Sunday, April 25, 2010

Distilling Incense Cedar Leaf

I managed to locate an excellent source for wild crafted aromatic raw materials. This is very exciting to me, as it opens a door for access to some very interesting plants, some of which I've wanted to distill for a very long time. Included in that list is Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Arrow Leaf Balsam Root (Balsamorhiza sagittata), Pipsissewa - Prince's Pine (Chimaphila umbellata) and of course one of my favorites, Incense Cedar (Libocedrus decurrens-- aka Calocedrus decurrens) I started distilling a batch of Incense Cedar Leaf. The leaf had been gently dried and there was minimal stem material. This is very good, because the twigs are unproductive and take up room and cost energy. I distilled for three hours and obtained less than 0.5% yield. Then it dawned on me that I had made an error. As with all conifers, the scales of the "leaf" of the Incense Cedar are covered with a waxy coating. In order to break the coating down and get at the essential oils the coating protects, the "leaf" must first be soaked in room temperature water. I turned off my distiller, and left the steam soaked plant material to sit overnight. When I distilled the next morning, the essential oil flowed easily. I finally ended up with a 1.4% yield of essential oil and lots of interesting hydrosols. When I do my next run of Incense Cedar Leaf, I will add copper to the system to reduce the sulfurous "still note". The last time I distilled Incense Cedar was in a copper still and the oil was "sweet" right from the beginning. I will also soak each batch for at least 12 hours prior to distillation. Right now the oil and waters are breathing, like a fine wine. I hope in the future to be able to increase the percent yield to between 1.5 and 2.0 %. Cant' wait to distill Wild Ginger and Arrowleaf Balsamroot!


Joshua F. Morvant said...

What could be the potential effect of soaking cedar leaf for several days?

Distiller said...

I don't believe it would hurt anything. A bit of fermentation may occur, and I'm not certain what effect that will have. It could be an interesting experiment to see if the yield is increased with longer soaking.
I am fortunate now that I have plenty of raw material and a source for as much as I need. This will permit me to experiment a bit. If I do so, I will post the results. Thanks Joshua for the thought provoking question.

Christian said...

First, thank you for this wonderful blog!

What do you mean with:
"The oil and waters are breathing, like a fine wine."?
Do you just let them rest for some time in an (open?) flask?
Or do you air them regularly?
I've observed that the some of the freshly distilled oils have an unpleasent scent that dimishes with time. I would be very happy if you could give me some hints how these oils should be treated.

Thank you very much in advance!

Best wishes,
(a hobby distiller from Europe)

Siirenias said...

I am pretty excited about all this, and acquired some of the essence for myself. I've been doing some preliminary "playing around with" of this stuff, and its potency is not in question. I have some ideas of what I can do with this stuff, and I can't resist getting some of the hydrosols to do the same with.

I'm no naturalist, but I've been living with the oaks and cedars of California all my life, and learned a lot about them. Cedar leaves don't decay unless under special circumstances; they just turn to dust. I don't think you'll get much fermentation unless you purposely go looking for something to break down the resin in the leaf...I'd have to guess, from an inexperienced standpoint, that you'll just end up with a stronger hydrosol if you let it sit longer.

Distiller said...

Hi Christian.
I generally leave all of the essential oils and hydrosols that I distill open in the container, covered with gauze or filter paper.
Occasionally, I blow ACROSS the top of the container in an efort to change the gasses in the "headspace" above the oil or waters.

At the same time, I am de-watering the oils. I usually use Kosher (rock) salt. Adding it to the container with the essential oils, will help to remove the water from the oil. Even if you can't see it, it's most likely there.

Another method I've heard of, to clear out the "still note", is to pour the oils frequently between containers. Basically aerating the oils and permitting the sulfur compounds to dissipate.

Distiller said...

Siirenias, interesting about the decomposition of the cedar leaf.
I would guess, that in order to ferment the leaves, some yeast and perhaps sugars would need to be added.

I found that distilling the leaves, then letting them sit overnight after distillation will enable me to extract a bit more oil. Pre-soaking the leaves, I believe is an error, because I end up removing some valuable materials which would add body and depth to the hydrosols.

jennaalevine said...

Have you tried distilling the wild ginger? Do you sell your essential oils?

Distiller said...

Hi Jenna, we could not get enough Wild Ginger for distillation. We are afraid of the environmental impact of harvesting in the wild. It's unfortunately a destructive harvest, as we must distill the roots.