During the last several years, I have received several phone calls regarding the distillation of essential oil plants. People are intrigued with the idea of distillation and decide they want to grow and distill plants. Unfortunately, what most people forget is that what is easily sold, may not be easily grown in the areas from which they are calling. My advice to prospective growers is first- know your soil. What is the pH, what type of soil, what would ordinarily grow. After you have canvassed your area and seen what grows easily, then look at aromatherapy books and read. From your reading, you will find the plants and essential oils that people want to use. Then match up your soil, elevation, location (the terroir) with the correct plant, or plants to grow.
Now comes the hardest part—finding essential oil plants. You cannot just go to any nursery and pick out plants or seeds because they carry plants with what you think is the correct name. Each plant has a Latin binomial or name that is its own. This same Latin binomial is given to the essential oil. But, most plants also have cultivar types (cv) and you must choose the correct cultivar. Cultivars are often not available at general nurseries. For example, here in California, you can go to any nursery and purchase a Lavender plant that is correctly named Lavandula angustifolia, the true Lavender. However, if you plant this out and distill it, the Lavender scented essential oil will not contain the two chemicals (linaloöl and linalyl acetate) that make Lavender oil, lavender scented, in a quantity that is considered therapeutic. Yes, you will get an essential oil, but it won’t be marketable because of the quality and type of essential oil. In order to get a quality true Lavender oil, you must first start with the correct cultivar type of Lavender plant and then plant it in the best location above 2500 feet in chalky soil. Then distill it, analyze the essential oil and if the numbers are correct (at least 40% linaloöl and 20% linalyl acetate, with no camphor and little to no cineol), then you can plant out this Lavender as a crop and be pretty much assured that the Lavender oil and hydrosol will be a quality product.
- Know Your Soil. 2. Location, Location, Location. 3. Water source, type and timing of the water. 4. Choose the correct plant that will match the terroir. 5. Harvest at the correct time. 6. Harvest the correct part. 7. Choose a method of distillation and type of equipment. 8. Choose whether you are distilling for essential oil or hydrosol. 9. Distill with the art and craft of 500 years experience. 10. Bottle and label your sterile hydrosol. 11. Market the product.
There are Lavender plants that are being grown organically in small plots from Sonoma County, north to Willits, Alameda in San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, an urban plot in the middle of San Francisco and from the Bay Area south to Santa Barbara.
Lavender, Melissa or Rose Geranium hydrosols are gentle, soft and antiseptic. They can be sprayed on your towels before use or on your bed linens. For a true aromatherapy stress relieving indulgence, spray before bed or nap time and slip between the gently scented sheets. Spray your night clothes or your pillows for a peaceful night’s sleep.
In other parts of the country a giant Peppermint farm/grower is devoting a small parcel of his crop, particularly to the production of truly fine Peppermint hydrosol (can also be called an herbal water). His still, which is the size of 3 semi-trucks, needs to be especially adapted for the occasional few barrels of hydrosol that are taken off.
Peppermint hydrosol is a complete and synergistic balance of the best of herbal therapy and aromatherapy. It can be used as a body spray after a shower for cooling and refreshing stimulation. The combination of its great natural scent, natural taste and aromatic therapeutic benefits make this hydrosol a wonderful and exhilarating mouthwash.
In Missouri, another grower has adapted the basic still design to the production of fine Red cedar oil and hydrosol (Juniperus virginiana). This hydrosol is particularly useful for the cleansing of the air of smelly hospitals. This Juniper Hydrosol also stops ants in their tracks.
Other growers are interested in other plants for hydrosol production. The APP has just recently completed the distillation of both Mediterranean Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) as a lymphatic tonic or toning aftershave and Artemisia arborescens, the lovely Blue Artemis used for serious skin conditions including psoriasis or eczema. *Call us for this fabulous product.
Regarding the yield of Lavender oil and hydrosol. It depends on the following factors:
- terroir (soil, climate, altitude)
- age of the plants
- time of day of harvest
- species and variety, is it a ‘landscape’ Lavender or true essential oil variety of Lavender
- are the plants dried or fresh when distilled
Quantities of hydrosol can be produced from just about anything if you push too much steam through it. A quality hydrosol can not be produced from a dried plant, and a quantity of essential oil can be produced from just-dried plants. Only the first cutting of the season (late June or mid July) is used for the distillation even though Lavender will produce a 2nd set of flowers, the 2nd set will be loaded with camphor are considered of no use and should be used only for the dried flower market.
Distilling should be done as soon as possible after cutting and be processed the same day as it was harvested. Steam pressure of 7 lb is good although some stills will accept more pressure. In a well-designed still, distillation can be accomplished in 30 minutes with the bulk of the oil coming over in the first 20 minutes. Yield of oil is .2 to .5% but location and condition of the plants plays an enormous part. “Landscape” plants will often produce 1% by weight of oil but it will be camphoraceous which is not acceptable. Plants on good ground will produce about 3 tons greenery per acre in their 5th year and about 1 kilo of essential oil per 250 lbs of flowers.
Lavender oil is characterized by having NO CAMPHOR and should have a proportion of linaloöl to esters of 2•1. Although, some Lavender oils have as much as 40-50% esters with less linaloöl. Most quality California Lavenders are about 40% linaloöl to 25% esters in the form of linalyl acetate.
Learn to use the hydrosols and add them to your production line. jeanne rose
Copyright 2004 Jeanne Rose Do not copy without author’s permission
In California, distillation workshops are being given throughout the state to teach others how to grow and distill a variety of plants.
*Call the Aromatic Plant Project © at 415/564-6785 for a distillation schedule, for information on the benefits of being a subscriber to THE AROMATIC NEWS or becoming a member of The Aromatic Plant Project and how to join.