Essential oils have been used to treat ailments and improve health for generations. You may have heard of valerian, which is used to aid sleep, or lavender, which is commonly used for relaxation. There are dozens more essential oils that can be derived from plants, and there are a variety of ways to isolate the oils from these plants, from steam distillation to solvent extraction to cold pressing. It's possible to buy your essential oils from a local or online retailer and prepare essential oil treatments at home. But in those cases, you may not know how your essential oils have been extracted; if that's a concern for you, or if you'd simply prefer to carry on the ages-old tradition of preparing your own essential oils for your family, you can distill the essential oils yourself. While it's possible to buy a distiller for this purpose or even build a quite elaborate one for home use, it can be a fairly expensive purchase. On the other hand, this is an activity that you can undertake with a fairly straightforward process using common kitchen equipment and tools. Read on for a list of materials you'll need and step-by-step instructions for making your own essential oils at home.
The first step is to gather your supplies. You will need a stainless steel pot with a lid, a deep stainless steel steamer basket, a small glass liquid measuring cup or a bowl, ice, and an oil-separating liquid measuring cup. You will also need a small glass bottle in which to store your essential oil. Dark glass bottles are best because they protect the oil from sunlight. Make sure that all of your materials are extremely clean - even the slightest bit of soap residue can affect the purity of the oil you've obtained by the end of the process.
You'll also need to gather the plant material you'd like to derive your essential oils from. While purchasing plants gives you little control over harvesting conditions, if you're fortunate enough to grow your own roses or other plants, you can plan your distillation around the ideal time to harvest your plants for the best results. Growing and harvesting your own plants also allows you the freedom to make custom oil blends depending on your needs and desires.
When you're ready to begin, place your plant matter loosely at the bottom of your stainless steel pot. Add a little water; you'll want to use enough water to cover the plants.
Now place the stainless steel steamer basket into the pot. Place the small glass measuring cup or bowl into the steamer basket. Do your best to make sure that the cup or bowl is centered in the basket. Place the lid on the pot, upside down: The curved part of the lid should be pointed into the pot, leaving you a bowl on the top.
Heat the water gently, and slowly bring it to a boil. The water will start to evaporate and then begin to condense against the pot lid. The curved lid will channel the condensation toward the center of the pot lid, and as it collects there, it will fall into the cup or bowl you've placed in the steamer basket. Adding some ice to the bowl that the overturned pot lid makes will speed up the condensation process. Be sure not to let the pot boil dry!
Once you've accumulated your condensed liquid, remove the pot from the heat. Use potholders and lift the lid, pouring the melted ice water into your sink. Still using the potholders or using a pair of tongs, carefully remove the cup or bowl from the steamer basket. Remember, the cup or bowl and the liquid inside it will be very hot. Pour the liquid into an oil-separating measuring cup. Allow the liquid to separate into an oil layer and water layer. Pour off the water, then pour the oil into a glass bottle for storage and later use.
Typically, essential oils aren't to be used directly on skin. You'll need to add your essential oil to what's called a carrier oil - like almond oil, jojoba oil, or even shea butter - for topical use. If you'd like to retain the water from the distillation process, there are a variety of uses for it - for example, you can add rosewater to your bath.