Discovering the Extraction Process for Essential Oils

Let’s Explore how Essential Oils are made during Extraction. IMG_4359

According to The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Vocabulary of Natural Materials (ISO/D1S9235.2) defines an essential oil as a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.  Once the essential oil has been separated it is usually tested and then bottled for distribution.

CO2 and absolutes are often times refered to as essential oils as well, especially with aromatherapist and professions that sale essential oils. However, according to the statement above you can see that only distilled or expressed substances are technically essential oils. Which is why I will be explaining only the process of distillation and expression in this article today.

So what does all this mean?  Let me break it down even further. Have you ever taken some leaves or stems off of an herb plant such as peppermint, rosemary, or marjoram and rubbed them between your hands?  This creates an aromatic smell between your palms.  If you take your hands in front of your face and take in a deep inhale you will take in the invigorating smells of the plants oils. However making an essential oil isn’t that simple. It takes a lot more then simply rubbing your hands together to actually create the therapeutic properties of an essential oil.

If you look up essential oils in almost any text book it will state that essential oils are defined as “highly volatile and highly concentrated aromatic extracts that are either distilled or expressed from a wide variety of plant material”. Some of these plant materials include, leaves, bark, twigs, roots, seeds, grasses,  fruits, rinds, flowers and stems. For example, it takes 10,000 pounds of rose petals to distill 1 pound of essential oil. That’s a whole lot of roses! Which is one reason why some oils are more expensive then others. When you think about how many roses go into just a 1/8 oz of rose essential oil you begin to understand why it can cost $170 for a single bottle!

As discussed above Essential oils can be extracted in several ways, now let’s explore what exactly that means:


Most plant aromatics can be captured through a distillation process. You will find that most essential oils are produced this way, especially flowers, leaves, barks, and roots. Some Examples: LavenderCedarwoodclove budnutmeg . During distillation the material is placed upon grids inside the distiller. and depending on the method of distillation  the plant material is slowly broken down to remove it’s highly concentrated constituents. The concentrated matter then draw into a connecting pipe that lead them into a condenser. A cooling period then begins. The water and the essential oil will later  be siphoned off and separated. The water that was separated from the essential oil will have small traces of essential oil in it and this get’s bottled and becomes hydrosol. The essential oil is then tested and bottled.

There are three types of distillation  processes that are used for producing essential oils.

Steam Distillation:

The process of steam distillation can be traced as far back as 5,000 years ago. Most records indicate that the primary use at that time was perfumery and tonics. This is also the most common form of distillation of essential oils and has the highest temperature and pressure then the other two types of distillation. Steam is directed inside the seal and is highly pressurized.

Water Distillation:

Plant materials come in direct contact with the water. This process is most popular with  plants such as flower buds like orange blossoms (neroli).

Water and Steam Distillation:

Mostly used with herbs and leaf. Water stays below the grate while steam is pumped from outside the seal.

Expression/ Cold Pressed

Cold press is another form of extraction and is used with most citrus. When it comes to citrus oils it is in my opinion the preferred way.  When citrus is exposed to high temperatures such as a distillation process it tends to deteriorate quicker making it a lower quality oil.  lemonorange, lime peel or grapefruit, tangerine, Bergamot are all essential oils that are best extracted using cold press method.  This process involves taking the fruit and picking or prodding through the rind and eventually pressing the essential oil out through the use of machinery. The fruit is then spun creating a separation between the oils and the juice of the fruit.

Still eager to learn more? Check out my latest YouTube Video explaining what a carrier oil is and why it’s important to use them.

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