Home distillation of botanical materials for their essential oils and hydrosols is remarkably easy and extremely educational. It has helped me to appreciate the time, knowledge and experience that commercial distillers put into their enterprises.
The lavandin plant (Lavandula x intermedia, var Grosso) shown left, was bought at the first NAHA convention in 1996, in San Francisco, California, USA. I understand it is the same variety as the plants used in Jeanne Rose's Aromatic Plant Project. I planted it in my garden in San Jose, CA. I have always gardened organically, from my first small balcony garden in my apartment in London, England. I never use sprays, pesticides or artificial fertilizers. I compost everything I can lay my hands on! And the compost goes back into the ground. I never have enough compost!
In July 1998 I cut the flower stalks from the lavandin plant, and allowed them to dry. (see right.)
I set up the still in my laundry room, and having stripped the dried flowers from the stalks, I put them in the mother flask. The dried flowers weighed about 4 ounces (about 113 grams). The mother flask is the large flask shown in the middle of the photo to the left.
In the photos below, you can see close-ups of the various components:
The steam generator flask, on its little electric burner, showing the safety tube, which allows water to escape in the event of the steam line becoming clogged. The black hose in the photo is the steam line.
In the middle photo, you can see the mother flask, in the insulation jacket I made for it, to keep all the heat in, and reduce condensation onto the plant material. At the top of this photo you can see the black steam hose which comes from the steam generator flask. And to the right of that, is the connection to the condenser unit. The condenser unit takes the steam and vaporized essential oils from the mother flask. The condenser unit has an outer water jacket, through which ice water is pumped to encourage condensation. You can see the ice water outlet in this middle photo too.
The right-hand photo shows the receiver flask, with the other end of the condenser unit attached. Here you can also see the inlet for the cooling water. In the green stopper of the receiver flask, you can see a little glass exhaust tube. From here you can smell the essential oil dripping into the receiver flask.
This photo to the left shows the high-tech bucket :-) with the cooling ice water and recirculating pump. I decided to use a pump, rather than have the tube connected to the water tap with the water constantly running.
I realised that the ice melts very quickly, and it's important to build up a good stock of ice, before starting distillation.
Home distillation of this amount of lavandin took about an hour in total.
And this final photo on the right, shows the end result. On the left of the photo, is the separatory funnel in its stand, that comes with the still. The distillate is poured from the receiver flask, into the funnel and allowed to sit and separate. By squeezing the rubber tube and glass bead "stopcock" at the bottom of the funnel, the hydrosol can be drained into the beaker. The line between the hydrosol and essential oil is very clear, and when that line drops down into the glass tube of the funnel, it is very easy to reach in with a pipette and draw off the essential oil. In the three bottles on the right of the photo, you can see the results: about 400 ml of hydrosol, and perhaps 2ml of essential oil. Remember this is from only 4 ounces (113 grams) of dried flowers.
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