Earlier this year, in the middle of summer as I was harvesting some of my many lavender bushes, an idea popped into my head to one day extract my own essential oil from the flowers. I dreamed up so many ideas of what I could do with the resulting essential oil and hydrosol, that I knew it was something I wanted to do in the future.
I had done this many times before in the lab when I worked as a plant biochemist, but back then I had a lab full of equipment at my command, but now, not so much. I couldn't exactly call up a local lab supply place any longer, since I didn't belong to a scientific group where this was thought of as an appropriate use of said equipment. So I had to come up with better idea. I did come across alembic stills for sale in New Zealand, but the stills were very large, and there was no way I could fill up any one of their stills.
Then I came across a small pot still from Still Spirits called the Air Still. With a big base like a kettle, and an air cooled distiller on top, it was perfect for me in home use. It is typically made to make and distill alcoholic beverages like gin and rum, but the instructions also include a method to distill essential oils and hydrosols from plants. After waiting for a while, one was finally available for sale on special, and I ordered one for us. Unfortunately by this time it was the middle of winter, and there was nothing to distill yet.
When it arrived, I was quite happy with it. I did the first cleaning, and then did a trial run by making distilled water, which could potentially be helpful in a natural disaster when water is contaminated. Ever since then I've been waiting impatiently for some plant material to be ready.
And our growing peppermint plant was the first plant material ready to actually try the Air Still out on. I started by harvesting a big bunch of peppermint leaves from the edge of the plant. I washed them in water to clean them, patted them dry, and then cut them up into smaller sections to fit into the still. The total weight of the peppermint plants going into the still was 234 grams.
I popped them into the still pot, and then boiled up 3L of water in the kettle. Once I added the boiling water, I inserted the still head, and turned it on. It
was less than 10 minutes before the liquid began to come off the still as the water boiled, and there on top of the hydrosol was a fine layer of peppermint essential oil. I was so excited.
The peppermint and hydrosol came off at a decently fast rate, and it wasn't long before I had 0.6L of combined peppermint essential oil and hydrosol.
All that there was left to do was separate the hydrosol from the peppermint essential oil. I bought a chemistry separator funnel online, and was able to separate out the hydrosol on the bottom of the liquid, from the essential oil on the top.
In the end I got about 0.5 mL of peppermint essential oil, and 0.6L of peppermint hydrosol.
Considering that I only added 234 grams of plant material to the still, I thought that it was a pretty good harvest rate. It didn't take a lot of effort and time, and it's a fun project to do. I will definitely be repeating this method with my lavender and rose harvests in the future. I will be using the essential oils and hydrosols in my home, and my sister as also requested some for her to use at home as well.
Have you ever done something so completely geeky around the home, that it makes you really happy to see the results of your endeavors? I'd love to know...
Have a wonderful day