Guest Author - Shanda Lynn Markham
Recently I had a reader ask about distilling your own essential oils. I am not very knowledgeable on this subject and promised an article after doing some research. I have researched weeks but still do not have any practical experience. My road block in trying to do this is due to my lack of fresh plant material. As that seems to be the most difficult factor in distilling your own essential oils, I would like to talk about it first.
The first obstacle of plant material for making your own essential oils is the sheer volume needed to produce a tiny amount of essential oil. It can take anywhere from 50 pounds of plant material on up. Now think about that for a minute, how much fresh thyme does it take to make 1 pound, much less 50? It is important to use the freshest materials possible for essential oil distillation. So even though you will be slightly drying the plant material, it canít be a year old. Granted you could by some off the market, but you have no idea the quality and handling of the plant material. Rough handling can release some of the essential oil as well as different storage temperatures. Too hot and you more or less melt away the needed essential oils. Iím going to try planting some of my own herbs this summer and will be better able to advise how much plant material it takes. This may not be so difficult for those plants that have an essential oil that you only want a few drops of per candle.
Now letís talk about the actual distilling process. I would first like to point out one point of confusion. I cannot tell you how many places through my research listed placing plant/flower material into an oil and letting it sit until the plant scent is drawn into the oil as in fact being an essential oil. It is not. Essential oils are not diluted into any other product or oil. They are the straight oil released from the plant material. The product achieved by letting an oil absorb the essential oils of a plant is infused oil. I am not putting down these types of oils; I just wanted to clarify the difference as it is of great importance for candle makers. The amount of scent in the infused oil is not going to be strong enough for your candle. Also, whatever oil you used to soak the plant material in may have an adverse effect on your actual candle.
You can purchase home distilleries to make your own essential oils in and they range in cost from $400 to the skyís the limit! If you are very serious about distilling your own oils then I would definitely recommend purchasing a distillery. There is much less room for error in using a proper distillery. There are also those that may be able to make their own distillery. I wish I was that mechanically inclined!! But for those of us that are not able to build our own, or have the money to purchase one there is another way!! The simplest I have found so far needs a stock pot, a steamer insert, glass collecting bowl, water, ice and of course your plant material. It is best to use fresh plant material that is lightly dried to the wilting point. Place the plant material in the bottom of the stock pot with water. Place the steamer insert on top of this with the insert being just above the water line, not submerged. Place a glass bowl on top of the insert avoiding any submersion or jostling of the glass bowl. Heat on the stove at a very low temperature. Too high of a temperature will burn your plant material. Once steam begins to rise place the stock pot lid upside down on the stock pot. The goal is for the handle of the lid to be hanging over the glass bowl. Place ice (in a bag) or very cold water on top of the lid. The ice helps the water in the steam evaporate so that the only thing left is the essential oil. Make sure the ice or water does not drip through the lid as it could contaminate the oil you are trying to collect. The essential oil is released in the steam and re-directed into the bowl. Pour the essential oil in dark/amber bottle and cork or lid tightly. Store the essential oil in a cool dark place. Essential oils are good for 6 months-1 year, so do not produce more than you would use in this time frame.