Essential oils are highly concentrated plant oils taken mainly from aromatic plants. From ancient times through today, these oils have been used for their various physical and emotional benefits as they range from uses in treating bacterial, fungal, and viral infections to soothing anxiety and alleviating depression. There are over 700 plant sources for essential oils. The making of essential oils is a delicate process, but can be done even at home with the right equipment.
The plant source should be grown without pesticides, as the distilling process concentrates any natural and artificial chemicals contained in the plants. Harvesting should be done at the correct time and with delicacy, to preserve the integrity of the plant to be distilled. Most of the oils come from the tiny hairs and fibers on the plant, which can easily be damaged with rough handling.
The plants can be processed fresh or dried. They some some oil when drying, but you can fit more dried plants into a distiller than freshly-harvested plants. If using dried plants, they should be dried in the shade or in a dark room to minimize the loss of oil. Do not over-dry or leave in direct sunlight.
Distillers made for essential oil making can be purchased for about $200 or you can make one with the necessary components. The distiller has a holding tank with a grate or false bottom to hold the plant material above the water. A condenser takes the hot steam and cools it down, generally with a tube immersed in cooler water. The separator is the final step, separating the essential oil from the water vapor.
Place clean filtered and distilled water into the still, following manufacturers recommendations. There needs to be enough water to complete the distillation process. Typically, the water should be close to the false bottom, but not touching the plant material, unless you are hydro-distilling delicate flowers, bark, wood, or powdered roots.
Pack the plant material firmly into the still, but keep it away from the sides of the still and below the steam outlet. Placing whole plants into the still is recommended in lieu of cutting, which can cause a loss of oils. Close the still and boil the water at about 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). You will need a steady heat source during the distilling process. Follow the manufacturers instructions for monitoring the water in the still and in the condenser. Research the plant to be distilled because, depending on the type of plant, they could take anywhere from half an hour to 6 hours to distill.
You may filter the essential oil, if needed, and then place it in a sterile dark glass bottle or stainless steel container. The plant-infused water left behind (hydrosol) can sometimes be preserved for its own use, like lavender, lemon or rose water. Enjoy your homemade essential oil.