What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the fragrances obtained from a plant. When you smell herbs, spices, etc., you perceive the scent. But not every fragrance is an essential oil. What are essential oils? They contain a variety of chemical compounds like monoterpenes, monoterpenols, sesquiterpenes, aldehydes, esters, etc. Essential oil is not fatty.
Where can the essential oils be found in the plant? They can be found in leaves, flowers, peels, wood, roots or resin.
You can purchase almost any fragrance – but on the other hand, what are essential oils from plants? Today almost all fragrances are produced in the laboratory. However, only individual components are reproduced, i.e. the natural effect of the plant is not present in synthetic oil. The essential oil of a plant is usually obtained by steam distillation and cold pressing. Solvent extraction is also widely used, but such oils should not be used for aromatherapy or for cosmetics.
Making Essential Oils
Make essential oil at home is a great hobby. However, if you want to make aromatic oil and herbal water of good quality with an optimal yield, it is not enough to simply harvest the plants, put them in the still and distill them. Harvesting the herbs and plants (= they are referred to as drugs) and the distillation (= oil distillation) calls for a certain amount of knowledge (see Essential Oil Online Course). Only then will making essential oil and hydrosol really be fun.
Why distill essential oils and hydrosols yourself?
There are innumerable essential oils and hydrosols available to buy in all supermarkets. You can buy almost any plant as a scented oil and herbal water from special providers. So, why should you make the effort and distill essential oils and hydrosols yourself?
- Steam distillation for making essential oil and hydrosol is a sensible way of using up your own herbs and plant material.
- Almost all oils and scented waters that are available commercially can also be produced on a small scale. You can also create your own mixtures in the still (= co-distillation).
- If you prepare the plants carefully, then you will create top quality as a hobby, because it is only if you make essential oils and hydrosols yourself that the complete ingredients of the plants are present in the oil and hydrosol. Bought aromatic oils are distilled again and purified after being made, and as a result part of the ingredients are separated. In contrast to homemade herbal water, bought hydrosol is highly diluted with water, or the stills used only produce weak hydrosols.
- Make your own essential oil is a hobby that leads to many experiments and is therefore simply a lot of fun.
- The yield of essential oils and hydrosols is very high when you do it yourself.
A 5 Steps Beginner’s Guide
So how does distilling essential oils and hydrosols work? Can anyone make aromatic oils and scented waters? What exactly do you have to bear in mind and how to make essential oils from herbs?
Legal situation for steam distillation
From a legal perspective, the distillation and production of oils and hydrosols is regulated differently in each country. First of all, contact your customs office or search online yourself to find out what type of still is allowed without declaration, or for which types registration is necessary.
Harvesting the plants
The herbs, spices, blossoms etc. have to be harvested at the optimum harvesting time. Even the time of day is crucial, and is different for each type of plant. For the highest oil content, roses are cut in the early morning. Lavender, on the other hand, is harvested at noon after three days of sunshine.
Crushing the drugs
The plant has to be crushed very well; otherwise you will have almost no oil yield and week hydrosol. However, it is important that under no circumstances do you make a plant mash, because then the steam would be unable to penetrate it. For example, you should dry lavender blossoms before putting them in the essential oil still. You will also find tips to make your own essential oils in our book The Essential Oil Maker’s Handbook – A Practical Guide and in our collection of essential oil recipes for oils and hydrosols.
If you construct a still yourself or buy a professional essential oil still, make sure that the drugs are in the vapor space and are not boiled (also see tips How to make essential oil stills). The distillation itself should take place quickly. The longer you expose the plants to the heat, the more ingredients will be destroyed. Use a bottle with a narrow neck, for example, as a collecting vessel, as in this way it is easier to separate the oil afterwards. Make sure you stop the distillation promptly so that nothing becomes burned onto the kettle.
Extracting the essential oil
The essential oil should be extracted around 14 days after the distillation. There are still exchange processes between the oil and hydrosol during this time, so it is important to wait a certain amount of time before the extraction. Normally, the oil floats to the top (some oils are heavier than water), so it is easy to collect it with a syringe or pipette. Heavy oils, such as cinnamon or cloves, are found on the bottom of the bottle and can be extracted with a special extraction device for heavy oils.
We wish you success!