The Art of Extracting Essential Oils

We use them in our skincare, our home and personal fragrances, our haircare, our cleaning products and our candles – but if someone asked you what an essential oil actually is, would you be able to answer them? And do you have any idea where they come from?

Havana Home is passionate about our origins so we’ve done some digging to make sure we know exactly what is in our products.  An ‘essential oil’ is a concentrated liquid that contains a volatile aroma compound from a plant. Volatile simply means that it has a tendency to vaporise. The term ‘essential’ covers quite a few different types of oils – including simple extractions (like clove oil) and far more
complex ethereal oils like Agarwood and Rose. They are considered ‘essential’ because they contain the ‘essence’ of the plant, meaning the taste of the odour.

 

To get this essence from a plant a process of distillation takes place, often using steam. It is a difficult process to get right – the temperature must be perfect, the plants must be of the highest quality and treated very carefully. This is why really good quality essential oils are expensive. It is also why they smell so amazing.

During this process of distillation, hot steam runs through the plant material breaking down the cells of the plan and carrying the essential oils to a cooling chamber where the water portion of the plant – the hydrosol –and the essential oils of the plant are separated. Obviously the end results depend on quite a few variables. Was the plant organically grown? What was the geography, climate
and soil conditions like? And what was the level of expertise of the distiller.

The amount of essential oil that comes from each distillation depends very much on the plant and this in turn effects the price of the oil. For example, a ton of lavender plant will yield about 4 litres of essential oil, however it take over 30 rose buds to produce a single drop of rose otto essential oil.  A new method of extraction – carbon dioxide extraction – is slowly taking hold in the industry. This process uses the special quality of CO2 to be both a gas and a liquid in its supercritical state to extract essential oils at a cooler temperature which is gentler on the plant and yields far more oil. This means that some very expensive oils like frankincense and
myrrh can be distilled much more cheaply and can become more widely available.

Of course – some oils require a completely different process. Citrus oils are squeezed right out of the rind of the fruit in a process called cold pressing. Sometimes an absolute is also used – a solvent which will help extract essence from very delicate plants – particularly flowers. These absolutes are not considered to be therapeutic grade and are usually used for perfumery and blending. The most common are Rose, Jasmine and Mimosa.

Essential oils come directly from plants and what you are getting is the truest scent possible from that particular plant. When you get a product that has essential oils in it, they will be both valuable in an aromatherapeutic sense and also in terms of the way the interact with your skin. At Havana Home we start with sourcing the best, then curating them into a selection of products that will make you feel wonderful and your home feel inviting and warm. We love our essential oils.