How to Make Essential Oils At Home
Learn About Extracting Plant Oils At Home Using Simple Equipment
Have you ever wondered how to make essential oils from your own plants? With new research into the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of aromatherapy, knowing how to make your own essential oils can give you another natural remedy in your home apothecary.
Many of our favorite culinary herbs are also good for using to make essential oils—my favorite peppermint plant uses include both flavoring my cooking year-round as well as using it to make essential oils using a steam distillation technique.
Below are three of the most common ways to make essential oils.
Steam Distillation – This is the most common way to make essential oils at home and can be done either with a crockpot or a still. There are lots of options for stills—you can invest a couple of hundred dollars in a good still made out of non-reactive metals and glass, or you can build your own. Steam distillation works by boiling the herbs and plants until the essential oils separate from the plant and float on the water. You can collect the oil from the surface of the water and store it in an amber or blue glass bottle. This method of collecting essential oils does not result in a pure, unadulterated essential oil, and so the medicinal effects of the oil may be reduced.
Expression – Oils are squeezed out of the plant material, flowers, or fruits. This method for how to make essential oils is used mostly for citrus oils. The peels of citrus fruits are placed into a commercial press and slowly squeezed to remove the volatile oils. These oils are readily available in most natural foods stores because they are a byproduct of the citrus farming industry and are relatively inexpensive. If you want to make your own, invest in a good press and filtering system.
Solvent Expression – This method for how to make essential oils is usually just done commercially. It involves the use of some pretty nasty chemical solvents. This is not recommended for when you’re just learning how to make essential oils. It requires careful handling and use of some commercial grade solvents that can cause injury or death, and should always be used in adequately ventilated areas.
How to Make Essential Oils: Growing and Harvesting Your Plants
Make sure that you’re growing plants that have not been exposed to pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. When using steam distillation, some of these chemicals will seep out into the oils that you collect. If you’re growing herbs outdoors, make sure that they are well clear of any spraying that may occur near power lines or road traffic right-of-ways. Never use chemical fertilizers on herbs that you intend to use to make essential oils.
Knowing when to harvest your plants is important, too. It’s always best to harvest your plants between the time just before flowering until the time that about half the flowers are open. There are a couple of exceptions to that rule, however—lavender is best harvested when about half the flowers have already opened and withered. A rosemary plant is best harvested in full bloom. This is because each plant has a slightly different time when the levels of volatile essences are at their highes—and those are what you will be extracting from the plants when learning how to make essential oils.
Annuals can be cut several times throughout the summer or growing season to within about four inches off the ground. Perennials, however, shouldn’t be harvested until September, or nearly the end of the growing season. If you are using any herbs that grow in winter for making essential oils, be sure that they are free of molds, fungus, or other blight.
Before you use your herbs and flowers to make essential oils, you’ll need to let them dry. You don’t want them so fragile that they fall apart and crumble in your hands, but you need them to feel dry in your fingers. For most herbs and plants, you can tie them together in small bundles and hang from the ceiling away from direct sunlight. The area where the plants are being dried should be warm, but not hot. Drying your herbs in an environment that is too hot can damage the plants and damage the volatile essences that you are trying to extract.
You need a lot of plant material to make essential oils. We’re talking hundreds of pounds to be reduced down to just an ounce or two of oil. Most stills that are available for home use can’t process hundreds of pounds of plant material, so you’ll have to make your essential oils in small batches. Plan accordingly when harvesting your plants if you’re going to use a commercial still. This is another reason for drying your plant material slightly before using it to make essential oils—you may reduce the amount of oil slightly in each batch of plants, but you will be able to use a greater quantity of plants and therefore harvest more essential oil in each batch.
How to Make Essential Oils Without a Still
These methods for making essential oils don’t require a still, but remember that the oil you collect will not be high quality. Essential oils made using these methods may not be sufficient for medicinal or therapeutic use, so if you’re serious about learning how to make essential oils, you’ll want to do your research into making or purchasing a still.
- Using a Crockpot: Place a large handful of gently dried plant material into a large crock pot, and fill the pot with distilled water to within an inch of the top. Cook on low for 24-36 hours, then shut it off and leave the top of the crock pot open. Cover with a piece of cheesecloth and let it sit somewhere out of direct sunlight for a week. After a week, you can carefully remove any oils that have collected on the top of the water, and transfer them into an amber or blue glass jar. Allow the jar to remain open for another week, covered by the cloth, to evaporate any remaining water. Seal the jar or bottle tightly and store for no more than 12 months.
- How to Make Essential Oils on the Stovetop: You can also use a regular pot on the stovetop to do the same thing, but place the plant material into a porous mesh bag before adding to boiling water. Simmer the plant material for at least 24 hours, adding more water as needed. Strain or remove the oil that collects on the surface of the water and follow the instructions for evaporating excess water as you did with the crockpot method.
I’d love to hear more from anyone who is learning how to make essential oils at home! Do you have a still? Are you using the crock pot or stove top method for steam extraction? Did you invest in a commercial still? Tell me about your experiences, and share your tips for growing and harvesting herbs to be used in making essential oils!