Aromatherapy is only one of the many benefits of essential oils. Learning how to make essential oils at home can give you a greater selection and more control, and you won’t have to find the particular oils you want in the store. What’s more, it’s not a difficult procedure at all.

Essential oils exist in most plants, so you can often find large quantities of source materials in the wild when they’re in season. Others, you can buy from common shops. Extraction requires minimal equipment, and it’s not expensive unless you want to extract the essence of exclusive herbs. If you’re a big fan of aromatherapy and essential oil products, this is an excellent way to extend your collection. So, let’s look at how to make essential oils.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils and real essential oil flowers

The oily compounds that constitute the “essence” of a plant are what we call essential oils. This essence is a concentrated form of the plant’s aroma and often of its medicinal qualities. There are many ways to extract essential oils, but most companies tend to use steam distillation or cold pressing. While the latter requires expensive special equipment, the former is something you can do yourself.

While some people use chemical extraction methods and sell the products as essential oils or write guides on how to do it, this is false advertising. Those products are not real essential oils. This mislabeling can have dangerous consequences if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

Many guides claim to teach you how to extract essential oil, but they’re actually recipes for infused oils. It’s an easier method since all you need is a carrier oil to extract the plant essence, but the final product is less potent and has different characteristics. Furthermore, infusing oils this way only works with some herbs. Other guides often show you how to make herb tinctures, but they falsely call them essential oils.

Many essences are safe to use topically, especially if you dilute them with a carrier oil. Others can cause irritation and burns on your skin. Some are safe to ingest, although it depends on the quality. Unless an oil says it’s food grade, you shouldn’t put it in your mouth. Whether or not an essential oil is toxic depends on the plant it came from and the extraction method, so you should always do your research.

Essential oil in a bottle with real flower

Why Should You Learn How To Make Essential Oils Yourself?

While there are many options on the market, you may not always find essences of the plants you seek. What’s more, many essential oils are expensive. And again, you don’t always know what goes into them.

If you learn how to make essential oils, you can extract the essence of many common plants and have your own collection of essences and mixtures. Furthermore, you can sell them or give them as gifts. Since many common weeds and flowers have beautiful aromas, knowing how to make essential oils can get you what you need with minimal effort and expenses. And you can buy and extract those plants for which you can’t find ready oil for sale.

How To Make Essential Oils

Hands holding essential oil in a bottle

First, you’ll need to get your plant material. Getting fresh plants is usually best when possible. If you’re picking them yourself, it’s best to do so in the morning once the dew dries. While you’ll want to get a large amount, you shouldn’t pick any sick or dead plants or ones full of bugs. So, how much is enough? As a rule of thumb, you can expect a teaspoon or so of essence from a cup of plant material. For the best yields, you’ll need to research each plant to find out at which point in its life cycle it’s the most potent.

When you’ve gathered and prepared your source material, it’s time to get the good stuff out of it. The following sections will show you how to make essential oils, step by step.

Sourcing And Preparing Your Plants

dried Herbs for making essential oils

The parts you should harvest depend on the particular plant. For example, when making rosemary oil, you only want the flowering tops and not the stems. You should always handle your plants with care, as most of the oil resides in delicate parts and surface hairs. You’ll lose oil without proper care. So, be gentle and try to touch them as little as possible.

If you need to buy the plants, it’s wise to be as selective as you can. Getting the powdered or crushed form will usually lead to disappointment. Look for whole plants, fresh if possible, and try to find out how and when the harvest took place. Also, keep in mind that herbs from commercial farms will often contain herbicides and pesticides that may compromise your oil. If possible, get organic plants. If you can’t find those, it’s easier to get organic essential oils.

Next, many choose to dry their fresh plants. There are some pros and cons to this. It does take a while, and it does reduce the oil content slightly. On the other hand, it lets you put more material into a single batch, and it may get you a purer end result with some plants. Drying plants is usually as simple as hanging them in a dry place away from direct sunlight, ideally with a fan. Certain plants can withstand quicker drying in the oven. Again, you’ll want to research the specific plant to learn how to make essential oils with it.

How To Make Essential Oils Using Alcohol

Essential oils getting scooped out using a droplets

Extracting with alcohol is convenient because it doesn’t require any fancy equipment or close monitoring. There are a few extra steps to it, but it’s a simple process. Whether you use fresh or dry herbs, it’s best to chop them into fine pieces to create more exposed surfaces where the oil can seep out.

First of all, you don’t want to use rubbing alcohol or other denatured products. That will ruin your oil. Plain vodka is a good option if you can’t find high-grade, undenatured ethyl alcohol. Furthermore, you’ll need a fairly large ceramic or glass container. This method of how to make essential oils doesn’t work with metal containers.

Place the plant matter in your container and pour the alcohol until it covers everything. If you’re unsure, too much is better than not enough. This mixture must now process for a day or two to ensure a full extraction. You don’t want to put a lid on the container, because the mixture has to breathe. A thin cloth is an ideal solution to keep bugs and dust out while still letting air through.

When the wait’s over, it’s time to strain your extract. For this, you’ll need a second container and a fine mesh strainer. Place the strainer over the new container and pour the herbs and alcohol into the strainer. Press the mix down into the strainer lightly and let it sit for a while, so you get as much liquid as possible. If you have more herbs, it’s wise to start a second batch right away.

Separation And storage

At this stage, what you have is more like a tincture, and this is about how to make essential oils. So, you’ll need to separate the oil from the alcohol. Fortunately, all you need is a freezer. Alcohol doesn’t freeze at these temperatures, so it will split from the oil. You can then scrape the congealed oil off the top, and this is your finished product. As for the leftover alcohol, you can reuse it for future extractions.

Essential oils are photosensitive, so you’ll need to keep them away from the light. Dark glass containers are ideal, but you’ll also want to keep them in a cool, dark space. Now you know how to make essential oils with one method, but let’s look at how to make essential oils in different ways.

How To Make Essential Oils In A Cooking Pot

Preparation in making essential oils using pistil and mortar

This is a water-based extraction method. All you’ll need is a slow cooker or a large cooking pot with a lid, and some distilled water. Tap water may contain things that compromise your result, so you’ll want distilled water. Also, it’s better to leave your plants intact when you use this method.

To begin, place your plant material in the pot. You can fill it to about half-full if you have enough material. Now pour the water, which you can bring up to about three-quarters of the pot’s volume. Next, place the lid upside-down on the pot. This leads the steam to condense and drop into the water. It’s time to bring the water to a quick boil, and then let it simmer for three to four hours. That's the main step of how to make essential oils by boiling water.

When you’re done cooking the plants, take them off the heat and let everything cool down for a while. Once it’s cooled down somewhat, it’s time for the fridge. You’ll want to leave it in overnight to make sure everything settles. When the waiting is over, it’s time to get ready for bottling. When you open the pot, you’ll see an oily film on the water surface. This is your essential oil. You must get it out of the water pretty fast, or it’ll melt and mix with it.

If you get a bit of water in your essence bottle, it’s not a problem. If there’s a significant amount of water, you can heat the liquid slightly until the water turns to steam. But be quick and gentle, or the oil will lose potency. The leftover water, also known as hydrosol or floral water, is something you can keep and use to make your home smell nice.

How To Make Essential Oils With A Still

Ingredients in making essential oils

Now let’s look at how to make essential oils with a proper distillation setup. It’s easiest to buy a still, although you can make your own. However, since these are the same stills used for alcohol distillation, you’ll want to look into your local laws to make sure you’re not taking any risks.

You only need a few simple components to build your own. The first is a pressure cooker or a similar sealed cooking chamber. Then, you’ll need a copper pipe. This will protrude straight up to lead the steam, then bend and descend into a spiral or helix. This section will sit in a pot or bucket which you’ll fill with cold water or ice. This makes the steam condense and drip down. The end of the pipe will stick out of the cooling tank, and you’ll attach a separator or container to collect the essential oil. That’s all there is to it.

Distilling Your Plant Essence

Distilled essential oil

The first part of the process is the same as with the previous method. Put your plants in the cooker and cover them with distilled water. You can pretty much fill the tank up with your plants, as long as you make sure that there’s room for enough water for a full distillation. Also, check that nothing blocks the steam pipe if you’re making a big batch; it’s wise to leave an inch of air. If you use a manufactured still, read the instructions first. Some plants only take half an hour to extract, while others can take up to six hours, so you’ll want to read up on your chosen plant.

Double check that you’ve sealed the lid properly, then bring your mixture to a boil. Most plant essences start evaporating around the boiling point of water, which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 Celsius. From this point on, it’s an automated process, although you’ll want to check the water level after a while. Also, longer distillations will require you to replace the ice or water in the condenser to keep it cool. Otherwise, your extraction won’t work.

When you’ve finished the distillation, it’s time to separate the fluids. If you use a separator, you’ll carefully open the valve to let the water out and seal it before the oil comes out. Oil always floats on water. If you used a plain container, it’s best to use an eyedropper or syringe to get the oil out without the water. If you do get some water, hold it vertically and gently push the water droplets out. That's how to make essential oils with a still; now, you’re ready to bottle the oil. As with the previous method, the remaining floral water is often worth keeping.

Are You Eager For Your Homemade Essential Oil?

Preparation in making essential oils

Now you know how to make essential oils at home in three different ways. The elaborate distillation method is the best one if you want to make lots of it. Regardless of the particular method, you’ll get a high-quality product. If you spot any debris or impurities in your essential oil, you can filter it through cheesecloth before bottling. You must be careful to use a clean cloth without any detergent residue if you want a pure end result.

There’s nothing else that can go wrong with these procedures, as long as you don’t use any plants with dangerous oily compounds. As long as you do your research, you can experiment a lot with your newfound knowledge of how to make essential oils. Enjoy!

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