The Essential Oil Extraction Process

What are the extraction processes used to create an essential oil? Here is a list of each technique, including the benefits and disadvantages of each and its effect on the quality of the oil.

Nature has always provided us with what we need to survive - food, medicine, and fiber for clothing - so why not provide us with a lift of the spirit too? Sometimes a walk in the woods, a day spent swimming in a local river or lake or a beautiful sunset can lift a person's spirits and give them a new outlook. The aroma of a pure essential oil can do the same.

The content of a pure essential oil product gives it an unmistakable aromatic and healing quality. This pure essence is where the benefit exists. How is that benefit put in a bottle, and what is an essential oil anyway?

ESSENTIAL OILS

An essential oil is a substance extracted from a botanical source. Extracting the oil from the substance produces a product that is highly aromatic and many times more concentrated than the original plant form.

Essential oils are so aromatic that they are the focus of the perfume industry. Added to products for their scent and often for the healing benefits of the scent, you will find the use of essential oils in everything from cosmetics to cleaning products.

THE EXTRACTION PROCESS

So how do they extract the essence of the plant product? The method chosen is dependent on the plant itself and the desired end product.

When a plant is delicate in its nature, like rose petals, then it is subject to quick deterioration and needs to be harvested and processed quickly. Sometimes a few hours of wilting after harvesting are allowed to take place as part of the process. On the other hand, hardier plants, like seeds and roots, can be stored and harvested at a later point in time.



Here are some of the processes used today:

­- Steam distillation is the most used process in modern extraction. The process involves placing the plant material into a still and allowing pressurized steam to pass through the plant material.

The steamed heat makes the drops of plant oil burst and evaporate. The vapor and the steam rise out the top of the still and locate in a water-cooled pipe and are condensed back to liquid form. The oil begins to separate from the water and, of course, floats on top of the water. It is believed that this process retains the aromatic healing properties in the most advantageous manner.

­- Essential oils used in massage are often extracted by maceration. Maceration creates an "infused oil" and not so much an essential oil. The plant soaks in vegetable oil and then is heated and strained out of the oil. The oil is then used for products like massage and sometimes in cooking. Many people use a similar process to create infused olive oils for cooking.

­- Cold pressing as an extraction method has its drawbacks. The oils are taken from the rinds of citrus fruit, which has been separated from the fruit. The rinds are ground or chopped and then pressed to remove the oil. The result is a watery mixture that the oil eventually will separate from if given the right amount of time. The drawback is that a cold pressed product often has a short shelf life - about six months.

­- Solvent extraction is used in combination with distillation. A hydrocarbon solvent is put in with the plant material and dissolves the essential oil. The resulting solution is then filtered and put through a distillation process that concentrates the oil to produce a resin, or resinoid. The remaining substance is a combination of wax and essential oil and is called "concrete".

The oil is then extracted by using pure alcohol. The alcohol eventually evaporates and leaves the oil behind. The drawback is that solvents leave residue that could cause problems to the immune system if used in a therapeutic situation.

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