At XinerQi, we recognize that essential oils provide an opportunity for you to achieve unity with the mind, body, and spirit. So, when looking into the type of essential oils you should buy, knowing how they are made is crucial.
When buying essential oils, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the oils natural or synthetically made?
- How were these oils produced? Were chemicals used in the process?
- Will these oils suit my therapeutic needs?
- Is it sourced responsibly?
If the answer to any of these questions is unclear, it’s time to do some research.
Methods of Oil Extraction
Essential oils are made from extracting natural oils from aromatic plants, such as lavender, peppermint, citrus fruits, rose petals and so much more. The quality of an oil can be reflective of its aroma, which can dictate much of where the oil came from, the soil it was grown from and the way that it was produced.
For example, delicate rose petals would not be able to survive the same physical strain of oil extraction as orange peels. Each different material has been carefully studied to understand the best way to extract the most of their nutrient-rich oil. While the means of extraction have evolved as essential oil production has become more popular, some of the older methods are still being used.
Some methods involve the use of chemicals. When chemicals are used to extract oils, they can leave behind trace amounts in the oil that can reduce the effect of its therapeutic properties. In some cases, the trace chemicals can cause irritations in certain individuals, making it a less than ideal option for those looking for botanicals that are 100% natural.
With that in mind, it’s important to find essential oils that will meet your needs and are extracted using natural methods. Here is a list of different methods in which essential oils can be extracted.
Steam distillation is by far the most commonly used method to extract and separate oil from plants. Freshly gathered plants are placed above a vat of boiling water, causing steam to pass through the plants and pull out the oils. This oil-infused steam is passed through a condenser and rapidly cooled, allowing it to become a liquid form.
Because oil is so hydrophobic, the essential oil will separate from the water, making it easier to collect and bottle. The water left over is often very aromatic, as many plants have water-soluble compounds. This water is known as hydrosol or “floral water,” and is highly valued by aromatherapists. It is generally used in cosmetics and skin moisturizers.
One drawback some people see in using steam distillation is the inconsistency with some of the variables in the process: the temperature of the steam, the duration of time the plants are exposed to it, and the atmospheric pressure the plants undergo while in the distillation column. If any of these variables are not carefully monitored, the constituents in the oils can be damaged.
XinerQi offers a selection of some of the most widely used essential oils produced through steam distillation. These oils include our Organic Peppermint, Organic Lavender, and Organic Helichrysum.
There are some materials, like rose petals, that are too delicate and would clump together if put through steam distillation. These materials go through a process called water distillation. The process is similar to steam distillation, but rather than putting the plant material above a vat of boiling water, the materials are put into the water. The water protects the extracted oils from overheating, allowing high-quality oils to come out on the other side of the separation process.
Some trees have highly aromatic resin that works well to produce essential oils, most famously myrrh and frankincense. The tree is first wounded, causing the resin to secrete out to the surface. The droplets of sap are then allowed to dry and harden into teardrop-shapes on the tree over the course of 10 days. Once dried, they are removed and harvested to be later distilled into an essential oil.
*XinerQi’s Wild-Craft Copaiba Paupera Oil, with its woody and mildly spicy scent, comes straight from the tree through the tapping process. Any further distillation damages beneficial constituents and therapeutic properties.
The use of carbon dioxide is relatively new in the world of essential oil extraction, but has been theorized to produce higher quality levels of oils than steam distillation. In this process, carbon dioxide is pressurized until it becomes a liquid while remaining in a gaseous, or “supercritical,” state. It is then brought into a vat of plant material and works as a natural solvent, pulling out necessary compounds and materials that create essential oils. The liquid carbon dioxide is then re-pressurized to a normal level, causing the excess gas to be released. The leftover liquid is the extracted essential oil.
Carbon dioxide extraction leaves an oil that is closer to the chemical composition of the original plant, because it has not broken down any valuable compounds from the plant matter. The resulting oil often has a more similar scent to the original plant and a richer color.
Though increasing in popularity among manufacturers, many companies don’t often use carbon dioxide in their extraction because it is very expensive. After all, steam distillation just uses heat and water, which are readily available and abundant resources. Even though carbon dioxide is also abundant, it takes more energy to access in its liquid form.
Let’s take a deep dive into explaining expression using our favorite cooking oils, canola and olive oil. These oils are extracted by slightly heating the seeds or olives and putting them under high amounts of physical pressure, which easily secretes a usable oil.
This method is a form of “expression,” which is a broad term for putting plant material under high amounts of pressure.
In this category, there is another form of expression, except this form does not use heat. This is known as “cold-press extraction,” and is often used when extracting oil from citrus peels (oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit). This is because citrus oils cannot withstand the heat used in steam distillation.
The citrus peels are put through a machine that pierces the oil sacs, making the oil easier to extract as the peels are squeezed. Any juice from the peels are then separated from the essential oil and is easily extracted.
*XinerQi uses this method with our own Organic Lemon Essential Oil, which provides refreshing properties for an invigorating experience.
Oils created from maceration are also known as infused oils. Maceration uses carrier oils to absorb compounds from other aromatic plants used in essential oils.
Macerated oils often capture more of a plant’s essence, as it can catch all of the heavier and larger plant molecules that are unable to be separated from the plant material and collected via evaporation.
The process of maceration includes finely chopping and grinding dried raw plant material until it becomes a coarse powder. This plant powder is then placed into a vat with the solvent (the carrier oil) and allowed to sit for up to a week while being occasionally shaken. After a week, the mixture is then strained, and the leftover plant mass is pressed in order to gather any remaining liquid.
The plant material has to be completely dry before it is mixed with the carrier oil, as any moisture from the plant can cause the oil to become rancid and promote the growth of harmful microbes. Adding Vitamin E based oils can keep this from taking place.
This is perhaps one of the oldest methods of oil extraction and is not commonly used by most essential oil developers today. The process uses either animal or vegetable fat to extract compounds and scents from flowers.
Odorless fats are spread out on a glass sheet into which flower petals are pressed. These petals are left to rest for anywhere from a few days up to two weeks, depending on the flowers used. During that time, the fat absorbs the scent of the flower. The petals are then replaced until the fat reaches an optimal level of aroma saturation.
The aroma-saturated fat is known as an enfleurage pomade, being a combination of fat and fragrant oil. The pomade is then washed with alcohol or other solvents, leaving just the infused oil behind.
While solvent extraction encompasses some of the previous methods listed (enfleurage, maceration, and CO2 extraction), most forms of solvent extraction involve chemicals like benzene or hexane. Most manufacturers try to avoid these chemicals, which are harmful for human consumption. Food grade solvents, like ethanol, have successfully been used as in the extraction process without the risk of creating an essential oil that contains skin irritants.
Many fragrant plants require the use of solvent extraction because other extraction methods don’t extract an adequate amount of oil. Additionally, some fragrant materials are too delicate to survive any other distillation process. For these types of materials, solvent extraction is the best option.
Finding the Best Essential Oils
XinerQi offers a variety of essential oils that are all naturally extracted (through expression and steam extraction) and developed with a mission to help support our environment, our farmers, and your well-being. We encourage you to test out a variety of different types of essential oils to know which aromas are best suited for you and your needs.
To get the most out of our essential oils, we always recommend doing research to see what oils will best suit your needs. Bring more synergy into your life and be sure to check out our shop today.