What are essential oils?
Plants produce essential oils for different reasons:
- To protect themselves against diseases and funghi, all essential oils have antibacterial and/or antiviral effects.
- As protection against the sun. The higher the solar radiation is, the more is the oil concentration in the plant. If you distill a plant on a cloudy /cooler day, you would get less output.
- Protection against parasites. Some essential oils have repellent effects.
- For communication: plants can communicate with other plants with an higher output of essential oils to warn them about parasites, other use it to keep other plants away.
- As a lure for pollination.
Especially the antbacterial and antiviral effects of essential oils make them powerful in the treatment of skin and respiratory problems. Other essential oils have anti-inflammatory effects and can act as a painkiller.
The scent of essential oils appeals the human mind, some oils have relaxing, anxiety reducing, liberating properties, others are refreshing and stimulating.
Extraction of essential oils
Essential oils are retained in different plant parts (leaves, flowers, roots, bark). If you hold a fresh laurel leaf against the light, you could see the "oil chambers" as little dots in the leaf.
There are different ways to extract the essential oils: pressing (citrus peel), steam distillation, extraction with solvent, CO2 extraction.
We extract our essential oils by steam distillation in a copper alembique. By steam distillation the plants are separated with a mesh from water. The water is brought to boil, the steam rises and goes through the plants and takes the essential oils out. The steam goes through a cooler and is fluidified again. The essential oils separate from the distilled already at the outlet of the cooler. Most of the essential oils are lighter than water and swim on top of.
From a chemical view, essential oils are a volatile, concentrated mixture of substances which can contain up to 500 or more single substances.