How to make your own essential oil distillery

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How to make your own essential oil distillery
Essential oils preserve delicate fragrances. (Photo courtesy of mconnors at morguefile)

Make your own essential oil distillery. This is as simple a still as you can make without spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on a mini-distillery. Most of the items in the still we will build can be bought at a second-hand store for only a few dollars. Distillation is a method of separating chemicals (in this case, an essential oil) by boiling into steam and cooling that steam into a liquid. To isolate essential oils, heat up plant material (usually flowers) and cool the steam that comes from the plants so it becomes a liquid called the essential oil.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Liquid water
  • Plant material
  • Large pot (base only)
  • Wok
  • Large lid (flat but slightly domed)
  • Jar with lid
  • Ice

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  1. 1

    Place the largest pot you can find on the hob. Fill this pot 2/3 full with water. Any pot that is deep and can hold a lot of water will work.

  2. 2

    On top of this pot, place a wok so that it is seated above the water. If a wok is not available, use any pan that can sit on top of the pot. A wok is ideal since it is thin enough to transfer the heat and will sit nicely on top of any size pot.

  3. 3

    Fill the wok halfway with fresh plant material. This can be any type of material from which you wish to extract oil. You can use the stems, leaves, flowers, fruit peels, even the roots. Any plant will do but beware that some plants and plant parts are toxic. Do not assume that the oil is good for you simply because it is "natural." Do not cut the plant more than absolutely necessary, for highest yield.

  4. 4

    Place an empty jar in the centre of the plant material with the open mouth up. Make sure that the jar is absolutely clean since this is where you will collect your essential oils.

  5. 5

    Place a metal lid on the wok. This lid should be wide enough to cover the wok. It should be a fairly flat lid with a slight dome to it. It should be able to fit in the wok with the handle side going into the wok so that the part normally facing the pan is facing the ceiling. The idea is to let the steam condense on the inside since the outside of the lid is cooler. The oil will cool and condense on the inside part of the lid and will run down the domed part to the handle in the centre. At the centre it will drip into the jar. This is called distillation.

  6. 6

    Assuming that the lid does not leak at the knob/handle above the jar, pour cold water into the lid on top and drop in a few ice cubes. This will speed up the process of distillation.

  7. 7

    Turn on the stove, and boil the water in the pot. As long as there is water in the pot, the apparatus can keep going. The time depend on the type of material you are using, as thicker material will take longer to extract oils from. For extracting oils from flowers, it takes at least 2 hours to get everything out of the plant, depending on the boiling point of water at your elevation. The higher you live above sea level, the longer it will take. Check the water level periodically, being careful not to burn yourself. If the water starts to run low, add more water.

  8. 8

    After everything is cooled down, remove the jar from the centre of the plant material and put a lid on it.

Tips and warnings

  • Baby food jars are the best to use as collecting jars because they have a wide mouth, are small, and close airtight.
  • Make sure that the apparatus (the distiller) is stable and that steam/hot water do not escape in a way that can burn you. Do not touch the apparatus while it is hot. Do not let the apparatus get to the point that it runs out of water. Do not lift the lid at the top while cooking since it is not healthy to inhale that much essential oil. If there is ice in the upside down lid, it may be safe to touch (on some parts) but steam escaping from underneath the lid when raised may still be dangerous.
  • Do not assume that all oils obtained this way are safe since certain plants may have poisons that can become concentrated in this manner. Stick with edible plant parts for a safer experience.

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