Steam distillation as an essential oil production process has been around for hundreds of years. For a lot of reasons, this is one of the most favorable methods of drawing essential oils out of plants. The steam distillation process is 1 of only 2 essential oil extraction techniques that create a product that is eligible to carry the Therapeutic Grade label. Cold expression is the other.
How Steam Distillation Works to Produce Essential Oils
Steam distillation works by using boiling water, steam and water, or steam alone.
In all of the three separate but similar steam distilling processes, essential oil is produced by the effect of high temperature steam or water on plant material. The steam that is produced actually ruptures the membranes of the essential oil that is contained within the plant parts. This releases the essential oil inside. The oil that is released is then carried to a condenser.
In the condenser, the resulting substance is converted back to liquid form, with the essential oil floating on top. Oil and water are separated, with the water portion of the steam distillation process referred to as flower, hydrosal or hydrolat water. That water is removed, and the remaining liquid is 100% essential oil.
What Equipment Is Used in the Steam Distillation Essential Oil Process?
When the oil is extracted from the plant, anything that interacts with it affects its efficacy. This includes the condenser type, separator and cooking chamber which are used in the steam distillation process. That is why cooking chambers that are constructed of safe, nonreactive metal are preferred. The preferred choice here is common stainless steel.
Also, the type of steam distillation used will ultimately affect the quality of your essential oil. For instance, a vertical steam dissolution procedure is widely regarded as producing the highest quality oils.
What to Look for When Purchasing Steam Distilled Essential Oils
Check with the manufacturer of your essential oil and find out just exactly what goes on in the steam distillation process. Whether they use steam only, steam and water or boiling water, steam distilling the plant material to extract essential oil results in a quality product.
However, within this process, different types of equipment can be used which will affect the end product.
A low temperature combined with low pressure has proven to be an excellent recipe for developing quality essential oils that receive the Therapeutic Grade label. This is how ancient civilizations slowly and methodically created essential oils with extremely high potencies.
One other thing to look out for concerns how essential oil distributors can cut corners to lower their costs. Steam distillation, performed properly, can take up to 24 hours. And in many cases 1 ton (2,000 pounds) of raw materials produces just 1 pound of oil!
Ask your essential oil manufacturer if they use methods to shorten the distillation time or add solvents to their essential oil distraction process. Both of these procedures lower the quality of your oil, thereby lessening its effectiveness in treating your physical and mental conditions.
Essential oil manufacturers are duty bound to tell you the truth so don’t hesitate to ask. It is in your best interests to obtain the purest grade possible.