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The Methods of Extracting Essential Oils

There are many different ways to extract essential oils and they are listed below:

Enfleurage, Expressed Oils, Steam Distillation, Solvent Extraction, Fractional Distillation and Percolation, Carbon Dioxide Extraction, Phytonic Process

Enfleurage is one of the oldest methods of extracting essential oils and is rarely used these days because of its high cost. It involves placing the flower petals on a layer of glass that is first spread with a thin layer of fat called "chassis". The volatile oil diffuses into the fat, then the fat is collected and the oil is extracted from the fat using alcohol.

Once the alcohol evaporates what is left behind is called the absolute. As you can imagine, this is a very time consuming process, but it was the only way to extract delicate flowers like Jasmine for a very long time!

When oils are taken from the rind of fruits they are called "expressed oils". This method is cold and does not involve any solvents or heat of any kind. Most of the citrus oils are extracted in this manner including grapefruit, lime, orange and lemon essential oils.

These are not technically considered essential oils for this reason, but they are still definitely therapeutic oils. The most important thing to consider with cold pressed oils is the source of the crop since citrus fruits are constantly sprayed with pesticides and it can be very concentrated in the oil!

Steam distillation has been used for hundreds of years and today remains one of the most favorably methods of extracting essential oils. Technically speaking if it not extracted using steam distillation or cold expression it is not a therapeutic grade essential oil.

There are actually three different steam processes that are described further in the distilling section. But in all of the methods, steam is used to rupture the oil membranes in the plant and release the essential oil.

Picture distillation

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The steam carries the essential oil to a condenser and then as it re-liquefies the lighter essential oil floats on top. The water and oil is then separated and the water portion is referred to as the hydrosol, hydrolate, or flower or floral water. And the oil portion, of course, is the essential oil!

The essential oil distilling equipment including the condenser, separator and cooking chambers can all have an enormous impact on the quality of the oil. As well as, the distillation temperature and pressure! And even if everything appears correct, the process can still produce oils that don't meet the AFNOR Standards. So essential oil distillers must have the knowledge and expertise to know how to produce therapeutic grade essential oils.

Solvent extraction is a method of extracting essential oils that is dominated by the perfume industry. And technically does not produce therapeutic grade oils because chemicals such as hexane, acetone, di-methylene-chloride and others are used in the process!

Did you know that the plant material is actually immersed into the solvents to become a thick substance called "concrete"?

The oil particles are released when the concrete substance is then mixed with alcohol. Once it is separated out, the chemicals remain in the oil and the oil is used by the perfume industry. These are perfume or aromatherapy grade oils and are not therapeutic grade!

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As you can see this is process requires far less time and expense because the oil is cut with solvents and can increase the oil production volume significantly.

Are these the oils that are used in bath oils and gels, candles, shampoos, toothpaste, fly spray, and air fresheners?

These are also the 98% of the oils sold in health food stores, retail outlets and aromatherapy suppliers!

Fractional distillation separates the volatile oil in different fractions or portions at various boiling points. This is used in oil refineries for distillation of petroleum products and is not suited for therapeutic grade essential oils.

Percolation is one of the newer methods of extraction essential oils. It is similar to normal distillation but the equipment is literally upside down! It has been used successfully in France; however sometimes an emulsion is produced that cannot be separated out, so until it can be further developed you will not see it on a large scale.

Super critical fluid extraction or carbon dioxide extraction is also a fairly new solvent extraction process that uses carbon dioxide at very high pressure. The carbon dioxide is injected into the tank where the plant material is contained and acts as a solvent to extract the oil.

The carbon dioxide is colourless and odourless liquid and can be completely removed which is a good thing; however, there is no research at this point to verify if there are any effects of using this procedure.

Additionally, the distilling equipment is extremely expensive. So until more is known about this process, it is advised to use only steam distilled and expressed oils!

The Phytonic process is a one of the newest methods of extracting essential oils using non-CFCs (non-chlorofluorocarbons). It is also called Florasol Extraction and the oils are referred to as phytols.

The perfume grade oils can still contain a portion of the solvent and are only for fragrance use.

 

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