How to distil essential oils

There is a wide variety of ways to be used in order to extract the essential oil of a plant. Distillation is the most ancient of them and gives results of the highest quality. I will suggest three different ways to distil. These ways give essential oils of quality ranging from the average, the better, to the absolutely perfect. The average and better oils are the ones that one can normally buy commercially. There is no good reason for the best quality ones to be released commercially since it will take two to three years for an inexperienced user to realise that they hold the immaculate essence of the flower. This perfume will last through the years without losing any of its properties. The good essential oils that one can buy last approximately two years or more while the average ones will not last for no longer than a year and one could notice their fragrance being somewhat weak even from the first day.

1) In order to extract an essential oil of average quality (even though its value and properties wouldn’t go unnoticed) one needs a homemade still. In its basic form, this is consisted of a pressure cooker, a copper pipe and an ice bucket. You can see various designs with a Google search for images under the criteria “homemade still”. You will immediately get the idea. What you need to do is to just put in the pressure cooker water and the plant of your choice (World-Look recommends that the amount of plant matter is about equal to that of water) and let it boil until it evaporates. It will cool down while going through the ice bucket and the final result will be a mixture of water and oil. These two products separate naturally inside the container since the essential oil is lighter than water. You can collect the precious oil using a teaspoon. Tip: this process has two very important errors that you could potentially fix by yourself. The first error is that plants do not easily release their essence while boiling in water. The second one is that the distillate which comes out is still relatively hot and is losing its properties which will keep on becoming lesser as long as it remains hot. Another error comes from the separation of the fluids with a teaspoon which, as you will realise yourself by trying, is impossible to fix.

2) There is a variety of commercial stills especially made for essential oil extraction but beware, don't use one made for making alcoholic beverages because the whole process becomes pointless. One needs to obtain a still specialised for essential oils. The main difference is that these stills do not boil the plants but let hot steam go through them instead. This would help you get 100% of the plant's properties. Such a still will cost you 100$ or above depending on the quality. The extract that these stills give will still be coming out hot in most occasions. There are higher quality stills available that give out a cool mix which are much more expensive and then there are even more expensive ones that would automatically separate oil from water. Tip: the distillate needs to come out of the cooling pipe cool and the plant must have been heated up by steam in order to obtain the absolute essential oil. Furthermore, it must have been separated from the water properly. 

3) On the diagram above I have drawn a still that can give the best possible essential oils. I haven't indicated the scale or measurements of it so that each one of you can construct it according to your needs or even to redesign it since now you are aware of the secrets of the process. It is necessary that it is made of copper. I will further explain the purpose of each component so that I can extract the 100% of my knowledge to you. Just kidding... Now let’s move to explaining the individual components.  

1) is the initial water needed. It has to be mineral or purified water 

2) is the copper container for the water. Right underneath it is where you will need to set up the fire once everything is ready.

3) this is a little door through which we can add the water. It has to be made in such a way so that there is no steam escaping. It also serves as a safety valve since it is more sensitive than the rest of the container. This means that if something goes wrong all the counteraction will be directed towards this little door. You can get advice from an expert.

4) A copper pipe which will guide the steam from the boiling water container to the one with the plants.

5) A copper pipe which will guide the steam from the container with the plants to the first cooling compartment (condenser).

6) A copper pipe that will be inserted at the bottom of the plant container. It should reach from the one side of the bottom to the other. The main hole needs to be closed and many small holes need to be opened in a line so that steam reaches all the plants.

7) a little door from which you can insert the plants. It has to be made in such a way so that there is no steam escaping. It also serves as a safety valve since it is more sensitive than the rest of the container. This means that if something goes wrong all the counteraction will be directed towards this little door. You can get advice from an expert.

8) is the part of the container where you place the plants. The two lines shown above and below are where you need to attach two pieces of stainless steel wire mesh (with tiny holes). They should be placed in such a way so that the entire structure can be easily disassembled for cleaning.

9) the tap in the condenser is used so that you can easily remove the melted ice in order to make space for fresh ice when necessary. 

10) the condenser. The copper pipe must be placed as centrally as possible in this container and its folds to vary in height as shown on the diagram so that you can achieve better water circulation. Fill the condenser with ice and complement it with water. Make sure that before half of the ice quantity melts you turn on the tap so that it gets empty and leaves room for new ice to be added.

11) The main difference between the condenser and the cooling compartment is in the way that the pipe has been fit into it. We use a different method because in the first case our aim was to delay the steam so that it gets cooler. In this one we only want to get the hot fluid to cool. Ice and water are to be added and renewed as above.

12) the tap in the cooling compartment is used so that you can easily remove the melted ice in order to make space for fresh ice when necessary. 

13) the extraction pipe. It is from here that the distillate will flow only to be separated in the next stage.

14) The funnel needs to be attached in some way to the container 15 so that you don't need to hold it through the whole process. The lower edge should be pointing upwards.

15) The separation compartment has two taps, one very low and one very high. It should be like this so that you can separate the herbal water from the essential oil. The oil will float on the surface (like the thick bold line I have drawn at the top of the container) and the water lies right below. It would be useful to cool this container also but this could result in further leakage and therefore an optional electric fan would suffice.

16) The bottom tap is to release the herbal water and we may turn it on only when we need to adjust the oil level.

17) The tap dedicated to the essential oil… This is where extra attention is needed. Using the lower tap we control the overall level. You will have to wait so that the oil will reach a satisfactory proportion on the surface before it reaches the higher tap. Under no circumstances shall we let the water reach the higher tap so that we don't mix the two substances. In the same sense we should prevent oil from reaching the lower tap, something that would result valuable extract loss.

18) The bottle that will contain the absolute essence. When it gets full we close the upper tap. We lower the level in the container until it reaches half-way by using the lower tap and then change bottle.

Tip: there are many people who have had the chance to smell essential oils but only a few have smelled the real 100% pure essential oil. Only one drop is needed to leave a pleasant and discreet impression in the entire neighbourhood. Keep it in a glass bottle secured with a cork in a cool place. Sell it for a high price no matter what the commercial product prices are since what you hold is the soul of the plant and not just pieces of the plant with soul. Or offer it as a present to someone you love. For any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you want you can show me your own design. Trust an expert to help you with the construction or you can just make it on your own responsibility.

This is where I will add from time to time information about valuable or interesting essential oils

Boronia the extract of 2000€ 

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Text by Emmanouil
Photography by Michael Kelaidis Patentiaris
Diagram by Emmanouil
Translation by Giorgos Skretis

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