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A Precise Explanation of the Process of Distilling Essential Oils

Puja Lalwani Mar 17, 2019
There are various ways of extraction of essential oils like steam distillation, solvent extraction, etc. Though distilling is time-consuming, the results can be great. Take note of the duration till you are distilling your plant, as overwork may affect the end product.
Essential oils are extracted from the leaves, twigs, flowers, bark, wood, and various other parts of the plant. These oils are widely used for therapeutic purposes and in aromatherapy. Their fresh fragrance and medicinal properties make them a popular among several people who are affected by a variety of health problems, the most common one being stress.
These oils are available at a number of places, and also on various sites. However, one can prepare these oils at home also. All that is required to extract essential oils at home is distillation apparatus and the procedure of distillation. In fact, at home, you will be able to create your own unique essential oils by combining different varieties.
Distillation is a process that can be carried out at home, by using specific distillers, commonly known as stills. The process mentioned here is that of steam distillation and is popular for the extraction of essential oils, because they are more sensitive to direct heat.

Components of a Distiller


A retort is a container that holds the boiling water. Within the retort is a grate, upon which the plant material from which the oil is to be extracted is placed.


The condenser collects the steam produced by the boiling water, and then cools it. The condenser has two concentric tubes out of which the outer one has a supply of cold water and the inner tube carries the steam produced by boiling of water.
The supply of cold water continuously cools the steam in a smooth manner. The condenser is connected to the retort by a thin glass tube for the transport of the steam.


The separator separates the essential oil from the steam and is connected in the condenser by a tube.

Distillation Process

Ensure that the distillation kit contains all the necessary equipment for the process. Then assemble it as per the directions of the manufacturer and begin the process of distillation.
1. Dry the plant that you have chosen for extraction in a dark room away from direct sunlight. This is required to increase the volume of leaves in the distiller, and increase the amount of essential oil that can be extracted from them. However, if it is a flower, you can directly use it for distillation after harvesting it.
2. To begin the process of distillation, take soft, clean, and filtered water and add it to the beaker of your still and place it on the stove. The time required for the process of distillation depends on the type and the amount of the plant you are planning to use. 
The time can range from half an hour to almost six hours, after the water starts boiling. When you add water to the tank, ensure that it is close enough to the false bottom of the beaker, that contains the plant material.
3. Now take the plant material, as it is, and place it in the still. Avoid cutting the plant as you will lose valuable amounts of essential oils in this process. Ideally, the plant should not touch the sides of the still and should be placed on the grate or retort, above the water.
The plant should be a couple of inches below the steam outlet, therefore the thickness of the plant layer can be determined on this basis.
4. Begin the boiling process by closing the still. Plants begin to release essential oils as soon as the water attains its boiling point at 212° F. As the process continues, you will notice that the oils begin to pass through the condenser and into the separator. So that the process continues smoothly, keep an eye on the water levels in the beaker.
You may have to add water at regular intervals to avoid complete evaporation. A supply of cold water is also maintained in the condenser so that the steam cools continuously.
5. After the process of distillation has been completed, you may filter the essential oils using a clean, dry, and thin cloth. Do remember that it should be very clean and any residue on it may damage the essential oil, rendering it useless. 
Pour the oil into a clean container and store it in a cool place, away from sunlight. This entire procedure should be carried out as soon as the distillation process has been completed.
6. The water which is condensed and separated is sometimes usable, when extraction is done from rose or lavender. This water is usable only if the water is used immediately.
Carrying out the process of essential oil distillation at home is extremely time-consuming and requires practice. Also, these oils cannot be extracted from some plants by this process. It is only by the process of trial and error that you will learn how to make your own essential oils.
While the purity of the oils made at home is guaranteed, it is only if you have the patience will you be able to benefit from making it yourself.