Staycation and a Still

This year for Father’s Day, I got my husband a still. What man wouldn’t want a still? So during his vacation last week we stayed home and enjoyed playing. Heck everyone from Chicago vacations here…why shouldn’t we? We didn’t have to pack.  And think of the gas we saved. Who says you have to go somewhere on your vacation?

lavender bunches dryingActually his still is a steam distillation system that we made essential oils and hydrosols. After my trip last month to Lavender Fleece for the U-pick day I had four beautiful bundles of lavender drying. You have no idea how nice the house smelled while and long after we distilled the bunches.

The bio-flask holds 2 liters of plant material and the four bunches of lavender filled it up with no room to spare. I was in charge of filling the bio-flask while Vince set up the rest of the equipment. We purchased the system from Gary at Heart Magic and couldn’t be happier with the ingenious system he made. Our initial boiling flask arrived and we discovered a slight defect in the glass. We contacted Gary via email with pictures of the problem. He called me and was really nice to work with. He sent us a new flask just in time for Vince’s vacation.

condenser tube showing oilAfter we finished the lavender we were pumped to do more. Vince decided it’s his favorite hobby, well second favorite…after building solar panels. I thought he would really like this, since I know how much he loves science. Even though he was all onboard to get it, I wasn’t sure he was truly into it. He wasn’t hooked until we had it set up and it started making steam and the oil started coming. It was like magic.

We cleaned up everything but left it set up so we could distill some more the next day. It’s fun when you get to leave your toys out and you’re the grown up. It is all glass, so I wouldn’t recommend leaving it out with kids still living at home. We’re “empty nesters” and are enjoying the freedom it affords.

triple mint going in bioflask for distillingThe next day we did a triple mint essential oil comprised of mints from our garden. We combined peppermint, spearmint and chocolate mint for a really nice blend that smells so fresh. Our house smelled so great and we were having so much fun! We didn’t want to stop.

We went for a drive down our dirt road and into the state forest that runs behind us. We barely got out of our driveway when we spotted Norway Spruce growing across the road. Once we filled a couple of small paper bags with tips from the branches we were ready to hunt for more. We had a great time driving around in the middle of the woods. We made note of a lot of other plant material we could do, but we refrained from gathering more than what we could distill during this week of vacation. Some material is better gathered later in the fall, like juniper berries.

resultsWhen we distilled the Norway Spruce we had 3 separate batches in the 2 liter flask. We ended up with a lot of hydrosol and a little bit of essential oil. But boy did it smell good. Like the northern woods. Fresh.

The last two days of his vacation we spent distilling 3 batches of Lemon Balm from our garden. It was beginning to flower and it was full of essential oil. Lemon balm is the most expensive essential oil of all the oils. I thought we might not get anything more than hydrosol, but we got oil, a very precious amount, but we did get oil.

We learned a few things when distilling essential oils.

  1. Line your sink with the rubber mesh shelf liners. I cut one roll in half and then one half I cut in half again. I used the long piece to run across both sinks from side to side. The two smaller pieces were used to line each sink from back to front. The glassware is fragile and expensive to replace, so an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  2. Cut your plant material into 1-2″ pieces. It makes it much easier to load and unload the bio-flask. It’s much harder to get wet plant material out of the flask than it is to stuff the dry stuff in. I used a dowel that was the size of a chopstick as a tool to load and unload the flask.
  3. Wear glasses or googles to protect your eyes when working with heat and glassware. Accidents happen, so be safe.
  4. When trimming branches from larger trees, take just the tips (1-2″) of the ends of the branches. There is a lot of essential oil in the new growth. The tips are also more flexible and easier to load into the flask. Sticks from older branch material may break the flask and should be loaded carefully. If you make the initial cuts 1-2″ when trimming from the tree you won’t have to sit and cut them later before loading the flask. You’ll get plenty of plant material from a tree, so there will be enough if just taking the tips.
  5. Fill the boiling flask to about 2/3 full. This allows room for the gas to expand as the water boils but prevents from running out of water before the distillation process is complete. The last thing you want to do is add water to a hot nearly empty flask. You run the risk of cracking the glass.
  6. Once the water is boiling and steam starts to form in the tubes, adjust the hot plate from high to medium-high, just high enough to keep it boiling.
  7. The hot plate gets really hot and your kitchen counter gets very hot. Our counter survived but for the future I purchased a silicone baking mat to place under the hot plate unit.

lavender starts in mini greenhouseWe look forward to distilling more essential oils in the very near future. I took some cuttings from my lavender plant and have 20 new possible lavender plants. I bought four plants from Laurie when I visited the Lavender Fleece last month. Vince just finished plowing the fence line where I’m going to plant them. He had to get the old tractor started again to till it really good.

Now we don’t have sheep and goats anymore we’re going to turn the pasture into an essential oil garden, filled with lavender and other perennials that like sand, snow and Michigan winters.

I made a video of the lavender while it was distilling and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I’m still new at learning how to make and edit videos. I see room for improvement, if you have any pointers, please leave me a comment below.

Have a healthy and rewarding day! Thanks for stopping by.