The use of essential oils has gained popularity in recent years. They are most commonly used in aromatherapy, which is a type of alternative medicine which uses these oils to improve health and well-being. Medical Use Today defines essential oils as being “liquid extracts of various potentially beneficial plants”. They can be made from any plant material such as leaves, buds, fruit, flowers, roots or even wood. These oils have a strong scent similar to the plants they come from but much stronger. This is due to the high amount of plant matter required in its manufacturing process. The most frequently used and known about essential oils include rose oil, sandalwood oil, jasmine and ylang ylang and these are all used for varying purposes such as in beauty and skincare products, to treat congestion and sinus symptoms and simply for relaxation. Let’s take a look at how these useful, fragrant oils are extracted.
Cold pressing, on the other hand, extracts essential oils from citrus rinds of fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and lemons. This is a four step process which begins with the whole fruit being scarified, meaning that the peel or rind is pierced to reveal the sacs inside which contain the essential oil. Next, the fruit is pressed by a machine to squeeze out the juices and oils. This mixture is then centrifuged to separate the solids from the liquids. Once the liquids have been isolated, the oil is then separated from them. Before the invention of the proper machinery, this process was carried out by squeezing the fruits by hand until the oil was released and then collecting this oil in a sponge. This sponge would then be squeezed out into a container. The implementation of machinery has m citrus family. The rinds of the fruit were literally squeezed by hand until the oil glands burst releasing the oil which was then collected in a sponge. Once saturated, the sponge would be squeezed out into a container.
Nowadays, this method of extraction is carried out using machinery, rather than by hand.
Both processes of steam distillation and cold pressing are further physically processed in terms of filtering, winterizing, or distilling. This is to clarify them even further of debris or waxes. These two physical extraction methods are the most commonly used by perfume manufacturing companies in the world today. However, there are chemical solvent extraction processes as well.
Steam distillation is a three step process which begins with the plant material, which is called the charge, being placed on a screen and then on a still. Hot steam from a boiler is then introduced under the screen. The heat from this steam vaporizes the essential oil in the plant material and a condenser transforms it back into liquid form. A florentine flask then separates the oil from the excess water and the pure oil is left at the bottom of the flask. Many perfume manufacturing companies prefer oil extracted using this process.
This modern technique is believed to result oil that is pure and of the best quality. This is due to the fact that carbon dioxide is colourless, odourless and does not require very high temperatures to be able to react. The extraction procedure using this method is done very quickly and involves the CO2 being brought to a hypercritical state where it is both a liquid and a gas. Once the extraction is complete, the pressure is released and the carbon dioxide returns to a gaseous state and leaves the oil behind. This process recovers more plant material than any other extraction method but can therefore also produce a risk of excess pesticide residue in the essential oil.
The process of enfleurage begins with sheets of glass being covered with purified fat. Flowers are then placed on top of the glass and the fat absorbs the essential oils from them. The process is repeated many times until the fat is fully saturated with oil. Next this fat is covered in alcohol to enable the essential oil to dissolve into it. This mixture is then heated to evaporate the alcohol and the resulting product is pure essential oil. There is a similar process to enfleurage which is called maceration. Maceration however, involves crushing the flowers into vegetable oil instead and then straining off the plant material. This process is repeated until the vegetable oil is concentrated with essential oil.
This chemical solvent extraction process is called Solvent Extraction. It is primarily used in the extraction of expensive flowers such as jasmine or rose. Due to the fact that this process involves harsh chemicals, the oils resulting from this are not recommended for use in massages or on any area of skin. Perfume manufacturing companies therefore do not prefer oils extracted using this procedure. The procedure involves firstly covering the flowers with a chemical solvent to allow the essential oil to combine and form an extract. The extract is then distilled and at a low pressure to isolate the solvent. Next, the extract is cooled and solidified into wax. Finally, the waxy product is washed and warmed in alcohol, filtered and vacuum distilled to remove the alcohol and produce the final product which is technically known as an absolute.
These primary methods of essential oil production allow us to take advantage and make the most of all nature’s flowers have to offer.
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