Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Exactly what is an essential oil?

I thought I'd post up some information on how essential oil, and hydrosols, are produced. Of course they are from plants, and each oil is from a particular plant, or plant part. For instance, ginger oil is from the root of the ginger, and mints are made from typically the entire plant. Some oils are from trees, like pine oil. And Tea Tree oil is from the leaves of the tree. Sandalwood is from just the center heartwood of the tree's trunk. But one thing is for sure, you need a way to get just the essential oil, "the essence" of the plant seperated out to be stronger and more useful. True essential oils are made from a process called distillation. It's a method by which water or steam is used as a solvent to literally rinse the oils from the plant material.
Here's a drawing of how a still for essential oils is constructed.

The seperator, where oil and hydrosol are seperated for collection.
Actually, the terms hydrosol, floral water, or flower water, and lately essence water, are all different ways of saying the same thing. Hydrosols are one of two things produced during the distillation process. The other is essential oil. Organic material the flowers, cuttings, etc.as mentioned are placed in the still and penetrated with steam inorder to release the essential oils. The steam, now carrying the oils from the organic material, is cooled back down in a special part of the still, called a condenser,and then seperated into 2 components in the last part of the still, called the seperation funnel. One of these components is essential oil. The other one is hydrosol. And although hydrosol consists of mostly water, it still contains many of the essential properties found in the essential oil, but in a very small amount, usually 2-4%. Therefore, the hydrosol will have the same fragrance or floral qualities, aromatherapy qualities (medicinal/healing), and in some cases, even the same flavor (ginger comes to mind), as the essential oil. Because hydrosol contains only a small amount of the essential components, it is an extremely safe product to use.

Photos are courtesy of HeartMagic.com.

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