It’s the end of a long day, and you’re looking to wind down for the night. What do you do? You fill the diffuser and drop a few drops of your favorite lavender essential oil into the water.
You turn on the machine. And as the sweet, relaxing scent reaches your nose, you find yourself wondering, how are essential oils made? You peer at the tiny bottle and think, is this really made from chamomile and lavender plants?
In this guide, we’ll share all the necessary steps to harvesting and producing the essential oils you have in your cabinet.
The Essence of Essential Oils
Essential oils are called essential because they retain the aroma of the plant from which they were taken. They are hydrophobic compounds extracted from different plants for use primarily as aromatherapy.
Different oils to produce different effects. Chamomile, for instance, is a calming oil because it lowers insomnia and stress. Other scents, like peppermint or eucalyptus, improve alertness and productivity.
Furthermore, these oils have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Some studies have shown them to be useful in relieving headaches, alleviating pain, improving the immune system, and even aiding digestion.
How Are Essential Oils Made?
Manufacturers use several processes to make essential oils. But not all of them are equal.
Steam distillation is the most common method for collecting essential oils. However, it doesn’t work on every plant. The general process breaks down into four steps.
Adding the Steam
First, manufacturers place the material of the plant into a sizeable, stainless steel container called a still. They inject high-temperature steam into the still, via a small tube. It shoots through the plant material and breaks it down.
Releasing the Vapor
As it moves through the plant matter, the steam causes the plant’s molecules to shift and change. As a result, the process releases an aromatic vapor.
Condensing into Liquid
The plant matter, now existing as an oily vapor, is then sent into a smaller container called a condenser. Connected to the condenser are two openings. One, often at the top, allows cold water to enter the condenser. The other, nearer the bottom, allows hot water to exit the condenser.
As the vaporous plant material enters the condenser, the cold water cools it. This returns it to a liquid form.
Separating and Collecting
The liquid produced mixes with the cold water in the condenser. That mixture then flows from the condenser through the opening at the bottom. There, it collects in another container called the separator.
As the oily vapor from the plant material sits, it begins to separate from the water. As the two repel one another, the oils either float to the top or, in some cases, sink to the bottom. Once this happens, it is siphoned off and bottled.
For plants like Jasmine, that can’t withstand the heat required for steam distillation, solvent extraction is used. It is also quick and relatively inexpensive, but it does not produce 100% pure essential oils.
First, the manufacturer places the plants into perforated receptacles. They coat them repeatedly with various chemical solvents. Those solvents may be alcohol, ethanol, or even petroleum. Over time, these chemicals dissolve the plant matter.
The leftover material is usually a waxy product that contains around 50% oil material. Further processing is done to remove the wax, but, in the process, the oils are diluted even more. The product is heated and stirred in more of the solvent to break it up. If part of the wax dissolves, the solution must be frozen at extremely low temperatures. That helps to precipitate the wax.
Finally, the remaining solution is filtered. This way, the wax is separated from the remaining oil mixture.
The issue with solvent extraction is that some of the solvents may end up in the final product. This can be harmful depending on how the oils are consumed. The products, therefore, are considered impure.
This method of extraction is most commonly used with citrus scents. In these cases, the oils are taken from the fruit’s rind, which gives the oils a sharp, zesty aroma.
First, the peels are set in a pressing machine that punctures and squeezes them. Through this process, liquid, plant waste, and the oils are produced. After the pressing is completed, the liquid and plant matter are separated out.
In some cases, the plant rinds are dropped into a cylindrical pressing chamber that houses a long screw. This screw rotates, tearing, and pressing the rinds to release their oils.
The oil then falls through openings in the bottom of the pressing chamber, and the excess plant matter is pushed through a separate channel. The oil is separated from the remaining liquid and bottled.
Using Essential Oils
There are many ways to use essential oils. This guide to Thieves products will help get you started.
Breathe Them In
For this, simply open your bottle of essential oil and inhale slowly. This is a fast way to start feeling the soothing effects of your oils without application or diffusion.
On the Skin
Some essential oils can be applied directly to the skin. Just be careful that you’re using 100% pure essential oils that are non-irritating. Some oils, like tea tree, may cause dry skin.
Make sure you dilute your oils with water or lotion before applying them to your skin.
In the Bath
Really looking to wind down? Put a few drops of your lavender or rose essential oil into your bath and let the steam lift the scent to your nose.
Through a Diffuser
A diffuser mixes the oils with water to release them into the air via water vapor. This is one of the more popular ways to use essential oils. Find a style of diffuser you like. Then let it fill your bedroom, bathroom, or office with the pleasing aroma of your favorite essential oils.
The Essential Guide to Essential Oils
Essential oils have grown in popularity over the last few years. This is because of their proven, soothing effects. Now you can confidently answer the question, “how are essential oils made?”
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