How To Extract Essential Oils From Plants

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What are essential oils

Plants serve many purposes; it gives beauty to an environment; they are home for animals and nurture our bodies when consumed.

Another great gifts they offer are their scent and flavor, their ‘essence’ and when derived, form the essential oils.

This liquefied version reaches the bloodstream faster with its beneficial compounds than when consuming the plant.

For centuries they have been used as ‘aromatherapy,’ a safe and effective alternative medicine.

There are many benefits, e.g., sleep improvement, inflammation relief, and illness prevention.

You can find more information on what are essential oils here.

Extraction

The meaning of mining is to obtain the plant’s ”life force”, the active botanical constituents.

This is then introduced to a solvent, which can be a preservative or of help in breaking down and releasing their content.

A solvent is introduced to a botanical material, in which some of the plant material components dissolve and produces a herbal extract. The botanical materials that it has pulled from the source plant become infused with the solvent and are referred to as the ”extract”.

At the end of the process, the solution that remains can be liquid, or the remnants of the botanical can be turned into a solid by removing the liquid.

Below are several methods explained (A comprehensive guide to essential oil extraction methods, 2010).

Many ultrasonic diffusers can be used (20 Best Ultrasonic Diffusers & How To Use Them: 2019 Reviews, 2019).

Solvent Extraction

Food grade solvents like hexane and ethanol are used here to isolate essential oils from plant material.

Plant materials that are low in the amounts of essential oil yielding that are largely resinous, or that are unable to withstand the pressure and distress of steam distillation due to delicate aromatics are best suited for this method.

Using this process also produces a more delicate fragrance than any distillation.

The non-volatile material, which means having a high likeliness of rapid change, such as waxes and pigments, are also extracted and sometimes removed through other processes.

A waxy aromatic compound called a ”concrete” is being produced once the plant material has been treated with the solvent.

The oil particles are released when this solid substance is mixed with alcohol.

During the process, the chemicals that were mentioned before, then remain in the oil.

Finally, it can be used in perfumes or for aromatherapy purposes.

Hypercritical CO2, Enfleurage, and Maceration are Solvent Extraction methods.

So the solvent goes into the plant material, which brings the wax and oil solution (concrete).

Concrete is mixed with alcohol; vacuum distillation creates heat and removes the alcohol.

The condenser refines the last part and creates a pure substance.

Maceration

When carrier oils are used as solvents to extract therapeutic properties from plant material, macerated oils are created, also referred to as infused oils.

This process captures heavier and larger plant molecules than when a distillation process is used, so more values of the plant can be retained.

Any plant moisture will cause the oil to become rancid so the harvested plant should be as dry as possible so no microbial growth will happen.

Another way to prevent this is to add 5% of Vitamin E oil or Wheatgerm oil (contains a high amount of Vitamin E).

First, the plant material needs to be cut, crushed, or grounded into a moderate and grainy powder.

Then it needs to be placed in a closed vessel.

A solvent called Menstruum is added.

For one week the mixture stands and is shaken occasionally.

Next step is to strain the liquid.

To recover any remaining liquid, a solid residue called Marc is pressed.

The liquids that are strained and expressed are mixed, through filtration or subsidence liquids are then clarified.

The base oil will most likely have changed color when the maceration process is complete.

Finally, the substance should be filtered from its plant material and stored in an airtight container.

A fresh and dry place should be used for up to 12 months.

When a macerated oil has gone rancid, it will look cloudy or will smell bad.

In a cosmetic formula, 5 to 10% of a macerated oil can be used as an ‘active ‘botanical.’

It can also replace a plain base oil when used in a larger quantity.

Steam distillation

This method is most popular to extract and isolate essential oils from plants for use in natural products.

The plants material’s volatile compounds are vaporized by steam and go through a condensation and collection process.

A still, which is a large, stainless steel container, contains the plant material and has steam added to it.

The plant’s aromatic molecules are released when steam is injected through the plant’s desired oils, using an outlet and turning them into vapor.

The condenser with two separate pipes, so that hot water can exit and cold water can enter, makes the vapor cool and is used for the plant compounds.

A Separator, which is a receptacle underneath the condenser, collects the aromatic liquid by-product.

Water and oil do not mix, so the essential oils float on top of the sea; some are heavier than water and are found at the bottom of the Separator.

CO2 extraction

Oils produced through distillation are similar to the ones that are derived from the CO2 extraction of herbs, as they can be used in aromatherapy and natural perfumery.

However, the quality through distillation can vary depending on the temperatures, pressures, and length of time applied for the process.

As CO2 extraction doesn’t alter the oils by applying high heat, they have more top quality as damage by heat in the oil constituents is absent.

CO2 is used as a solvent through supercritical extraction, instead of heated water or steam through distillation.

At temperatures between 95 to 100 degrees F the supercritical extraction functions, steam distillation operates between 140 to 212 degrees F.

Due to the temperature applied in steam distillation, the molecular composition of both the plant matter and the essential oil are changed.

When a CO2 extract is used, since it contains a broader range of the plant’s constituents, it is closer in chemical composition to the original plant.

The German Chamomile flowers yield, for example, a green extract after the CO2 Extraction. Absence of heat didn’t alter the natural state, so the extract is more similar in composition to the first flower.

”Supercritical” is when pressurized carbon dioxide becomes liquid while remaining in a gaseous state.

A chamber filled with plant water is used for it to be pumped into.

The oils and other substances such as pigment and resin are being pulled from the plant matter, due to the CO2 solving function which is linked to the liquid properties of the gas.

Into the liquid CO2, then the essential oil is being dissolved.

The resulting oil is left after the CO2 is brought back to natural pressure and evaporated back into its gaseous state.

By releasing the pressure in the extraction chamber, CO2 can be quickly and completely removed.

When employed in the extraction process, it is harmless because the expiration of CO2 is needed for plants to thrive.

It is colorless, odorless, and the absence of potentially harmful solvents makes it nonpolluting for humans and the environment.

Cold-press extraction 

Mostly for citrus peels, this method is used and also called Expression or Scarification.

A piercing mechanical device is used to place the whole fruit on, to rupture the essential oil sacs and are found under the rind.

The device’s collection area is where the essential oil and pigments run down into.

To squeeze out the juice and oil, the whole fruit is pressed.

To filter the solids from the liquids, the oil and juice must be centrifuged so that the solids from the fruits, such as the peel, are erased.

From the juice layer, the oil is brought into another receptacle.

Water and steam distillation

Herb and leaf material can be employed with this method.

A Still is used to apply heat after the plant is immersed in water.

From the outside, steam is fed into the main Still.

Enfleurage

One of the oldest methods of essential oil extraction that implements the use of fat.

Either vegetable or animal fat is infused with the flower’s fragrance compounds by the end of this process.

Odorless and solid at room temperature are the used fats.

Either ”hot” or ”cold” can the enfleurage process be done.

The fat that is saturated with the fragrance is in both instances called ”enfleurage pomade.”

Usually, lard or tallow, which are highly purified and odorless vegetable or animal fat, are spread out over glass plates in a frame called a chassis and is allowed to set.

On top of the layer of fat are then placed on and pressed in, fresh flower petals or fresh whole flowers.

Depending on the flowers that are used, they are allowed to sit for one to three days or a couple of weeks.

Their scent then flows into the fat during this time.

Until the fat reaches the desired saturation, the depleted petals are replaced, and the process is repeated.

The fat and the fragrant oil is the final product, the enfleurage pomade.

To separate the botanical extract from the remaining fat, which is used to make soap, it is washed with alcohol.

The ”absolute” is what is left over when the alcohol evaporates from this mixture.

Hot enfleurage is when the fats are heated.

Water distillation

When introduced to steam in the distillation process, delicate flowers such as roses and orange blossoms would clump together.

Therefore the most effective method of extraction is to submerge fragile plant material in pure boiling water instead.

The extracted oil is protected from overheating by the water.

Then the cooling down and separation from the condensed liquids take place.

Sometimes the remaining water can be fragrant and can be called hydrolase, hydrosol, essential pool, herbal water, herbal distillate, or floral water.

Which plants?

Below a list of plants that can be used for extracting essential oils (The parts of plants that produce essential oil, n.d.).

The leaves of Bay, Bergamot Mint, Cinnamon and Eucalyptus can be used to extract oils.

As well as Myrtle, Patchouli, Petitgrain, Ravensara, Tea Tree, Violet, Bay Laurel, Cajeput, Lemon Myrtle, Petitgrain, Tobacco, and Violet.

Flowering herbs that are used for typical distillation are Basil, Clary Sage, Holy Basil, Lavender, Lemon Balm (Melissa), Rosemary, Sage, Thyme and Yarrow.

Flowers, petals or buds are Boronia, Cananga, Chamomile (all), Clove, Davana, Jasmine, Rose, Tuberose and Ylang Ylang.

Wood that can be used is Amyris, Cedarwood (all), Palo Santo, Rosewood and Sandalwood.

Cassia and Cinnamon are useable barks.

Great needles are Cypress, Fir, Scotch Pine, and Spruce.

For grass one can use Citronella, Lemongrass or Palmarosa.

Resin, balsam and gum are Benzoin, Peru Balsam, Frankincense, Galbanum, Gurjum and Myrrh.

Fruit and berries are Black Pepper, Juniper Berry, (Litsea Cubeba).

Citrus Rinds are Bergamot, Orange, Tangerine, and Yuzu.

Roots that can be used are Angelica, Ginger, Spikenard, and Vetiver.

Ambrette, Anise, Cardamom, Coffee Bean, Dill, Nutmeg, and Parsley are seeds that can be used.

Oakmoss is a suitable moss.

Recommendations 

You extract oils from plants in a number of different ways.

It’s an interesting realm of aromatherapy and certainly useful for anyone looking to create their own essential oils from home.

If you are thinking about becoming a DIY essential oil creator then this is the only time you need to answer the question of how do I extract oils from plants.

Because only you have the answer to the question on your mind.

So instead of saying all of your goodbyes.

Just let them know you realize that essential oils can save us.

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