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!