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How to Steam Distill Essential Oils

By Hillary Marshall

Plants, leaves and flowers can yield natural oils used for medicinal and non-medicinal purposes. Steam distillation is one of the ways you can extract essential oils from plants, leaves and flowers. During steam distillation, the plant matter is placed in the chamber of a still, and steam passes through the plant matter. When the steam passes through the plant matter it picks up the oils and moves into another chamber where it is cooled and condensed. Then, essential oil is separated from the water and bottled for use.

Place fresh plant matter or dried botanical in the top chamber of your distiller. Loosely pack the chamber. If the plant matter is cut or small in size, you may want to place a small piece of screen over the opening to the condenser, so the plant matter doesn't get sucked up and cause a clog.

Fill the lower chamber just below halfway with water. You can use tap water or bottled water. The water should be cool for best results.

Turn on the hot plate of your distillation unit. As the water heats, you will see that steam begins to rise up from the lower chamber. It should take about a half an hour for you to see steam pass through the upper chamber into the condenser.

Wait between two and four hours before finishing the process. Most of the oil will come off your plant matter within the first hour of the distillation process.

Turn the distillation unit off. Wait for the entire unit to cool down. At this point the essential oil will have risen to the top of the water in the cooling tank.

Skim the oil off the top and put it in a bottle for storing. Some distillation units have valve at the bottom of the cooling chamber. Slowly open this valve and release just the water. Close the valve leaving the oil in the cooling chamber. Get your collection bottle and open the valve to drain the oil into the collection bottle.


Things You Will Need

  • Distiller
  • Water
  • Plant or dried botanical

About the Author


Hillary Marshall has been writing professionally since 2006. Before writing instructional articles online, she worked as a copywriter and has been published in "Ideal Living" "Sass" "Science Edge" and "Shopping Cents" magazines along with countless websites including Gadling a blog by the Huffington post. Marshall studied early childhood education at the Stratford Career Institute.