Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Distilling Essential Oils at Home

Apologies, it's been a little quiet lately, but never fear, this faithful DIYer has been keeping busy!

As the weather turns from late summer to autumn, everything is all about the HARVEST. This weekend was spent distilling oil from a bonanza of dried peppermint, canning a delicious relish, buying seeds, gaining a few free compost worms, and taking one last visit to Prettyboy Reservoir.

In the crush of projects this weekend, I finally MacGuyver'ed a connection to link the tube that cools down the condenser tube of the distiller to the sink. There were a few unsuccessful visits to the hardware store, but I could never get the right fit onto the faucet-head. The previous time I used the machine I connected it with some chewing gum, foil, and tape, which worked, but clearly isn't a permanent solution. I needed something elastic, that would give a little. An old bike inner tube!

As I mentioned in the earlier post about rosemary oil, you need a TON of dried herbs to make any oil. The friend who lent me the distiller (on the condition that I learn how to use it and set it up) brought over about a liter of dried peppermint leaves. You can see how much oil we got here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whistlesfarandwee/3878147902/in/photostream/

If you're curious about the mechanics of it all, here's a brief description of what happens during the process:

1. The bottom flask is filled with water and heated.

2. The steam rises up into the second flask, which is filled with your plant matter.

3. The oil-infused steam rises up through the flask and goes into the condenser tube.

4. The condenser tube is hooked up to the sink. A constant stream of cold water keeps the tube cold.

5. When the oil-infused steam hits the condenser, the steam turns to water. The oil separates from the water, and both drop down into the valve.

6. Wait for between 30 minutes or up to 2 hours for all of the oil to be distilled from the plants.

7. Drain out the water from the valve, then drain out the oil (since oil and water separate, they are in separate layers in the valve).

8. Cover the water and the oil containers with cheesecloth. Let the aromas mellow for about a week.

The scented water is called 'hydrosol' and can be used to make homemade natural cleaning or beauty products. I made a nice facial toner with the rosemary hydrosol.

Mix the essential oil with a light carrier oil like jojoba or almond oil. Peppermint is a great stress reliever to rub on the feet or temples. Decadent!

And don't worry, we don't waste water at the BaltimoreDIY project factory. Most of the water that was cycled through the distiller was collected in pots and bottles. I'm using the water to can my relish in a water bath, water my plants, and wash my dishes. No need for the city facilities to purify it twice.

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