Copper Alembic for making hydrosols and essential oils

Essential Oils

To work with essential oils it is key to first understand what they are.  Distillers use gigantic vats and then distill aromatic plant material until the key essential oils evaporate, and are cooled through a long tube and eventually separated and collected.  Common essential oils include herbs like mint, lavender, citrus and rose.  These essential oils are extremely concentrated compounds that are very potent.  They are strongly aromatic and one needs only a few drops to achieve an effect.  They not only have medicinal functions, such as being antimicrobial, but generally elicit changes in mood by stimulating, relaxing, soothing or uplifting.



Essential oils need to be treated with great respect because they can often be caustic to tissues when applied directly.  That is why it is generally key to dilute essential oils in a “carrier oil” or soap.   Carrier oils have different properties and choosing a good one depends on a person’s needs.  A few common ones include olive, almond, coconut and jojoba.

Diluting essential oils so they are not caustic is key to the safe practice of aromatherapy.  Generally most essential oils should be diluted to about 2-3 % when added to a carrier oil.  To achieve 2 % concentration, you would add about 15 drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil.  To understand more about safety and gain more education please check out the National Association for aHolistic Aromatherapy.

So for example, one could make a nice uplifting oil with one ounce of almond oil and then adding 9 drops of lavender, 3 drops of bergamot and 3 drops of sandalwood.



One of the most common ways to work with essential oils is to diffuse them into the air, generally by heating them up in some way.   The easiest way to do this is to add a few drops of essential oil to a hot pot of water.  You will immediately smell the aroma of the essential oil as it diffuses into the air.  There are a multitude of diffusers that are available on the market that you can buy to help warm up the essential oil to bring the scent to the air.  These are often used in homes and offices to help calm and lift mood.



Another method of diffusing essential oils is to mix them with a combination of water and a small amount of alcohol in a spray bottle.   Sprays are wonderful for delivering a scent in a non-toxic way in a quick easy way that can help to shift and improve mood.


2 ounce tincture bottle with spray nozzle

1 teaspoon alocohol- usually something without aroma like vodka or with hazel

15-20 drops essential oil

Water to fill.

Just add in your alcohol and essential oil and then fill to the top with distilled water.



When making essential oils, a distiller not only captures the essential oil, they also get water infused with aromatic compounds known as hydrosols.  In the Middle Ages these were known as flower water and often were given as gifts for perfume.  Today they are often used for face and beauty care but they also have a place for improving mood and wellbeing by simply using them as sprays.  Hydrosols can easily be made with a small distilling kit and some garden herbs such as rosemary and lavender.  They can also be purchased from many aromatherapy vendors.


Notes on essential oils, safety and ethics

In the last decade or two much of the modern alternative health field has been swept up by the power of aromatherapy and essential oils to help improve mood, health and wellbeing.  The connection between plant volatile oils and their effect on wellbeing has been noted since ancient times and the art of perfumery has roots dating back to the eras of the Egyptian and Roman empires.  The scents of essential oils are almost instantaneously processed by the thalamus and then influences our mood, cognition, memories and behavior.

For example, to help insomnia, herbs such as jasmine, neroli, rose, sandalwood and chamomile have long been used to help bring greater tranquility and ease a person into deep sleep.

With the advent of modern distilling equipment and an immense international focus on the health benefits of essential oils, aromatherapy has become a multi-billion dollar industry.  And while the new found reconnection to the healing powers of aromatherapy has ushered in a renaissance in herbal healing, it has also brought increased focus on the problem of large scale essential oil manufacturing.

One of the main problems is that it takes an enormous amount of plant material to make small amounts of oil.  It takes almost 16 pounds of lavender flowers to make just an ounce of lavender essential oil.  It takes a whopping 625 pounds of rose petals to make just one ounce of rose oil.   This points to the serious problem in ethical harvesting and the challenge of working with essential oils.  Some of the large companies involved with essential oils such as Young Living and DoTerra have not done nearly enough to address these issues and they have also been implicated in promoting multi-level marketing schemes as well as suggesting ways of using its that are seen by many as unethical and potentially damaging to health.

Because of these concerns with major essential oil companies, I want to promote small batch distillers that use ethical and sustainable harvesting practices.   A small batch distiller is someone who works very closely with the plants themselves and has a deep and intimate knowledge of the craft of distilling.  They pay very close attention to the intricacies of distilling so as to produce the best top quality oils and hydrosols out there.  Think of these companies as similar to microbrews, folks who really are artisans at work and care deeply about the quality of their oils.

Take a look through this resource page to find some good small batch distillers.