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What are the Basics of Essential Oil Distillation?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Expression and distillation using an alembic are the two basic ways to extract essential oils from their natural sources, either for industrial or retail sale. Expression, which is also referred to as "cold pressing" is most commonly used to extract the oil from the rinds of citrus fruits such as oranges, bergamot oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits. By pressing the rinds, which are rich in oil, the essential oil can be extracted. Another method is solvent extraction through which a solvent such as hexane is used to extract the essential oil.

One of the most common methods of essential oil extraction is distillation. It is a marvel to look at a one-ounce bottle of rose oil and think that the tiny amount of liquid required approximately 6,000 roses to create. A single drop of rose oil, which contains the scent of about five dozen roses just within itself, is an example of how distillation can preserve and condense many wonderful scents. Rose oil is an example of an oil that is extracted through essential oil distillation.

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Essential oil distillation is a process by which the raw material such as rose petals, peppermint leaves, lavender blossoms, and so forth, are placed in an alembic. An alembic is a device that is used to steam the raw material using boiling water. The steam passes through the raw materials and is directed into a coil. As the vapors, which contain the essence of the raw material, pass through the coil, they condense once again into a liquid. This liquid, which is then collected into a vessel, is the essential oil of the material that was placed in the alembic.

This is the basic process of essential oil distillation. Although cold pressing is still an option for citrus peels, it has become common to use an alembic for the essential oil distillation of orange bergamot, lime, and other members of the citrus family. Almost all materials that are used to make essential oil only require one process of essential oil distillation. There are just a few exceptions. Ylang ylang is one of those exceptions.

Most essential oil distillation happens on an industrial level with oil produced in large quantities for use in body products or for retail sale. There are, however, a few companies that sell small alembics that can be used for recreational essential oil distillation. The equipment can range in price from $150 USD (US Dollars) and up depending on the size of the alembic.

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