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How are essential oils made?


An essential oil bottle laying on a plate of rose petals

Essential oils are derived from plant essences. These essences are produced by highly specialised secretory cells found in various parts of the plant. Essences have extraordinarily complex chemical structures combining chemical elements found in the air, soil, and water such as carbon and oxygen. It is the unique combination of chemicals found in each plant that gives it the characteristic fragrance and therapeutic properties.


Essential oils are extracted from the plant using either steam distillation, solvent extraction, or expression.



Steam Distillation

Is the oldest, most established, and truest form of extraction. This is where steam is passed under pressure through the plant material, which causes the globules of essential oils to burst open and release the oil. This oil then evaporates with the steam into another container, cooled and the two separated. The water distillate that is left behind after the separation is also a valuable by-product and is used as a flower water or hydrolat.



Solvent Extraction

Is a process where the plant material is covered with a volatile solvent which in turn dissolves the plant material. It is then heated, and the solution filtered off leaving a form of paste. Alcohol is then used to help separate out the essential oils.



Expression

Is used solely for the citrus family. The oil from the citrus fruit lies under the surface of the rind which simply needs to be pressed out and collected. The good thing about expression this way is the fruit juices are not wasted and are made into drinks, etc.


Dried flowers and herbs in four wooden spoons

Enfleurage is another method, but a historical one. This method was used to extract the finest quality essences from the delicate flowers such as rose and jasmine. It was a very labour-intensive process which is virtually obsolete now.


What are the Benefits of essential oils? Learn more.


Or head on over to my shop for a collection of natural scented candles and luxury home fragrances that have been made in my own home.

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