Essential oils are an excellent addition to your therapeutic or culinary collection kit. The can also be used in mixology and distilling homemade sprits!
I first started making essential oils to add to my gin!
They have tons of benefits and are extremely aromatic. Because small amounts are extracted per batch, they can be very expensive.
You can make them at home for a fraction of the price. All you’ll need is a still, bunches of your favorite plant, some storage bottles, and time. In this post, you will learn the entire process of making your own essential oils from harvesting plant material to distilling and storing.
In this guide i’ll share a few of the different methods used to make essentail oils and give you my step by step guide to making the best oils at home.
Quick Summary; How To Make Essential Oil
To make essential oil:
- Harvest the plant material of your choice at its peak, preferably in the morning.
- Wash well and remove unwanted parts.
- Dry the plants away from direct sunlight.
- Clean and set up your still.
- Add water to the boiler and place your herbs.
- Heat the boiler to 212℉ (100℃).
- Place collecting jars at the exit of the condenser.
- Once you’ve collected the liquid, let it settle for at least 12 hours.
- Use a pipette to collect the oil.
- Pour it into dark glass bottles.
- Label the bottles and store them in a cool, dark place.
What Exactly Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly aromatic, concentrated oils extracted from plants. Within this realm, there are two distinct components: hydrosol and essential oils themselves. Here’s a closer look at their characteristics.
Hydrosol, also called floral water, is a by-product of steam distillation. When you distill plant material, the vapor carrying the volatile oils gets condensed and transfers into collecting jars. Once in the jars, the water and oil separate, and the oil gets collected. The remaining water is hydrosol, and it carries the mild aromas of essential oils. Floral water is water soluble and is often used as facial toners, room sprays, or mists.
Essential oil is the concentrated, highly aromatic oil of a plant. It’s oil soluble and often mixed with carrier oils, like coconut or olive oil. You can use it in aromatherapy or dilute it to add to your meals.
Why Make Essential Oils Yourself?
- Quality control: When purchasing essential oils, you may not be privy to the production process the product has undergone. Some brands are made from plants that have been treated with nasty chemicals, like pesticides, and are extracted using methods unsuitable for use or consumption. This compromises the purity of the oil. By making your own oils at home, you can ensure that the plants you use are untreated with harmful chemicals. Also, you can use gentle extraction methods, like steam distillation, to preserve the integrity of the plant compounds.
- Cost-effective: Essential oils don’t come cheap. Producing your own essential oils can be more economical in the long run. The initial cost you’d have to incur is buying the still.
- Customization: Once you’ve mastered the skill of distilling plant material, you can combine your favorite herbs, flowers, and spices to create your unique blend.
What Equipment Do You Need To Make Essential Oils?
Most of the stuff you’ll need to make essential oils can be found in your kitchen already, or picked up cheaply from Amazon or Wallmart.
The exception to this is the
- Distillation equipment: A still.
- Heat source: A stove, hot plate, or other heating devices.
- Dehydrator: To dry your fresh botanicals, if air drying is not an option.
- Pipette: To separate the essential oil from the hydrosol.
- Glass containers: To store the essential oil.
What Plants Can Be Used To Make Essential Oils?
There’s a plethora of plants you can use to make essential oils. In fact, you can use pretty much anything (with varying amounts of success of course..)
Here are some common choices to get you started:
- Tea Tree
Once you’re comfortable with the craft, you can experiment with citrus fruits like orange and lemon, flowers like rose and jasmine, and spices like cinnamon and clove to create unique blends.
Tip: My first batch of essentail oil was made using lavendar. It’s a super punget botanical and easy to prepare and harvest. If it’s lavendar season near you i’d totally reccommend giving this one a try!!
The Different Methods Of Making Essential Oils
Method 1: Steam distillation
Steam distillation is the most common method for extracting essential oils. Here’s a breakdown of how this process draws out these volatile compounds:
- A boiler is filled with water and plants.
- Heat is applied, producing steam.
- The steam interacts with the plants and extracts volatile oils.
- The steam and oil vapor travels through a condenser, gets cooled, and enters a collecting jar.
- Because of density differences, the oil separates from the water (hydrosol).
- The essential oil is collected using a separatory funnel or pipette.
Method 2: Expression
Expression, also known as cold pressing, is primarily used for extracting essential oils from citrus fruits. It involves the following steps:
- The rinds of the fruits are pressed to rupture the oil glands.
- The released essential oil is collected.
- The oil is then separated from any remaining juice or pulp.
Method 3: Solvent expression
Solvent extraction is mainly used in commercial settings, and this process involves soaking plants in a solvent, like hexane or ethanol, to extract the volatile oils. After a couple of hours, the mixture is filtered, and the solvent evaporates, leaving behind the essential oil.
Is It Better To Make Essential Oils from Dry or Fresh Material?
Using fresh plant material is better because it contains more volatile oils. When plants dry, they lose a certain percentage of their oil content. If you want an estimate of the yield from your botanicals, the diagram below serves as a good reference.
Essential oils yield difference between fresh and dry cases. Image: ResearchGate
When drying your own plants, we recommend you use moderate temperature to retain as much oil as possible.
How To Make Essential Oils (Step By Step)
Here’s a comprehensive guide to making your essential oil.
1. Harvest the plant material
- Pick 5-6 handfuls of herbs of your choice at their peak, preferably in the morning when the oil content is highest.
- Remove and discard any damaged leaves.
- Wash well.
2. Dry and prepare the plant material
- Air dry your herbs by hanging them upside down, away from direct sunlight.
- Once dry, slightly chop them to increase surface area for better extraction.
3. Prepare your still
- Clean all parts of your still.
- Assemble it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Pour 3 parts water into the boiler and top with 1 part herb.
- Close the still.
4. Run the distillation process
- Turn on your heat source and let it gradually reach 212℉ (100℃).
- Maintain a gentle simmer rather than a rolling boil.
- When you’re left with 20% of water in the boiler, turn off the heat.
5. Separate the oil and hydrosol
- Allow the liquid to settle for at least 12 hours.
- Use the pipette to collect the oil.
6. When should you stop the distillation process of making essential oils?
Generally, it takes 20 minutes to an hour to extract essential oils. But this can vary depending on the type of plant used. For example, it can take an hour or two to extract oil from woody herbs like rosemary. But we recommend you stop the process when 20% of the water remains in the boiler.
7. Bottle and store the essential oil
- Transfer the oil to dark-colored glass bottles and label each jar.
- Store in a cool, dark place.
8. Clean your still
- Use hot soapy water to clean all parts of your still.
- Rinse and dry all parts completely.
My Top 3 Tips When Making Essential Oil At Home
- Use high-quality plants
- Use clean equipment
- Store properly
Tip 1. Use high-quality plants
Choose organically grown plants to produce a good quality product.
Tip 2. Use clean equipment
To prevent contamination, clean and sterilize any equipment–still, pipette, containers–that will come in contact with the plants and oils.
Tip 3. Store Properly
Pour the essential oil into dark-colored glass bottles to protect it from light degradation. Store the bottles in a cool, dark place to preserve the oil’s potency and aroma.
Making your own essential oils is not only cost-effective, but it’s also fun. It gives you full control of the blends you create and you’ll rest assured no nasty chemicals go into the products you use. All you need to make this aromatic elixir is a still, your favorite botanicals, storage glasses, and 20 minutes to an hour. If you’re not growing any of your plants, we recommend you seek organically grown produce to maintain the integrity of your product.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are the 3 ways of making essential oil?
The 3 main ways of making essential oils are steam distillation, expression, and solvent extraction.
Q. What is the best method to make essential oils?
Steam distillation is the best method to make essential oils. The steam gently carries the volatile aromatic compounds from the plant material, allowing for the separation of essential oils while preserving their natural properties.
Q. What is the main ingredient in essential oils?
The main ingredient in essential oils is the volatile aromatic compounds found in plants. The distillation process concentrates this down until you have a very pure extract (or essence) hence the term essentail oil!
Q. What is the difference between essential oil and natural essence?
Essential oil is a concentrated extract obtained from plants. Natural essence refers to any aromatic substance derived from a natural source.
Q. Is it cheaper to make your own essential oil?
Making your own essential oils is cost-effective in the long run. Once you’ve purchased a still, the only expense you have to worry about is the plant material, if you’re not growing your own.
Q. How long do homemade essential oils last?
When stored properly, in dark glass bottles and away from direct sunlight, homemade essential oils can last 1 to 3 years.
Q. What’s the best still for making essentail oil?
I recommend a copper alembic pot still for making essential oils. you’ll want one with a large boiler to hold all your ingredients, and a controllable heating source to prevent scorching. Don’t get confused with the fancey ‘reflux columns’ that alcohol distillers use.. these are great for making high-purity ethanol but not needed for essentail oil production.