Friday, August 04, 2006

Distilling at the US Botanic Gardens, Wash DC

At the end of July, I was invited to the US Botanic Gardens in Washington D.C. to demonstrate distillation for the general public. The Botanic Gardens are very beautiful, containing specimens of plants from all over the world. At the time I was there, the Ylang Ylang Tree (Cananga odorata) in the gardens was flowering. What a fabulous aroma. A flowering branch was placed in a vase for all to enjoy.
We had Lavandin flown in from Hood River Lavender. Despite the long distiance that the flowers traveled, and the loss of a bit of color, the buds were still laden with oil. The distiller I used was one that I designed myself. A Stainless Steel table top distiller. It was designed to use either gas or electicity (external hotplate). We used a small 10,000 btu butane burner, which worked like a charm. I used about one small can of butane per batch. many people from all over the world stopped by to see what I was doing and ask questions. The most frequently was "Where is the restroom?" followed by "Are you making coffee?" Most people had never witnessed the distillation of essential oils. There was a great deal of fascination in the process. Once I filled the still and started cooking, the whole room was filled with the aroma of "lavender". This drew people to discover the source of the aroma. I packed the distiller as full as I could with lavandin flowers along with the stems. The distiller has a total capacity of one cubic foot. This equates to 28.4 liters or 7.5 US gallons. During past distillations in a similar distiller I was able to obtain 5.5 ounces of oil per batch, with distillation times up to 4 hours. For demonstration purposes I reduced the distillation time. I was still happy with the yield despite the reduce distillation time (about 1.5 hours) When distilling 65% of the oil you will obtain s distilled during the first 25% of your distillation time. The oil flow diminishes with time as the plants are exhausted. Once the distiller was packed with flowers, I added water about 1/3 the way up the inside of the retort (the distilling pot). This distiller is equipped with a sight glass so that I can monitor the water level inside the distiller. Lavandin is hydrophilic and will absorb sorm of the water in the distiller. The lid is then put in place, and the stainless hose coming from the lid (bird's beak) is then attached to the condenser. Between batch changes the distiller is very hot. It's adviseable to wear gloves druing this operation. Better safe than sorry. Once everything is attached, the lid is tight and the condenser filled with water, I'm ready to start cooking. It took about 1/2 hour for the water to come to a boil. The first oils started flowing about fifteen minutes later. The butane gas burner was a pleasure to use. It enabled me to reduce the temperature once the distiller came to a boil, which in turn helps to reduce fuel consumption. Once the distillate started to flow from the condenser it was captured in my Florentine separator, my Essencier. This is a valuable tool for the small scale distiller. It permits automatic separation of the distillate waters (hydrosols) from the essential oils. Although the process is simple, once it's understood, many people were mystified as to what was happening. I explained the process from beginning to end about two hundred times during the day. I didn't mind it of course because I was having fun, doing what I enjoy as well as for the pleasure and edification of others. When the essential oils started flowing from the Essencier the process was met with amazement. Another mystery is the workings of the Essencier. I've been distilling for a long time, and I'm still thrilled when the oils begin to flow. It really is Alchemy. All of the above photos are credited to Mr Steven Buhneing. Mr Buhneing is the photographer for the US Botanic Gardens.

Distilling in Greece 2006

During May of this year, we distilled once again on the sunny island of Syros. Syros is a beautiful little island situated in the heart of the Cyclades. We distilled; thyme (harvested wild), sage (Salvia triloba - harvested wild), Rosemary and Rose Geranium. Our yields from thyme, sage and rosemary were quite good, slightly above the expected yield as outlined in the literature. The Rose Geranium was a disappointment. We have the Rose Geranium planted on a local farm. The low yield is most likely due to improper cultivation of the plant. This is only the end of our first year with the geranium in the ground, we're learning. Next year we hope to increase the yield considerably. You can register for next year's Summer School with the American College of Healthcare Sciences. This year's session was lots of fun. We ended with a graduation sail to the archaeological island of Delos. Our 65 foot wooden Turkish barque was escorted part of the way by some local dolphins. Very magical!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Busy Distilling Season

This has been a busy season for distillation. Beginning with our Summer School on the island of Syros during the month of May. We distilled: Thyme, Rosemary, Sage and Rose geranium. Summer School 2006 Since then, I've been our distilling Lavender and Lavandin. I started at JD's Art Farm, where we have "population" lavender growing. This lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) was grown from seed. The resulting plants offered quite a bit of genetic diversity. Our end product is exquisite. The oil is a "perfume" all by itself. From there I went to Hood River Lavender for their "Lavender and Butterflies" festival. I distilled angustifolia in a 100 liter copper Alembic distiller (the same style I use in Greece). For the last week, I've been distilling Lavandin (grosso) at Mountainside Lavender in Sholls, Oregon. It's been a good year with plenty of heat and great yields. Please visit this page again. I will be posting some photos soon.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Distilling Rose Oil

How to Make Rose Oil Several years ago, I joined Dr Peter Wilde (pictured on the left) on a fabulous trip through Turkey. I like to visit distillers of essential oils that I purchase to sell through The Essential Oil Company. I like to see how the plants are grown, harvested, handled and distilled to gain confidence in my suppliers and develop a personal relationship with them. This ensures that my customers receive only the best essential oils possible. If you have never been to Istanbul, you are really missing something. This is truly where East meets West. History and mythology. The senses are assaulted from all directions. Sights, sounds and aromas. We travelled in a group from Istabul to the Mediterranean sea. The region around Isparta is the heart of rose production in Turkey The roses are generally harvested during the month of June. The harvest begins at daylight and proceeds until about 10 AM. It's always best to harvest the rose petals while the dew is still on them, and before the heat of the day causes the essential oils to evaporate into the atmosphere. Women do the harvesting. (Men make the tea for the morning break- nice job) Only the rose petals are taken, no green bits allowed. I tried my hand at harvesting but found that I was wasn't built for it. I spent most of my time trying to get the thorns out of my hands, and "unhooking" my shirt from the ever present thorns. Once the rose petals are harvested, they are placed into sacks and loaded onto trailers. Care must be taken not to bruise the rose petals. The rose petals then make the short journey from the rose fields to the distillery. Once at the distillery, the sacks of rose petals are unloaded from the trailer and dumped on the smoothe cool concrete floor . The rose petals are allowed to ferment a bit. Decomposition apparently helps to produce more rose essential oil inside of the petals. The rose petals are left for seveal hours to allow nature to do its work. The room is incredibly aromatic. Ms Dorene Petersen, President of the American College of Healthcare Sciences found the specter of a pile of rose petals irresistible. Overwhelmed by the aroma, Dorene temporarily passed out, reportedly falling into a deep rose inspired sleep . We managed to bring Dorene back to her senses, otherwise she would have been loaded, along with the rose petals into the large distillers. Rose petals are distilled via hydrodistillation. Rose petals are delicate. It is necessary to have the rose petals float freely in water in order for them to be distilled. Steam distillation does not work for rose petals. Once hit with the heat of the steam, the rose petals form mush which does not permit complete distillation. Picture a pot of oatmeal cooking. Looking into the pot, you will see "steam vents". This is exactly what happens to rose petals if steam distillation is attempted. The steam will find its way through these "tunnels" and will not adequately contact with the rose. In addition, the heat and pressure will destroy some of the finer "notes" in the essential oil. So, after allowing the rose petals to ferment a little bit, and with the removal of Ms Petersen, the rose petals are loaded into th distillers. Inside the distillers is about 1500 liters of water. Each distiller is then filled with about 500 kgs of rose petals, and packed to the top, to overflowing. Steam is introduced into the bottom of the steam jacket which surrounds the copper container that is holding the rose petals and water. The steam causes the water inside the pot to boil. This is similar to a "Bain Marie" double boiler. This works quite well. If the rose petals and water were in a pot, without the "double boiler", and heated via direct fire, you run the risk of burning your rose petals. This is due to the fact that the water inside will evaporate as distillation proceeds, and the remaining rose petals will contact the hot sides of the distiller. One thing you never want to do is burn your raw material. The distillery is a two story operation. Rose petals are loaded into the top of the distillers (retorts). When the distillation period is over, the bottom of the retort is opened to remove the spent rose petals and remaining waters. As distillation proceeds, the distillate is captured in a receiving can (Essencier), with the Rose oil (attar, Otto) floating to the top. It's very important to capture the waters which exit the Essencier and redistill the waters to remove the essential oils which haven't adequately separated from the waters. The product of the redistilled waters and and the essential oils which float to the top of the Essencier are then filtered and blended back together. The resulting products are beautiful Turkish Rose Essential Oil and Rose Flower Water (these are the hydrosols that flow from the Essenciers) Turkish Rose Attar (Rose Oil, Rose Otto) is similar to that distilled in Bulgaria. The rose used is the beautiful Damask Rose. Rose Oil is among the favorites used in herbal medicine and aromatherapy.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Percent Yield

There are many variables which will determine the percent yield you will get from your raw material. Growing conditions, harvest time (including time of day), condition of the material (dry or fresh), distillation time etc. Here's a useful guide which can tell you what you may expect to obtain from your distillations. Feel free to add your data as this page can easily be updated.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Copper Essencier

The Copper Essencier was designed for separating essential oils and hydrosols from distillates when using smaller apparatus. I have used it successfully with our table top distillers, our copper Alembics and even with our 100 gallon portable stainless steel distiller. It also works great as a secondary receiving can. At times, I've noticed essential oils in my waters which haven't separated adequately. Perhaps because the condenser is too cold, or the flow of distillate is too great. I place the Copper Essencier so that it captures the waters coming from the primary separator. This affords more time for the separation. I have also saved my initial waters and added them back into the distiller for redistillation, but I find that secondary separation is quite efficient.

Distillation on a Greek Island

Soon, I'll be on the island of Syros in the heart of the Cyclades. Syros is a beautiful and peaceful island with a rich history and culture. The Australasian College of Health Sciences is sponsoring this hands on Summer Session For ten days, we will enjoy the relaxing healthy lifestyle of a Greek island amidst a wide variety of Mediterranean plants and herbs. Instruction is by ACHS’s outstanding faculty, with bonus guest lectures from leading professionals in the industry. Greece is the birthplace of the “father of medicine” Hippocrates, who believed the body should be treated as a whole and that food should be our medicine. Summer session 2006 is an opportunity to immerse yourself in this ancient land. Syros is close to Mykonos and Santorini and not too far from the island of Cos where Hippocrates founded a medical school and began teaching his ideas. Syros is an enchanting location for this residential session. We have Rosemary and Rose Geranium planted on the island, which have been grown using organic methods. In addition to these plants, we also hope to harvest Sage, Thyme and Helichrysum from the wild. The hills on Syros are quite aromatic. It's a very heady experience to walk on a hillside covered with wild growing aromatic plants with the bright blue sea lapping the beaches below. It's Aromatherapy, pure and simple. We will be distilling in a 100 liter rotating column copper Alembic. The Alembic stands about 6 feet tall when the column is up, in the position for steam and water distillation. Traditionally, this apparatus is used for making Eau de Vie, Tziporo, Grappa etc. The Essential Oil Company represents a group of Artisans in Portugal who make many and varied distillers, all in the traditional fashion. With very little adaptation, I find that this equipment is fabulous for making essential oils and hydrosols. There are no gaskets for these distillers. Joints between the Alembic head (onion) and the column, and the joint between the column and the "pot" are sealed using dough made from rye flour. This is a very old and established method, and it works like a charm. Only rye flour will work. Rye seems to absorb moisture and stay somewhat soft, while other flours will dry and crack from the heat of distillation. Some folks make a paste with rye flour and water and smear it over the joints. I prefer to make a dough, roll the dough into a rope and press it into the joints. Our Alembic is fired with propane. We will also distill in a propane stainless steel table top distiller. The Alembic can hold about 50 pounds of raw material. The table top can hold up to 15 pounds. We will be distilling the same material in both distillers so that we can see the difference in the products. For separating the essential oils and hydrosols we will use our copper Essencier and stainless steel Florentine Separator. Last year was quite an experience getting our equipment into Greece. We couldn't get the stainless steel distiller and Florentine Separator out of customs. For our first few batches from our copper Alembic we had to catch the distillate in a bowl and then decant the oils using pouring and pipettes. What a pain in the neck. There was some loss of essential oils. It was also an expensive excercise with customs fees seeming somewhat arbitrary. We distilled Thyme, Sage (officinalis), Pine (Aleppo), Rosemary and Rose Geranium. Thyme is a protected plant on the island, because Thyme honey is a specialty product. In order to harvest, we had to get permission and be well away from beehives and beekeepers. Participants in last year's summer session had a great time. They made a variety of natural products from the plants they harvested. Not just essential oils. I can't wait to get back to Syros. It's a lovely environment to work and play.