Distilling Eucalyptus Oil: the Scented Medicinal Liquid Gold
Eucalypts are multi-purpose trees. We have explored together numerous examples of it here in Eucalyptologics along time, from high value wood product uses to excellent raw timber for pulp and paper manufacture, from honey production to ornamental use, from ecological restoration to CO2 capture.
But there is one classic use, starting as early as the days of the First Fleet, that played a major role for the early expansion of Eucalyptus cultivation around the world in the era of the Fever Tree: the medicinal Eucalyptus Oil.
Just some weeks ago we were approached by some Eucalyptus fans with a crazy idea: Why not doing again what the early pioneers did and has been done since with these plants to show the people of today why Eucalyptus trees have always been considered "trees of good health"?
So, we decided it was a good idea to roam around the Eucalyptus Coastal Belt of Galicia to find a suitable place in which to collect the necessary amount of fresh eucalypt leaves to fulfill the request. And we did so using the latest local technology for harvest (Fouciño Method).
Once harvested, selected, cleaned and sorted out, the massive initial amount of Eucalyptus foliage, rich in essential oil glands, and hence rich in raw Eucalyptus oil, was reduced to the minimum volume possible and weighted before starting a long journey away from Nova Australia!
And that way, the Eucalyptus Oil Trek started for those fresh leaves, all the way from Galicia in Northwestern Spain to the grounds of the EucalyptusFeest 2010 in the Netherlands!
There in the EucalyptusFeest, Mary Rouw (EucalyptusKwekerij KOALA) and Hans Prins (de Groene Prins Kwekerij) had assembled a jungle of exotic plants that visitors could look at, touch and talk about while the Didgeridoos played. Among the ornamental plant stock, Mary's cold hardy Eucalyptus, suitable for gardening in the Netherlands, brought to the event from KOALA Nursery grounds for the amusement of those suffering from Aussie fever.
And then Henk Ploeger (aka Henk the Alchemist) started doing his thing: the Eucalyptus leaves left their bags and landed in the Alembic, getting ready to be well steamed in order to extract the Eucalyptus Oil contained within. Not so different from how the Eucalyptus Oil Industry started back in Australia in the 1850's.
"Trasmutation" of such raw biomass as Eucalyptus leaves are into the desired small fraction of Eucalyptus Oil means, as for any essential oil, the need of as closed a circuit as possible to avoid the loss of volatile fractions. That is the reason Catharina seals the Alembic chamber with hi tech materials (Rye Flour Method), which will become solid as cement as soon as dry. And once this is done... the fun starts!
The Eucalyptus Oil Fest process is simple: boiling water produces steam, which flushes through the load of Eucalyptus leaves, heating the contents of the oil glands, which volatilize and are carried on by the steam away from the chamber through the funnel, until reaching the serpentine. As that last part of the circuit is cooled, the oil rich steam condensates and becomes a liquid hydrolat: oil rich essential water, or crude Eucalyptus Oil.
Like a kettle brewing tea, the Alembic must boil for time enough as for the steam to extract the major fraction of oil from the load of Eucalyptus leaves. Time enough to share funny exotic plant stories and to wonder if there will really be some visible outcome from this.
And there it is the visible result, once the excess water content of the crude oil mix is removed, for the amusement of oil distillers and surprised visitors. Essence of Galician Eucalyptus, organically made in the Netherlands.
Success then at the EucalyptusFeest 2010. Not surprising if we consider Eucalyptus globulus has been, for a long time, one of the most widely cultivated species used for essential oil production due to the abundance of oil glands in its foliage, and the richness of that oil in the desired aromatic compound: cineole.
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© 2007-2010 Gustavo Iglesias Trabado. Please contact us if you want to use all or part of this text and photography elsewhere. We like to share, but we do not like rudeness.