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Steam Distillation

To be able to steam distil plants I have found or grown myself has been a profound experience. Even though the process is quite simple, you become part of a magical alchemy of transformation. The energy of steam changes the chemistry of a plant so that its constituents are released into liquefied steam. That in itself is enough, however then, that liquid releases millions of tiny bubbles of aromatic essential oil. It is lighter than water so floats to the surface and here gathers the volatile aromatics – the essential soul of the plant. 

 Use an Alembics Column Still for Steam Distillation Alembics Column


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A magnificent Silver Dollar Eucalyptus tree grows nearby. I frequently pick the lower branches,and distil this generous and useful plant all year round. I take the time to strip the leaves and the flowers from the stalks, it gives a bettter result and more leaf and flower fills  the column for a better yeild and sweeter aroma.
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I have a 10 L Column Still set up on a gas burner. I have my cooling water system set up to keep the coil cool, an oil separaor,  rye flour paste to seal the joins, pH reader and beaker. The pot is 2/3rd filled with water and is at a rapid boil to produce steam for the distillation. Five good handfuls of Eucalyptus  fills the 10 L Column, its about 500-700g. I push it down and pack as much in as I can. Its smells fantastic and leaves a sticky residue on my hands. Bees are wondering whats up and hovering about!
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The Column fits on top of the pot of rapidly boiling water. So as not to loose any precious steam that carries the essentail oil, I have sealed the joins with rye flour mixed to a paste with a little water. Its quick to prepare, doesnt involve unwanted chamicals and keeps the copper clean. I have cold runing water flowing around the condenser coil. When the hot steam flows down the coil it condenses into water again with the essential oil in solution. The distillate flows through the outlet into a sterile 500ml Glass Beaker. Make sure your distillate is cool, if its hot, you may need to increase the flow of cool water around the coil in the condenser bucket.
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When 500ml has been collected I take a pH reading using a handy Digital pH Reader. As the distillate settles the essential oil rises to the top as its lighter than water. My sinus's feel very clear as does my mind, this is the effect of distilling Eucalyptus! To separate the oil from the hydrosol, I pour it into a 500ml Oil Seaparator. Millions of tiny bubbles are releasd from the distillate and spiral to the surface. This is the essential oil being forced out of solution and collecting on the surface of the hydrosol. 


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 Turn the tap on to release the hydrosol into another sterile beaker. leave a small amount of hydrosol with the oil on top to avoid he risk of loosing the essentail oil. 

  See Alembic Columns for Sizes & yeilds
 The essential oil is transferred to s 25ml graduated glass clyindar. Its placed in the feeezer to "dry". Freezing draws all the moisture out of the oil, improving the quality and aroma. The oil wont freeze and can be poured off into a coloured galss sealed bottle for use. See Hydrosol for storage and application.

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