The calmness of lavender; the intensity of eucalyptus; the cooling sensation of tea tree!
Yes, we are referring to some of the many different relaxing essential oils widely used in aromatherapy. As wellness lovers, we rejuvenate and reinvigorate our souls while immersing ourselves in these varied therapeutic fragrances, but did you know that we are also subsequently taking steps to elevate our lives and become healthier?
Nowadays, more and more people are realizing the importance of maintaining a holistic lifestyle and the link between our minds and bodies, and our physical and mental health. Going back to our roots, natural remedies are gaining prominence for their healing abilities. From treating several ailments from your core to enjoying some moments of bliss, aka your self-care-induced ‘me-time,’ essential oils are revered for their manifold benefits.
However, do you know how are these essential oils produced or extracted from myriad plants and other greens? Read on to know more!
How are essential oils extracted?
Pure essential oils are volatile, organic ingredients of plant matter that provide their own characteristic fragrance and flavour. These essences are found in exclusive glandular cells in constitutional parts of the plants such as the flowers, leaves, fruit, seeds, wood, bark, etc. Contrary to popular opinion, you may find it surprising to know that only a substantially small amount of plant extracts contains potent oil, which can be further processed for medicinal purposes.
DISCLAIMER: As mentioned, these oils cannot be directly used in their raw state as they can be highly overpowering, which can rise to adverse reactions.
Therefore, essential oils are not made, but extracted from the plant’s most efficacious botanical constituents, or their “life force.” Primarily known as their deliquesced versions, their advantageous compounds swiftly enter the bloodstream by consuming the plant. The raw oil or liquid is procured through the process of extraction that takes place through the following methods:
- Steam Distillation
- Solvent Extraction
- CO2 Extraction
- Cold-Press Extraction
Now, let’s understand more about the same!
- Steam Distillation: One of the most popular methods, steam distillation operates on the principle of passing hot steam through the raw materials of the plant. The heat radiated from the steam vaporizes the plant material’s volatile compounds. The dried-up elements rise and make their way to a cooling chamber called a condenser unit. The cooled-down vapours then condense back into a liquid form. Once condensed, the essential oil and water from water-dissolvable parts of the plant, which are known as hydrosols or floral water are accumulated into an apparatus containing two distinct outflows. Well, well! Resorting to high-school chemistry, we all know that oil floats above the water. Therefore, the lower outflow will drain the water out, while the upper section will protract the essential oil. Since the volatile compounds can be distilled at temperatures below their boiling point, the natural properties of the plant extract are more likely to be retained.
- Solvent Extraction: Using food-grade solvents such as ethanol, benzene, dimethyl, or hexane to separate the oils, i.e., extract essential oils from tender aromatics like jasmine or rose, which are otherwise not equipped to withstand the pressure of steam distillation. Moreover, this contemporary method also emits a superior fragrance as compared to the extraction methods.
Here, once the plant materials that covered by and submerged in a solvent, this ingredient absorbs the essential oil, and the resulting oil is evaporated. The remaining residue or the plant oil left behind is known as absolute- a highly vigorous aromatic substance bearing semblance to the plant’s natural scent.
- CO2 Extraction: This process is initiated by applying pressure to the Co2 until it liquefies. Posing as a solvent, this liquid Co2 is used to extract the oils from the plant material. After the Co2 has absorbed the essential oil, the extract is allowed to return to normal pressure, therefore reverting the Co2 to its original form-gas. Consequently, no residual solvent gets left behind in that extracted oil.
As carbon dioxide is odourless, colourless, flavourless, and non-toxic, the resulting oil is not influenced at all. In fact, since the Co2 extraction occurs in an air-tight chamber, it retrieves the oil in its entirety from the plant material, inclusive of any pesticide remnants, thereby factoring that in as opposed to the other methods.
- Cold-Press Extraction: Also known as Expression, this modern process constitutes using a device that pierces through the citrus peels, thereby rupturing the base of the oil sacs. Following this, the oil flows into the device’s collection area. Then, the peels are mechanically squeezed to extract all of their oils and juices. These procured residues still contain the peel and certain solid components of the fruit are finally diffused to isolate the liquids from the solids that give you your final product- essential oil.
Now, now! Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? But did you wellness enthusiasts notice- in all of the above-mentioned processes, one thing remains certain- most of its natural properties are retained, irrespective of the method used?
In conclusion, isn’t it truly a case of an aromatic confluence of the wonders of nature, backed by thorough scientific research- best of both worlds, isn’t it?