Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Essential Oils 101: The Production Process

Hello! Thank you for joining in on week 3 of the essential oils (EO's) blog series! This week we're going to be discussing how the oils are produced. It's a very detailed process so let's get started. 

First, let's start with a perfect seed that experts have identified as the correct species. A properly defined botanical definition includes the Latin name of the genus, followed by a species, then by a particular chemo-type or variety of that species if such varieties exist. The botanical definition looks like: "Genus Species Chemo-Type".

Genus: The genus is the collection of species. General members of species that have strong relation to each other - many similar characteristics - classified at this basic level. For example, humans are 'homo' in genus terms.

Species: The species refer to the individual organism under a subdivision of genus (sub-genus). This separates each living organism classified under the same genus and given its own unique species name. For example, humans are the species names 'sapiens'.

Chemotypes: Subdivision of species if other types exists

Let's look at a plant example:
Genus: Mentha (Genus of a flowering plant)
Species: Piperita (Cross between wintermint and spearmint)
Common Names: Peppermint, mint, menta, menth, etc.

Next, let's look at the three plant oil classifications (Non-Seed Oils): Food, Fragrance and Therapeutic/Medicinal Grade.

  • It is estimated that 95% of all the oils produced are food and fragrance grade.
  • There are hundreds of natural chemical constituents that make up medicinal grade oil; the vast majority lack healing ability.
Food Grade Oils: The industry removes chemicals from plants that are responsible for the flavor. For example, mint cinnamon, wintergreen, etc. They fractionate, synthesize and then add these chemicals to flavor gum, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc. all while labeling the product as natural.

Fragrance Grade Oils: The perfume industry removes these constituents and uses them in their lotions, perfumes, make-up, etc. They will use extraction and fractionation techniques to pull important components outs. This includes creating new molecules not found in nature. 

High Quality Medicinal Grade Essential Oils: The following steps are specific to the production of a medicinal and therapeutic grade essential oils.

1. Plant these seeds without any chemicals: Organic, Organic, Organic!
What organic should mean for consumer products is that there are no synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and no GMO's (genetically modified organisms) involved in the process at any stage from the agricultural level to the finished product.

2. Harvest the plant at the peak of oil producing capability
Picked and Harvested to Ensure Optimal Therapeutic Profiles: The timing of the harvest is one of the most important factors in the production of High Quality Medicinal Grade EO's. If a plant is harvested at the wrong time of the season, or even at the incorrect time of the day, the result is a substandard essential oil. In some cases, changing harvest time by even a few hours can make a huge difference. For example, German chamomile harvested in the morning will produce oil with far azulene (the healing property) than chamomile harvested late in the afternoon.

Other harvesting factors include the amount of dew on the leaves, the percentage of plants in bloom and the weather conditions during the two weeks prior to harvest.

3. Distill the plant oil material at low temperatures and pressure or cold-press for specific plants (typically citrus)
Long extraction times, with low pressure and temperature: Essential oils can be extracted from the plant by a variety of methods, including solvent extraction, carbon dioxide extraction, steam distillation and cold-pressed. Steam distillation is the most common and effective to maintain its properties and produce the highest quality essential oil.

  • The temperature and pressure during distillation: The fragile aromatic molecules of an essential oil are easily destroyed or altered by high temperatures and high pressure; causing harsher oil - less therapeutic because it is pH and energetic levels are imbalanced. Therefore, a high-quality distillation process will operate at low-temperature and low-pressure methods. For example, the distilling process for lavender should not exceed 245 degrees Fahrenheit and the pressure should not exceed three pounds. Versus cypress, which should be distilled at 245 degrees Fahrenheit with a pressure set to five pounds.
  • The length of time taken for distillation: For lavender, the time required for distillation is about an hour and half. On the other hand, cypress requires 24 hours of distillation to extract all of its ingredients. If distillation is shortened by only two hours, 18 to 20 of the essential oils's chemical constituents will be missing.
  • Most essential oils are obtained by steam distillation but the heat of this process breaks down the acids in citrus fruits and diminished the citral-content of the fresh oils. As a result the citrus oils that are steam distilled often have a sharp, harsh, bittersweet aroma. It is a far less efficient method, yielding only about 1.5 pounds instead of about 25 pounds of oil for every ton of fresh fruit but the result is a light, subtle, fresh aroma reminiscent of the fresh peel.
4. Testing and Independent Testing: Employed experts and independent analysts test each batch for authenticity and purity.

5. The oil is placed in dark colored glass bottles to protect from polymerization. The oil molecules begin merging with each other causing a change in the natural chemistry of the oil. This negatively affects the absorption level and healing properties.

6. Finally, the bottle is labeled to show Genus and Species (not all companies do this).
Orange Essential Oil Example:

  • Cold Pressed
  • Has hundreds of components including: alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones, carboxylic acids and terpenes
  • There are also compounds that have not been identified.
  • All of this contributes to the therapeutic action of the essential oil.
  • It takes thousands of oranges to make a single kilo of essential oil.
Phew, that's quite a bit of AWESOME information, isn't it? Essential Oils are great! Tune in next week to hear about the benefits of using them. Have an awesome week!

All the best,

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