Essential Oil Distillation
Essential oil distillation is a very enjoyable and rewarding hobby. From
aroma therapy, to homemade perfumes, candles, and even oils for health
purposes, there is something of interest for most everyone. Distillation of essential oils is relatively simple, and can offer very high quality oils that are also very fresh. However, many organic materials contain relatively small amounts of oil, but despite the small volume of finished distilled oil, they are extremely powerful.
Keep in mind that generally all of the aroma and flavor compounds, as well as the healthful effect, in a given material are in this oil. This means that the amount of oil that you retrieve through your distillation is all that was needed to for the effects of the entire amount of product that you distilled. What you have done through essential oil distillation is to take all of what you really wanted from the material, and discard the bulk.
For example, if you retrieve one ounce of oil from 10 pounds of material, then that one ounce of oil is essentially equivalent to the entire 10 pounds of material that you started with. If the base material is Oregano leaves, just as an example, then consider how little of the Oregano oil you would use in a recipe to replace the leaves that you would normally use. Essential oils are extremely concentrated, so do not be disappointed with the relatively low volume of oil in a single distillation- it is all of the oil that was in the entire volume of product that you put into the boiling kettle.
A very important concern when distilling your own essential oils is the quality of the finished oil. One very special feature of the still unit is its ability to offer a mixture of metals for different distillation uses. Although copper is considered by many to be very valuable in alcohol distillation as it is reactive and will reduce the sulfur compounds in the distillate, this reactivity can have a negative impact on the quality of essential oils. For this reason, it is best to use only stainless steel for essential oil distillation as stainless steel is inert, and therefore will not react with your oils. This results in a much higher quality oil, in many cases surpassing what is commercially available.
There are several methods of obtaining essential oils, but by far the most
common method, both at home and commercially, is steam distillation. Not only does steam distillation produce very high quality oils, it is also among the simplest methods of extracting the oils from plant material. In steam distillation, the heat of the steam forces the pockets that hold the essential oils to open and release them.
The tiny droplets of essential oil then evaporate and attach to the steam, rising into the distillation column. The combined water vapor and essential oil then enters the condenser, where they are turned back into liquid form. As the oils are not generally soluble in water, they quickly separate in the collection container, allowing the producer to easily collect just the pure essential oil.
How to distill Essential Oils
It is certainly best when possible to use fresh organic material, although
dried product is sometimes used.
To start, add approximately 10L of clean water (preferably distilled water) to the kettle. You can then add the material that you wish to extract the essential oils from, preferably packing the kettle rather tightly. Once your kettle is full, or you have added all of the material that you will be extracting oil from, attach the Pot Still Head or the top portion of the new still column to your kettle. Although it is possible to extract essential oils with the standard Pro Series column, it is highly suggested that you use a shorter column for essential oil extraction. Connect the water lines to the condenser, as described in Section 3.
Place your distiller onto a heat source, and direct the collection hose to
your collection container. It is not necessary to start the flow of cooling water to the condenser until the water in the kettle is nearly at boiling temperature. Once you feel that you are nearing this point, you can start a slow flow of cooling water to condense the essential oil and steam mixture that will be entering the condenser.
Once the flow of essential oils begins to exit the condenser, ensure that there is a sufficient flow of cooling water to condense the vapor fully, and leave the resulting distillate cool to luke warm. It is best to collect your oils in small portions, changing your collection container with approximately every 2 cups / 500 ml of distillate collected. This is because the quality of the distillate can drop rapidly near the end of distillation, which would otherwise reduce the quality of the essential oil that you have already collected. In addition, it is very important to be aware of the water level in your kettle to avoid scorching of the material to the bottom of your kettle.
When a decrease in the quality of the essential oil is noticed, or once you
have collected a maximum of 8L, remove the distiller from the heat (be careful when handling the unit, as even then handles are extremely hot). Follow the cool down instructions in Section 7. Once cool, remove the column and clean with warm soapy water or a Glasrens solution. Glasrens is an excellent cleaner / sanitizer that will remove the remaining oils on the inside of your column without damaging the stainless steel. Rinse well.
Empty your kettle. If the material that you distilled has not been broken down during the distillation process it may be necessary to pull it from the kettle. To do this, tip the kettle so that the opening is facing at least partly downward, and pull the material out either with your fingers or a bent coat hanger or similar object. Rinse your kettle thoroughly with water to ensure that there is no material left in the kettle that could dry onto the interior. It is suggested to clean your kettle with warm soapy water or a Glasrens solution, and then rinse well.
Combine your essential oils and allow to sit covered until they have separated from the water. This will usually take place within a few hours.
How to separate the oil after distillation.
Because most essential oils are not water soluble, when the vapor is condensed the oil suddenly finds itself trapped in the water resulting from the steam from distillation. This causes your distillate to appear cloudy. Letting the collection container sit idle will allow the oils to separate from the water, resulting in a clear liquid.
Although there are a small number of essential oils that are heavier than
water, nearly all are lighter and will float to the top when separating. There are several ways to separate the essential oil from the water, and even inexpensive products that will assist you in separating the two liquids. The preferred two methods due to ease and cost are a separating measuring cup, available at most kitchen supply stores. The second is to attach a small drain hose to the bottom of a large, clear plastic container. Allow your essential oils and water to separate in this container, and then slowly drain the water through the drain hose. Either method works very well.
Bottle your essential oils in dark colored, airtight glass containers and label them with the product name and distillation date so that you can compare with different batches.
It is important to note that essential oil flavors can linger, and can be difficult to clean from your column. It is not advised that you distill essential oils immediately followed by distilling any other item that you do not want these flavors to carry over into without thoroughly cleaning the unit first