Essential oils and health have been linked through the centuries. And people have been extracting essential oils and making perfumes since antiquity. Some claim that steam extraction of essential oils, the method used by Carmel Lavender, has existed in some form for possibly five-thousand years. (1) We do know that the beauty of scent and medicinal properties of plants has been known, and acquired through various methods to enhance the well-being for a long time. And it is something that you can practice yourself at home. Carmel Lavender teaches public classes on the extraction of essential oils, and their uses.
Many years ago, I watched a wonderful documentary called Tales from the Green Valley. It was an amazing concept. Historians and archaeologists wishing to learn more about 16th century farm life set out to recreate the activities on an authentic 16th century farm. They made one episode for each month. Now the entire series was riveting. However it was the January episode on the preparation of 16th century medicines and home pharmacy that really stuck with me.
Life in the 16th century might have lacked the technology of the modern world. But it didn’t lack knowlege. And they made rich use of that knowledge for their well-being.
Four hundred years ago, farmers would grow their medicine in their kitchen garden. Obviously they did not have a box pharmacy to go to. But they did have knowledge. And that was power to heal themselves. They knew the beneficial qualities of many types of plants. They would grow them, and the episode showed them using a crude terra cotta apparatus for steam extraction of oils and hydrosols to use in their medicine cabinet. (2)
Selection of plants
John Russo, at Carmel Lavender has been teaching the processing and use of essential oils to visitors since 2010.
One of the first steps to making your own scents is choosing the plants that provide the essential oils and hydrosols to use in your creations. If you are a lavender grower, then this decision has already been made. But even lavender growers enjoy other fragrances. And it turns out that there are many different scents that not only have very different therapeutic uses, but that aesthetically blend very harmoniously with lavender making a more full-bodied aroma. One of the first experiences with alternatives to lavender was rosemary. I was contacted by a client with a large field of organic rosemary, and they asked if I would distill it and consult on product potential. During that research, I came across a charming story about rosemary perfume and a Hungarian queen. In the mid-fourteenth century, this Polish-born Queen Elisabeth of Hungary used rosemary oil distillates and wine to make the first alcohol based perfume. (3) The perfume apparently eased the suffering of a limb that was marked by defect. And thus rosemary oil was appreciated not only for the aesthetic quality of the aroma, but also for it’s apparent ability to improve circulation.
Rosemary is commonly found today in shampoos and hair treatments for the purpose of improving the circulation to the hair follicles and thus make for healthy hair. In addition to rosemary and lavender, there are many different plants from which to extract oils and blend with lavender or rosemary. Some of these are seasonal, and they are therefore integrated into the class when appropriate. In particular there are many native plants that commonly grow wild in California. These too are integrated into the class when available.
Extraction of the oils
There are multiple methods for the extraction of the aromatic oils from plant material. Carmel Lavender classes focus on steam extraction.
In ancient times, a common method was solvent extraction. (1) Using the solvent method, plant material was mixed with a fatty oil used as a solvent. The mixture was sometimes heated or placed in the sun. The solvent would then dissolve the essential oils and remove them from the plant creating a fragrant oil. The oil would then be separated from the bulk of the solvent. Alternatively, the scented fatty oil could then be used in the manufacture of soap or other products. By and large, steam extraction, the method used by our Hungarian Queen has replaced solvents, though some still find that method useful. In the class, the essential elements of a steam extractor are explored as are techniques for using it. We have several different extractors at Carmel Lavender, and therefore benefits and drawbacks of the different systems are discussed. Together, we assemble the equipment, and extract our own essential oils as a group.
Blending of perfumes
Essential oils can be used straight up without any further processing. Use is limited only by the imagination. However the blending of perfumes can accentuate and enhance the sensual experience.
While essential oils are commonly used in their pure form, often it is useful to combine the aesthetic and therapeutic qualities of different oils. Aromatherapy focuses mainly on the oils themselves. It is fun, however, to follow in the royal footsteps of Queen Elisabeth and use a touch of perfumers alcohol. The alcohol actually enhances the scent because alcohol evaporates more easily than the oils themselves and will easily blend with the oils. As the blended alcohol evaporates, it carries with it the essential oils, delivering a more concentrated experience to your olfactory sense. In other words, it makes the scent stronger.
The blending of perfumes is more art than science however, since the primary purpose is to create a superior sensory experience, which is measured not just by intensity, but by the emotional effect the experience creates inside of us.And as with many of our senses, there are two experiences that must be harmonized. There is the intellectual appreciation, but just as important, the more primal body response to the scent. Our tutorial on perfumery begins with an exploration of several oils, including the one we made as a group. We work to gain an appreciation of both of these factors, and then set out to blend the perfect scent.
How to register
If you are interested in our essential oil and perfumery classes, please let us know by contacting us through the contact form below. We also offer a soap making class, which teaches you how to make soap through hands-on instruction where we make our own soap together.
(1) How Are Essential Oils Extracted, National Organization for Holistic Aromatherapy, http://www.naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/how-are-essential-oils-extracted
(2) Tales from the Green Valley, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_from_the_Green_Valley#Episodes
(3)K. Husnu Can Baser, Gerhard Buchbauer, Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications, 2009, http://books.google.com/books?id=2AEtSKfB2nUC&pg=PA843&lpg=PA843&dq=rosemary+essential+oil+polish+queen&source=bl&ots=VyBq6ibQQM&sig=sWjPuhzwJTFR5upE-UO1vrCk5FE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ABR-VLjuIouVyATGroGAAw&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=rosemary%20essential%20oil%20polish%20queen&f=false