Lavender essential oil is extracted from the fresh flower heads and stems. Our direct-steam distiller has four basic components: a heating source, a still vessel (ours is a 15 gallon stainless keg), a condenser, and a separator. Once heated to 212 degrees, the steam rises up through the lavender material, which is suspended above the water in 2 4″x2′ copper cylinders. The copper holds the Lavender and keeps it out of the boiling water.
As the steam moves through the organic matter, the oil glands on the flowers are ruptured, and the oil is quickly vaporized and moves upward with the steam. The steam then escapes, taking the oil with it. As it reaches the top of the still pot, it diverts into a condenser. The condenser removes enough heat to allow the water vapor to condense and re-liquefy. Our condenser is a series of long copper tubes that are bathed in cool water, which removes heat.
Since lavender oil is lighter than water, it floats to the top in the separator. The oil layer on the surface of the water is then skimmed off, while the water is removed from a lower outlet and saved. This hydrosol (or “Linen Water”) is then used to make various products.
We then filter and store the oil in in glass carboys that are filled to capacity, and keep them in a cool, dark place . Next, we use air-sealed caps that will keep the oil from oxidizing.
Some ageing of the oil in storage may be beneficial for a few months, however, essential oils stored for long periods of time will eventually deteriorate in quality.
And there you have it!
We offer distillery classes at the Evergreen Valley Lavender Farm, where we provide a first-hand (and first-sniff) look at the process behind essential oil extraction. We demonstrate how the oils and “linen water” are separated out from the organic matter, so that they may then move on to the next stage in the manufacturing process (creams, lotions, perfume, soaps, candles, etc).
We use every part of the plant so that nothing goes to waste. When not using cuttings for extraction, we use the fresh flowers for bouquets, crafts and cooking; dried flowers/buds for crafts, eye pillows, neckwraps, sachets (to use in closets, cars, bathrooms, shoes, gym bags, etc); dried stalks for kindling; and everything left is composted into mulch for the organic gardens.