How do we get oils out of plants?

Why does it take so much plant matter to make essential oils?

For example, it takes 100 Bergamot oranges to make three 15 mL bottles of essential oil. How is that possible and how to we get these oils out of plants?

We have to remember that the little glands where the plants store the essential oils are microscopic. So imagine, these are all over the surfaces of leaves, or flowers or fruits. But they’re so tiny. They only hold just a tiny, tiny bit.

So we do have to take a lot of plant material to distill it down or, in the case of the Bergamot, to press it out.

So for citrus oils, we take the rind and we press and we squeeze those little glands until they release their oil.

For leaf, flower, some bark, and wood oils, we send steam through it. The steam will come through the plant materials and gently cause the sacs to rupture, and that will release all the wonderful oils.

But because the sacs are so tiny, it takes a lot of plant material.

The collection method depends on which part of the plant the essential oils are extracted from.

Steam Distillation

Steam distillation uses heated steam (and pressure) to extract essential oils from their plant part. The pressurization protects the complex chemical compounds of essential oils because it allows the oil to be distilled at temperatures well below the normal boiling point.

The steam distillation process looks like this:

  1. Water is heated creating steam.
  2. The steam passes through the plant material, pulling out the oil from microscopic sacs within the plant.
  3. The steam lifts the oil into a collecting tube.
  4. The steam is cooled and condensed back into water.
  5. The oil rises to the top of the water and is easily separated from the water.

The floral water is collected for use in home and beauty products.

Expression or Cold-Pressed

Expression doesn’t use heat to extract the essential oil. During expression…

  1. The rind of the fruit passes across grated cylinders that grind the peel’s surface, breaking open tiny sales that contain essential oils.
  2. The fruit is sprayed with water in order to collect the released essential oil.
  3. This watery mixture then goes through a filtering process to get rid of any excess pieces of peel and it is centrifuged to pull and separate the water from the oil.

To learn what an essential oil is, click here.

If you’re wondering how essential oils might be applicable to your lifestyle, click here.