What Everyone Should Know About Pure Essential Oils

All About Pure Essential Oils ~ Producing Pure Essential Oils, Ottos, Attars, Ruhs & Pure Absolute Oils

The Production Of Pure Essential Oils, Volatile Oils & Plant Essences by Erzulie’s Authentic Voodoo ©

Pure Essential Oils and all about Pure Essential Oils…. In the broadest sense, the term “essential oil” describes the volatile substances inherent in aromatic botanicals that result from the distillation process. However, the term is often employed in a generic sense and used as a broad “blanket” description of aromatic essences we derive today from many very different extraction methods.   Following is an overview of some of the more common extraction techniques used to obtain the aromatic part of botanical materials to produce pure essential oils, Ottos, Attars, Ruhs & Absolute Oils. This information has been included to help explain the difference between the various pure essential, Ottos, Attars, Ruhs and absolute oils we offer here at Erzulie’s and, to help you as the consumer understand more about the nature of pure plant essences.

Note: Please understand the subject of extraction methods of volatile substances to produce pure essential oils is a complex and lengthy one. The information we provide is designed to give an accurate overview of these processes, but does not address the complex semantics and chemistry involved as that is beyond the scope of our purposes here. For further research on essential oil production, see some of the reference materials included at the end of this article.

Extraction Methods:

Steam Distillation – In the most basic sense, “pure essential oils” are more commonly and traditionally produced via the method of steam distillation. In simplest

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terms, this is a process whereby the plant material is heated with water or subject to concentrated steam which traps the volatile molecules (essences) of the plant material. In turn, the resulting steam is cooled and then condenses which produces a liquid “distillate”.

This liquid distillate captures the volatile parts of the plant materials and is then separated from them. The result is two separate by-products:

  1. The liquid distillate itself which contains the volatile, water soluble parts of the plant materials and is known as the “hydrosol” ; and
  2. The volatile non-water soluble material which possess the greater of the plant constituents and is known as the “essential oil”. Additionally, the process of distillation inherently produces new chemical compounds that would not be found naturally or in the same form in the plant itself as we find it in its natural state. Again, this is a vast and complex subject and the above is only the briefest explanation as there are actually several processes of steam distillation that would differentiate them one from the other. Ultimately though, this method produces and has historically produced many of the essential oils we know of today that are available in the common market.

Volatile Solvent Extraction – Solvent extraction is a method employed to obtain those essences which are impossible to extract via steam distillation as their aromas would be destroyed by the heat involved in the process. Essences used today that are extracted via solvents include orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose oils, and benzoin for example. Solvent extraction does NOT PRODUCE an “pure essential oil” but ultimately in final form produces what is known as an “absolute” – although, there are actually other products from solvent extraction such as concretes and “resinoids”, but the “absolute oil” is the superior of these and the focus of the address here.

In fact, a well crafted absolute oil can much more closely convey the actual aroma of an essence even more so than an essential oil because there is no heat involved to alter the chemical structure of the plant matter. In this regard, many oils that CAN BE extracted via steam distillation are ALSO extracted via solvent extraction for this very reason – such as frankincense, rose, Neroli pure essential oils and many, many other pure essential oils. To this end, the absolute oil serves to offer an aroma more identical to the plant from which it was obtained and thus serves a great purpose from an olfactory standpoint. Solvent extraction is a very complicated process and explained below in very basic terms.

In solvent extraction, the plant material is subject to a volatile solvent such as hexane, butane, petroleum ether, benzene or other “solvent” and thus produces the waxy substance known as a “concrete”. Concretes are in themselves also used in perfume and aromatic productions, but to obtain the absolute, they must in turn be rectified further. Once the concrete has been obtained, it undergoes repeated washing or treatment with alcohol which is evaporated and then recovered under a vacuum process. This produces the viscous, intensely aromatic oil known as the “absolute”. Absolute oils are NOT water soluble but are alcohol soluble and can be used with pure essential oils and other carrier bases as well. A fine absolute oil traditionally produced the truest aroma of the plant material of all the distillation processes.

Carbon Dioxide Extraction – The carbon dioxide or CO2 method employs the use of high pressure gas to a supercritical state which thus exhibits both the qualities of a gas AND a liquid. Although the carbon dioxide gas is introduced at extremely high pressure it actually extracts at a very low temperature which makes it a gentler process than that of steam distillation. The CO2 process is a fairly recent technology that yields aromas which compete with the astounding similarity to the botanicals they are obtained from that the solvent process produces. In this regard, it is a method used more and more on a greater variety of botanicals as it employs no heat and no solvent (which has its own drawbacks -see article end). However, the down side to the carbon dioxide process is its extreme complexity and expense, making it a bit more cost prohibitive for the average consumer.

Expression – Expression is a common extraction method used for most if not all citrus oils like bergamot, lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit and is a method of producing “essential oils”. Traditionally, expression was done by hand, but now it is of course a machine process that uses centrifugal force to extract the volatile essence from the peels or rinds of the fruits. As there is no heat or solvent used in the expression process, the resulting oils are very near in aroma to the actual botanicals from which they were extracted. The drawback to expressed oils however is a typically shorter shelf life. Most citrus oils are best used within 9 months and, are also best kept at a cool but consistent temperature for best preservation of them (which actually is a good rule of thumb for ANY essential oil, absolute oil, Otto, or essence).

Extraction Methods:

Steam Distillation – In the most basic sense, “pure essential oils” are more commonly and traditionally produced via the method of steam distillation. In simplest terms, this is a process whereby the plant material is heated with water or subject to concentrated steam which traps the volatile molecules (essences) of the plant material. In turn, the resulting steam is cooled and then condenses which produces a liquid “distillate”.

Essential Oils, Pure Essential Oils, Rare Essential Oils, Pure Absolute Essential Oils and Precious Pure Essential Oils ~ Organic Essential Oils, Pure Essential Attars, Rare Essential Oils, Sacred Precious Oils exclusively at Erzulie's Authentic Voodoo.

Essential Oils, Pure Essential Oils, Rare Essential Oils, Pure Absolute Essential Oils and Precious Pure Essential Oils ~ Organic Essential Oils, Pure Essential Attars, Rare Essential Oils, Sacred Precious Oils exclusively at Erzulie’s Authentic Voodoo.

This liquid distillate captures the volatile parts of the plant materials and is then separated from them. The result is two separate by-products:

  1. The liquid distillate itself which contains the volatile, water soluble parts of the plant materials and is known as the “hydrosol” ; and
  2. The volatile non-water soluble material which possess the greater of the plant constituents and is known as the “essential oil”. Additionally, the process of distillation inherently produces new chemical compounds that would not be found naturally or in the same form in the plant itself as we find it in its natural state. Again, this is a vast and complex subject and the above is only the briefest explanation as there are actually several processes of steam distillation that would differentiate them one from the other. Ultimately though, this method produces and has historically produced many of the essential oils we know of today that are available in the common market.

Volatile Solvent Extraction – Solvent extraction is a method employed to obtain those essences which are impossible to extract via steam distillation as their aromas would be destroyed by the heat involved in the process. Essences used today that are extracted via solvents include orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose oils, and benzoin for example. Solvent extraction does NOT PRODUCE an “pure essential oil” but ultimately in final form produces what is known as an “absolute” – although, there are actually other products from solvent extraction such as concretes and “resinoids”, but the “absolute oil” is the superior of these and the focus of the address here.

In fact, a well crafted absolute oil can much more closely convey the actual aroma of an essence even more so than an essential oil because there is no heat involved to alter the chemical structure of the plant matter. In this regard, many oils that CAN BE extracted via steam distillation are ALSO extracted via solvent extraction for this very reason – such as frankincense, rose, Neroli pure essential oils and many, many other pure essential oils. To this end, the absolute oil serves to offer an aroma more identical to the plant from which it was obtained and thus serves a great purpose from an olfactory standpoint. Solvent extraction is a very complicated process and explained below in very basic terms.

In solvent extraction, the plant material is subject to a volatile solvent such as hexane, butane, petroleum ether, benzene or other “solvent” and thus produces the waxy substance known as a “concrete”. Concretes are in themselves also used in perfume and aromatic productions, but to obtain the absolute, they must in turn be rectified further. Once the concrete has been obtained, it undergoes repeated washing or treatment with alcohol which is evaporated and then recovered under a vacuum process. This produces the viscous, intensely aromatic oil known as the “absolute”. Absolute oils are NOT water soluble but are alcohol soluble and can be used with pure essential oils and other carrier bases as well. A fine absolute oil traditionally produced the truest aroma of the plant material of all the distillation processes.

Carbon Dioxide Extraction – The carbon dioxide or CO2 method employs the use of high pressure gas to a supercritical state which thus exhibits both the qualities of a gas AND a liquid. Although the carbon dioxide gas is introduced at extremely high pressure it actually extracts at a very low temperature which makes it a gentler process than that of steam distillation. The CO2 process is a fairly recent technology that yields aromas which compete with the astounding similarity to the botanicals they are obtained from that the solvent process produces. In this regard, it is a method used more and more on a greater variety of botanicals as it employs no heat and no solvent (which has its own drawbacks -see article end). However, the down side to the carbon dioxide process is its extreme complexity and expense, making it a bit more cost prohibitive for the average consumer.

Expression – Expression is a common extraction method used for most if not all citrus oils like bergamot, lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit and is a method of producing “essential oils”. Traditionally, expression was done by hand, but now it is of course a machine process that uses centrifugal force to extract the volatile essence from the peels or rinds of the fruits. As there is no heat or solvent used in the expression process, the resulting oils are very near in aroma to the actual botanicals from which they were extracted. The drawback to expressed oils however is a typically shorter shelf life. Most citrus oils are best used within 9 months and, are also best kept at a cool but consistent temperature for best preservation of them (which actually is a good rule of thumb for ANY essential oil, absolute oil, Otto, or essence).

 

About ATTARS, OTTOS and RUHS:

Today, we find many that sell essential oils as “Ottos” or “Attars” and vice versa. In fact, there is not only a distinct chemical difference between these oils but a huge difference in their method of production as well as a cultural context which need be considered. Following is the MOST BRIEF review of these very specific types of oils. Erzulie’s is indebted to horticulturalist and distillation expert Chris McMahon from the Fragrant Harvest project for simplifying some of these methods so that we may include them on this information page. Once again, the information here is very basic, the actual time and methodology for producing attars, ottos, and ruhs is intensely involved and laborious. However, we hope to give a glimpse into the distinction of these varieties of oils from the other more modern processes above.

1- ATTAR: “attar” traditionally refers to a rather ancient method of extracting ROSE oil most specifically (though there are now other types of authentic “attars”…) and is a method peculiar to Indian culture. True attar is an Indian method of distillation that
a) Uses NO condenser in the distillation process
b) Employs traditional bamboo pipes and copper vessel
c) Contains in the receiving receptacle “sandal wood” which is an important part of the resulting essence.

Unfortunately, attar is often confused with the term “otto” which it is not- there are big differences culturally and technically as well as “spiritually” (which is in itself a whole other area of understanding “attar”). Suffice it to say, “attar” in its truest sense stands in a class by itself. It is characterized by its co-distillation with sandalwood which no other extraction method employs.

2- OTTO: “otto” is a modern method of extraction similar to a “ruh” (addressed last…) and technically is either steam or hydro-distilled. The method does employ a condenser in the process which distinguishes it from an Attar or a RUH – neither of which employ condensers. “Otto” can be likened as a more modern way of making the original “ruh” of the middle east (Persia, Arabia, Turkistan, even Bulgaria and other related territories…) and uses modern extraction equipment. Otto’s are generally of superior quality and quite costly- Not as costly as an “ruh” or true “attar”- but still very pricey and, they are almost always employed as a method of Rose oil extraction. Rose Otto contains stearoptenes which is a peculiar constituent produced by the especial type of extraction. Finally, an “otto” employs NO sandalwood in its processing, and, it – along with “attar” – are again methods almost ALWAYS RESTRICTED to the production of ROSE oil and are almost “NEVER” applicable (there are some exceptions)- to any other botanical. (Ie: Rose Attar, Rose Otto….)

3- RUH: Ruh is the origin of the modern day “otto” that we have today. A ruh however- unlike an otto- is made almost the same way as an “attar”- except without

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Essential Oils, Pure Essential Oils, Rare Essential Oils, Pure Absolute Essential Oils and Precious Pure Essential Oils ~ Organic Essential Oils, Pure Essential Attars, Rare Essential Oils, Sacred Precious Oils exclusively at Erzulie’s Authentic Voodoo

the sandalwood. It employs no condenser or solvent and is presently produced in India using only very few botanicals. “Ruhs” are hydro-distilled oils and are rarely found in pure form today. They are often adulterated with synthetic chemicals. In the traditional process various flowers, roots, herbs, spices, etc are hydro-distilled in copper vessels into a receiving vessel. This is similar to the process for an attar except that with a ruh the receiving vessel does not contain sandalwood oil (it is therefore, a pure essence of the flower). A certain proportion of flowers or other aromatic plants is put into the copper vessel containing water, is then sealed, and the aromatic vapors produced from a wood or cow dung fire rises through bamboo pipes and passes into another copper vessel sitting below the larger distilling one. Even flowers which can not be steam distilled because their highly volatile constituents can be destroyed by the higher heat and pressure of distillation can be done by hydro-distillation. Please do note that many oils in the common market may be called “Ruh” but they are not at all what their names claim to be. Authentic “ruhs” requires a huge amount of labor, time, and fresh materials which makes them VERY costly items to produce however, Erzulie’s does offer an authentic, true “ruh” to those customers which can appreciate the extreme fineness of such oils.

 

Closing Remarks, and Points of Contention:

In the final analysis, it can be clearly seen that distillation is a very complex subject. Distillation is an art form and not just a “mechanical” process that is reliant upon many, many factors for successful oil production. These factors include the growing region of the plant materials, the climate for cultivation and harvesting, in some cases (such as with lotus or jasmine) the PRECISE moment of harvest and extraction points, as well as the skill of the individual distiller. Ultimately, an “essential oil”, “absolute”, “attar”, “otto”, “ruh” or any other type of essence is NOT a precisely quantifiable process, but a labor of love, hard work, time, and nature.

On points of contention, there are many “purists” and even more “marketing schemes” that exist touting one variety of distillation over another. Indeed, there are few oils today that can claim absolute purity or even “organic” status. For example, an absolute may be made with “certified organic” plant materials, but incorporates the use of highly chemical solvents in its production, hence, canceling out any such claim. Conversely, an essential oil may also be using materials claiming “organic” status, but in fact, is being adulterated in the lengthy haul between grower, harvester, distiller, importer, broker, wholesaler, retailer, and finally CUSTOMER. Further, there are only a few countries in the world that have ANY CERTIFYING BODY AT ALL in the first place, and, these bodies DO NOT CERTIFY the actual “process” of production. They ONLY certify the ground upon which plants may have been grown or harvested. Hence, there is a very large margin for the introduction of un-natural, non-organic substances in the final resulting oil that one receives from their local health food store or “botanica”.

Our point is that in today’s society, there is almost NO ABSOLUTE way of meeting every possible agenda for the term “natural” or “organic”. Therefore, rather than argue the point, Erzulie’s prefers to focus on availing our customers of authentic UNADULTERATED plant oils from reliable and expert distillers- and this we can guarantee. Though we appreciate the term “organic” and use it in the instances where an oils is technically certified as such, we do not rely on this as a marketing technique because those educated in the process of actual essential oil production know how exploited the term “organic” really is- even IF the oil has been technically certified as “organic”. Further, many oils that WOULD be certified as “organic” (many others we offer are organic) they cannot be labeled as such because in MANY COUNTRIES there is no legal certifying body for such things. Which means though that supplier may produce an “organic” oil, there is no outside agency they can pay to claim the product as such even when it actually IS organic.

We felt it was important to mention these points to our consumers so they understand that there is much mis-information surrounding essential oils, and much exploitation under the “green” mantle of terms like “natural and organic”. Our point here is to help explain these distinctions and to offer true plant oils via a variety of techniques to support the spiritual and ritual focus of the vodun spiritual tradition for our customers.

We hope this information has been of assistance and stand by the quality of our oils. We have researched extensively for direct access to the finest distillers and do offer the very finest quality of oils available anywhere in our precious oil and essential oil selections.

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Ernest Gunther. The Essential Oils, New York, 1948
Brian Lawrence. Essential Oils 1976-1991, Illinois, 1993
Salvatore Paul Giamella. Aroma Science, New York, 2001
Kurt Shnaubelt, Phd. Advanced Aromatherapy, Vermont, 1998
Chris McMahon- The Fragrant Harvest Project:

* Erzulie’s would once again like to thank Christopher and Suzanne for their sacrifices and hard work in the aromatic world. Their knowledge and hands on direct experience is astounding and not something found in any textbook. We are greatly indebted to them for sharing their love and knowledge of distillation and the production of rare aromatics.

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