How Essential Oils are Made
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How Essential Oils Are Made by Coach Emma Bliss

How Essential Oils Are Made by Coach Emma Bliss

Essential oils can be present in the leaves, flowers, stems, bark or roots of plants. Essential oils are different from fatty oils such as nut and seed oils, because they are small, compact and non greasy. Extraction of these natural, aromatic oils concentrates them into liquid form which can be stored easily for long periods of time.

How are essential oils extracted from plants?

There a four different methods used for the extraction of these precious oils:

1. Distillation is the most common and is preferred for most plants.  
2. Resin Tapping is used for certain trees such as Frankincense and Copaiba that produce thick sap. 
3. Cold Pressing is the preferred method for citrus fruits.
4. Absolute Extraction uses solvents to extract oils from plants that can’t be steam distilled.


Steam distillation involves placing the plant material in a vat which is suspended over boiling water. The steam passes up through the plant material and the water vapour catches the essential oils on its way through, creating a mixture of steam and oils. This mix then flows down through a condensing column, where it is cooled and so turns into liquid. 

The fact that the water and oil don’t actually mix means that when the liquids are collected, the oil floats on the water surfaced making it easy to separate off. This is a pure form of extraction. 

No added chemicals are required, so assuming the plants are organic, the oil is pure and high quality. 

Steam distillation is the most common way to extract essential oils and is used for a wide variety of plants including Cedarwood, Peppermint, Thyme, Rosemary and Basil.

Resin Tapping

This extraction method uses another process prior to the steam distillation. 

Small ‘V’ shaped cuts are made into the trunk of the tree. The tree responds to the injury by secreting a protective resin which is then collected. The resin can be used in its raw form, or steam distilled to extract the essential oils from the other resin components. 

Resin tapping is commonly used for Frankincense and Copaiba, but there are many plants which could be resin tapped. Saying that, the preferred method is still that the whole plant is steam distilled instead.

Cold Pressing

Cold pressing is used for citrus fruits because the oils in these do not do well at the temperature of steam. The rinds are pierced and pressed and the oils are collected and separated from the other plant material by the use of centrifugal forces. Some natural waxes and plant residues may be present in the oils.

Absolute Extraction

This is the most complicated method. It involves using solvents to extract the oils, and then other processes to remove the solvents. Traces of these solvents are left behind and may be toxic. 

Fragile plants that are difficult to distill with just steam use this method. These include Jasmine and Rose and the oils that come from them are called ‘absolutes’.

How does the extraction process influence the quality?

Chemical or solvent extraction can often be the quickest and cheapest way of extracting oils – the steam distillation process takes more energy to heat the water and more time for the extraction. Hence many, cheaper perfume oils are extracted with solvents which are not fully removed and can even be toxic.

Another variability is the amount of time that the plants are steam distilled for. In ‘Quick Distillation‘ the plants are steam distilled for a short time, enough to get the scent of the plant and a few of the other chemical components. ‘Complete Distillation‘ involves continuing the distillation until no new chemical components are extracted and the fragrance is no longer present. This can take up to 12 times as long, but the oils that are extracted using the ‘complete distillation’ process have a far broader range of beneficial compounds and are usually more concentrated.

Other factors that influence the quality

Although the extraction methods are important to quality, another most significant factor that can’t be ignored is the quality of the plants in the first place. If the plants have been grown with chemical fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides, you may also be concentrating those chemicals in your oil. 

Using an oil that’s not been grown organically can therefore mean using concentrated toxins. Always choose oils made from plants which are known to be organic and chemical free.

All of this means that good quality, broad spectrum and chemical free oils don’t come cheap. If you find a big bottle in the supermarket for $5, leave it on the shelf. Unfortunately the labelling laws don’t require the company to be open about what’s actually in the bottle and it’s most likely a chemical cocktail that doesn’t fit in with your quest for health.

Having looked into many different options, Tolman Health therefore recommends Young Living Essential Oils. This is due to their ‘Seed to Seal’ policy, which guarantees the quality of the oils by being responsible for every stage of production, from planting seeds in organic fields, through the complete distillation and extraction process, to sealing it in a little glass bottle.

Thanks for reading!


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