Alchemy & Distillation of Your Precious Essential Oils
Basic chemistry is the basis of modern distillation techniques but even these early sciences were preceded by ancient alchemical traditions and what since ancient time was held as secret processes within the magical arts. There are still a few alchemists who will not reveal their distillation techniques, others who will only distill in copper stills, and even within the commercial industry there are master distillers recognized for their superior oils.
There is something that drives these men and women to produce the highest quality essential oils. It is more than just the pursuit of monetary worth. As one farmer explained I can make more money growing a commercial crop, but it would never give me this satisfaction. His leaf and bark essential oil from the juniperus virginiana tree smells like it just "came right off the tree!"
A number of farmers make arrangements with there neighboring farms to grow crops that they can harvest and distill closely after one another. They intend to produce oils and collect the hydrosols from these plants during the fall harvest.
In other areas professional distillers take their portable units and travel to the farmers. Another friend plans to mount his portable distiller on a four-wheel drive truck and go ďwild-crafting" throughout the Pacific Northwest next year. He considers his methods of producing essential oils to be part of his heritage culture that he grew up in. Jim is proud to report that his fatherís grandfather was one of the first to distill peppermint oil in the northwest and he still does everything according to natural methods his father taught him. He says the most important thing is something that canít just be taught, you have to be born with - a nose that knows when to stop the distillation.
Another one of our distillers insists on using a copper distiller and always points out the importance of having the tubing make three complete circles as it runs through the water.
Another distiller we work with in India has his whole family offer a puja (a Hindu prayer and ceremony), before beginning each distillation. Yet another of our distillers in the Midwest chews Ďtabací and is always quoting from the bible.
Does any of this make for better quality oil? Certainly they believe so and Iíve never had a batch from any of them that was not excellent if not perfectly distilled. For many of them this careful and complete attention is a way of living a sacred and traditional life. These lifestyles Aloha Bay strongly values and supports.
When harvesting the raw plant materials from which the essential oils are extracted, timing is critical. I attended a harvest of damask rose in Bulgaria and asked to be in the field as soon as they started. Little did I know, they only harvested between 4:30 and 9:30 A.M. and it would take me an hour to hike into the foothills of the Balkan Mountains. Apparently in the later morning when there is no fresh dew left on the rose petals the yield can be reduced by half.
In third world countries, essential oils are often distilled right in the field using the most primitive methods and equipment. We have seen field workers use rusty 55 gallon drums that darkened the oil and kerosene heat that mixed the raw materials. It was a great crop but he was in our opinion making it unfit to be used in natural perfumery or for our highly scented candles.
Some distillers donít consider the purity of the water as an important ingredient when making an essential oil. This is significant, because they are steam distilled and that water can come from any source. Herbs extracted with water may have a little herbal content compared to the amount of water used, but the entire water-herbal mixture counts as organic provided the herbs were grown organically. We watched one distiller draw his water from a local river. We followed the river up stream and besides seeing water buffalo and domestic cattle use it, a few local villages used it as their sewer, and there was a large palm plantation that dumped all their effluent into the river. Obviously we refused the oil until we could get him to agree to find a cleaner source of water.
We used to try to only buy from operations that we have inspected their equipment and crops but as weíve added blends which require more essential oils we have depended more and more and reputable bulk suppliers like Lebermuth to supply our essential oils.
I guess if I was to summarize what we have discovered in working with the families that produce the highest quality oils is that they all approach their work with the following:
- Have the nose for it
- Are willing to maintain the highest standards
- Have constant attention to every single detail. Most of them insisting someone has to be awake during every moment of the distillation
- And perhaps most importantly never willing to hurry the process
The same care with which we put into selecting essential oils born of the above principles fundamental to create the highest quality distillations of essential oils, we invest in engineering the right size wick to match the widest wax pool using wider mouth jars to create what we believe is one of the cleanest burning palm (also a steam distilled essential oil) wax candles.
Using all the same tried and true techniques and principles for distilling essential oils, we recently designed our first aromatherapy diffuser using our Himalayan Salt crystals.
- Iíve tested over 30 aromatherapy diffusers and of course, in my opinion, we created the best.
- Iíve never liked diffusers that are based on aquarium pumps because they are noisy and vibrate.
- I donít like to heat essential oils over a flame because you have to keep your eye on the level otherwise it will scorch or burn the essential oil.
- All the versions I could find with electrical heater were solid units so you could not easily change out to different oils.
- Aromatherapy diffusers that depend on soaking a cotton pad are too messy.
We like to make our glass reusable so we used the same glass container that we had hand blown for our floating candle. Itís positioned perfectly above the bulb to ensure the heat stays at 115F. Thatís lower than what our therapeutic grade essential oils are steam distilled at, in order to counter what a minority of new age aromatherapist's claim that heat destroys the health benefits. The glass container can be easily rinsed with hot water and used for another blend. Besides giving off a nice warm light, the heavy salt crystal lamp base ensures it wonít tip over.
We hope you enjoy diffusing wild crafted and organic essential oils as much as we do.