they
are; cold pressed oils, concretes, absolutes, etc. and should not be
confused with "true" essential oils.
In the steam distillation process the material is carefully gathered
and placed into either a copper or stainless steel vat, known as the
distillation chamber. Steam is then applied through heat (preferably
low heat) and pressure builds within the distillation chamber causing
the glands of the plant to rupture and to give up its essence which is
then released in the steam vapor.
This steamy vapor is passed through a refrigerated coil, which is
usually submerged into cold water. This causes the vapor to cool and
condense. Here the water and essential oil will separate due to the
cooling effect. The essential oils will usually stay on top of the
water due to the difference in gravity. The water and essential oil are
sent to a collection chamber where the oil can be easily skimmed off of
the top of the distillated water.
The distillated water still contains many of the water soluble content
of the plant and is very mild. These can be used in skin care, and are
safe for children and the elderly. This is known as a "hydrosol" and is
a byproduct of the distillation process.
When subjecting a plant to heat or steam as in the distillation
process, the chemicals within the plant after distillation are
different than the original plant. This has caused some problems in
many books on the subject of aromatherapy because the writers are
giving the attributes of the particular herb that was used for the
Essential oil, but the Essential oil and the herb are different once
the distillation process is complete.
It is imperative to remember that the essential oil of a plant is not
the same as the plant itself. When subjecting the plant to heat or
steam as in the distillation process, the chemical structure within the
essential oil after distillation are different than those found in the
original plant material. For instance, Chamomile produces the chemical
azulene, which is not found in the plant itself but is produced only
during the distillation procedure.
Fractionated Oils: A fractionated oil is an essential oil that has been
redistilled, usually at a higher temperature to remove certain
components. Ylang Ylang is a common oil that has 5 different fractions.
Another common oil is Bergamot that is fractionated to remove the
furocoumarins, known as Bergamot FCF.
Of Parts Used In
- Fruit Peel: Citrus
include Grapefruit, Bergamot, Mandarin, Orange, Lemon, Lime and
- Bark: Oils such as
Birch are used by distilling the bark.
- Leaves &
Cajeput, Cinnamon, Clary Sage, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Hyssop,
Marjoram, Myrtle, Verbena, Melissa, Niaouli, Oregano, Petitgrain,
Patchouli, Pine, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Spearmint, Spruce,
Tea tree, Thyme.
- Grasses: Citronella,
- Flowers: Jasmine,
Ylang Ylang, Lavender.
- Roots: Vetivert,
- Resins: Frankincense,
Myrrh, Galbanum, Elemi.
- Wood: Sandalwood,
- Seeds : Coriander,
Carrot, Aniseed, Nutmeg.
Using different parts of the plant will result in a totally different
essential oil with a completely different chemical structure.
For instance, Cinnamon can be distilled using the bark or the leaves.
" Cinnamon Bark produces a large amount of cinnamaldehyde which is a
strong sensitizer and should never be used in aromatherapy.
" Cinnamon Leaf, on the other hand produces mostly Eugenol, but again
should not be used on the skin.
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