The process of distillation (from the Latin 'de-stillare' for 'drip or trickle down") is the separation of a liquid by evaporation and condensation. The simplest example of this is when steam from a kettle settles as drops of distilled water on a cold surface.
Distillation is used to separate liquids from non-volatile solids, as in the separation of alcoholic liquors from fermented materials, or in the separation of volatile components of plants to produce aromatic waters and essential oils.
As far back as the fourth century B.C. Aristotle suggested the possibility of spirit distillation when he wrote: "Seawater can be made potable by distillation as well and wine and other liquids can be submitted to the same process.”
It is an age-old process which may have began as early as 2000 BC. Some say that the first use of distillation occurred in China, Egypt, or Mesopotamia for medicinal purposes as well as to create balms, essences, and perfumes.
About 1810 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the perfumery of King Zimrilim employed this method to make hundreds of litres of balms, essences and incense from cedar, cypress, ginger and myrrh every month. These were used to embalm the dead and for spiritual, medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
Queen Cleopatra knew about distillation and is thought to have given an account of the process in a text which is now lost. In the first century, a Greek physician Pedanius Dioscurides made mention of this process after he noticed the condensation on the lid of a vessel in which some mercury was being heated.
Historians state the alembic was probably invented around AD 200 - 300 by Maria the Jewess, or Zósimo of Panoplies an Egyptian alchemist and his sister Theosebeia, who invented many types of stills and reflux condensers. Others state that during the eighth or ninth century Arab alchemists devised the alembic in an effort to obtain finer essences for perfumes while other Arab alchemists used the alembic in an effort to convert base metal into gold.
"Ambix” is a Greek word defined as a vase with a small opening. The vase was part of the distillation equipment. Initially, the Arabs changed the word “Ambix” to “Ambic” and named the distillation equipment “Al Ambic”. This was later changed to alembic in Europe.
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