There are a multitude of ways to extract and produce essential oils. All of these ways require equipment that is somewhat elaborate, as well as a significant amount of knowledge of the chemistry involved. The idea behind most extraction techniques is that essential oils are mixed differently with different materials, such as solvents, alcohol, oils and fats, but not with plain water. Because of this particular peculiarity, extracting essential oils has much to do with its inability to mix with water. The variety of methods are generally suited to different plants, depending on the chemical makeup of each particular type of plant that is being used to produce the essential oils at hand.
Steam distillation is the most popular method of extracting essential oils from plant. By suspending plants over boiling water, essential oils are pulled out of the plant with heat and steam, rising into a set of tubes where the steam is collected and deposited into a reservoir. Once the steam turns back into a liquid, the water and oil separate, making it easy to collect the oil and recycle the water to be utilized again in the steaming process, or kept for its aromatic properties. The water that is used in the distillation process generally has some new properties that are valued amongst aromatherapists. The fragrant compounds that remain in the water cause them to give off an aromatic scent. This aromatic water is frequently used in cosmetics and for skin moisturizing purposes.
The fastest and easiest method of producing these types of essential oils is to put them in a press in a process called expression, similar to the manufacturing of olive oil. In the case of plants, utilizing a press is somewhat difficult, but for citrus peels and other types of oily products, the press is fairly successful and effective at squeezing out all of the oils. Naturally, without the necessity for water and solvents, this is the least expensive method of producing the essential oils.
Enfleurage is an ancient method that is very rarely used in the modern day outside of France. The process is very long and involved and has become quite expensive over the years. Utilizing animal fat or lard, plant blossoms were set up on warm fat that would absorb the essence from the flowers and become incorporated into the fat. Once the fat has absorbed plenty of aromatic scent, the fat is separated from the essential oils with solvent. This process is generally considered too difficult and costly to be utilized in the modern-day, despite its centuries old traditional use.
The least popular method of extracting essential oils is to use solvents. This is unpopular due to the fact that there is a chance that traces of solvent may remain even though they are supposedly completely removed from the essential oils. Basically, the aromatic product is dissolved in the solvent and then the solvent is boiled away, sometimes assisted by a centrifuge or a vacuum to separate the solvent from the essential oils. This process is very expensive and is reserved for very specific types of essential oils that cannot be distilled.
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