The knowledge of how to extract essential oils from plants has been around for thousands of years and there are a number of ways to get it done. In this article, I am going to focus on the three most common ways that we get essential oils today.
The first is steam distillation. This is the most widely used method of extraction because it is simple and effective. After the plant material is harvested, it is put into large vats where steam is added which carries the plants’ essential oils away to a separator where, once the steam turns to water, the oil rises to the top. The oil is then skimmed off and collected in stainless steel drums.
The second most common way that essential oils are obtained today is by cold pressing. This technique is used to extract essential oils from the rind of fruits such as Lemon, Lime and Bergamot. Cold pressing does not produce a true essential oil, rather it produces what is called an essence. In order to obtain this precious liquid, the rind of the fruit is punctured with spikes and then squeezed until the juices and essence are extracted. The essential oils are then separated from the fruit juice by centrifugal force.
The third way that essential oils are commonly obtained today is a method called absolute extraction. The plant material, such as Jasmine, is first mixed with a solvent and steam distilled to extract the essential oil. Alcohol is then added to the mixture and the batch is steam distilled again, which splits the essential oil from the solvent. It is not uncommon for trace amounts of solvent to be left behind as a result of this process so internal use is not recommended.