Essential oils are so called because they literally contain the essence of the plant from which it is obtained. These are different from fixed oils such as coconut oil, primarily due to their high volatility (they quickly evaporate even in room temperature).
Essential oils are often prescribed by eastern influenced medicine practitioners as part of a procedure called aromatherapy and have been used since biblical times for their healing properties.
In fact, two of the three gifts that the wise men brought for Jesus Christ were the essential oils frankincense and myrrh!
Many nature oriented disciplines use essential oils:
- Transcendental Meditation
- Tai chi and yoga
Essential oils have a long shelf life. Citrus plants, frankincense, pine, spruce, neroli, tea tree, and lemongrass oils can last for up to 2 years.While most of the other essential oils last for 2-4 years, patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver can last for an extensive 4 to 8 years.
Common Essential Oil
Containing numerous compounds, the essential oils are unique to each plant. Hence, the healing benefits of each essential oil and its combinations differ.
Here’s a list of some easily available and must have essential oils in every survivalist’s kit:
Lavender Oil: This is the number one item in most prepper’s kit. Its pleasant and soothing aroma has a relaxing effect on the mind, which can help adults with sleep disorders and depression.
Lavender oil is also good for many varieties of skin disorders such as acne, sunburns, rashes, cuts, burns etc. It has anti-fungal properties and is an effective pain reliever.
Eucalyptus Oil: With pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties this is a very good choice as massage oil to help ease joint pains, especially for those prone to arthritis.
Eucalyptus oil improves the immune system and is helpful as a preventive for many common ailments like the flu, a bad throat, headaches, sinus issues etc. Its refreshing scent removes odor, kills molds, keeps out insects, and is good for reducing respiratory congestion
Melaleuca Oil (Tea Tree Oil): Highly concentrated, and therefore often diluted with carrier oil, tea tree oil is effective at treating fungal, bacterial, and viral infections. Tea tree oil is often used for skin disorders, athletes foot etc. As a decongestant, it is useful for treating sinus and other respiratory issues.
It is an excellent antiseptic and painkiller. Also, it is a good organic pest control for your garden, which helps repel ticks and fleas on your pets too.
Peppermint Oil: The anti-emetic properties of this oil help with nausea and vomiting. Its anti-inflammatory properties, when applied topically, help with menstrual cramps, abdominal, joint and muscle pains.
It is a decongestant and its cooling effect works wonders with headaches, sinusitis, and even mental fatigue.
Lemon Oil: Popular for its cleansing effects, lemon oil is often used as a disinfectant and is effective as a dish and furniture cleanser. It works very well as an air freshener too.
It may help with depression, anxiety, motion sickness and more.
Clove Oil: With excellent analgesic properties, clove oil is often used as an anesthetic or sedative. A popular painkiller for toothaches, it is also a great ingredient for making toothpastes. Its antibiotic and antimicrobial properties also work well with infections and digestive issues.
Chamomile Oil: Diluted with a carrier oil, this essential oil is good for treating allergies and skin disorders. It helps relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Chamomile oil is known for its relaxing effect. When inhaled it helps with insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, stress and has a calming effect on children. Learn more.
Geranium Oil: Very good for the skin, this oil hinders the production of sebum which helps to keep acne in check. When used in shampoo, it helps to get rid of head lice. Geranium oil is also sometimes used to stop bleeding.
Arnica Oil: Arnica has excellent anti-inflammatory properties and is applied topically or by use in ointments for muscle pains. Applied periodically, it provides long term relief.
Rosemary Oil: Rosemary oil is effective in getting rid of spider mites. Diluted with water, it makes a very good mouthwash.
Inhaling it reduces respiratory congestion. It helps reduce emotional distress. When mixed with a carrier oil it helps with muscle pain and headaches. Learn more.
Frankincense Oil: With antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-fungal and regenerative properties, frankincense is a very handy essential oil during emergencies. Learn more.
It has a calming effect, reduces headaches and is known to enhance the effects of other essential oils.
Oregano Oil: Not to be confused with the oregano used for cooking, this essential oil is obtained from a different plant species
Known for its effectiveness against bacterial infection, Oregano oil (when mixed with a carrier oil) may be used to treat skin infections, warts, etc.
Thyme Oil: Having excellent antimicrobial properties, diluted Thyme oil is very effective for treating skin infections, fungi, acne, etc. It is an effective pest repellent.
Myrrh Oil: It has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. A good antiseptic solution for treating wounds, Myrrh enhances tissue regeneration blood circulation and general immunity. Learn more.
Lemongrass Oil: Helps with inflammation and an upset stomach. It is also known as a very effective insect repellent.
Making Essential Oil At Home
Essential oils are extracted from different parts of the plant such as the bark, flower, fruit, roots, or sometimes even the whole plant itself. For example, Lemon oil is extracted from its peel and Lavender oil from the flowers.
In some cases, based on which part is processed, different types of essential oils can be extracted from a single plant. The quantity and quality of the essential oil depends on numerous factors, such as: the plant species, the time of harvest, the part harvested, soil composition, the extraction procedure, and its storage.
A huge amount of plant matter is required for extracting just a little quantity of essential oil. For example, more than a few thousand blossoms needed to be processed before you can get a spoonful of rose oil! This makes essential oils an expensive commodity to buy.
Making essential oil on the other hand is not rocket science and using the right methods and equipment, the whole process can be very light on the pocket too.
Here are four ways you can extract essential oil at home.
Method 1: Distillation
Plant matter, when exposed to hot steam, causes the essential oil to vaporize. When passed through a cool environment, both the water and oil vapor condense. The Essential oil can then be easily separated from the water.
This is the most viable option for extracting essential oil sufficient for personal and your family’s use, without burning a hole in your pocket. Plants like thyme, basil or lavender flowers are a good option to start with.
The main equipment required here is an oil still. The easiest option is to buy one online. Although it can be expensive, it is worth the few hundred dollars if you’re planning to extract large quantities of essential oil. For smaller quantities, making an essential oil still is quite a simple job.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
Here’s what you need:
- A stove (heat source)
- A glass pipe (10mm)
- Pressure cooker (for steaming the plant matter)
- A condenser – bucket or tub of cold water (for condensing the vapors)
- An essencier (to separate the oil after the vapor condenses)
Step 1: Setting up the Oil Still
- Using a small flexible hose that fits tightly over both openings, connect the pipe to the valve of the pressure cooker. Use a clip to secure the connection, if required.
- Heating up the plant matter in the pressure cooker will release steam mixed with essential oil vapors, which need to be condensed by passing the pipe carrying the vapors through cold water.
- Depending upon the size of the condenser, either bend the pipe in a coil shape or run it out through a hole in the bottom of the bucket. Seal the hole using epoxy or a similar adhesive to ensure there is no leakage.
- Now fill up the container with cold water or ice, making certain the coil or a major portion of the pipe is completely submerged. Position the essencier, which is used to separate the essential oil from the mixture, directly below the open end of the pipe to collect the distillate.
Step 2: Preparing the Plant Matter
- The selected plant should be harvested correctly and at the right time. Also, careful handling is very important during harvesting since their oil reservoirs tend to be fragile. Any damage results in a significant drop in the oil quantity. If purchasing, select organic plants, since pesticides and other chemicals can contaminate the oil.
- Dry the plant matter in a shaded area or in a darkened room. Avoid direct sunlight since it will cause loss of essential oil. Drying is an optional step and although there is a slight loss in oil quantity per plant, this step enables you to process more plant matter per batch.
Step 3: Distillation of Oil from Plant Matter
- Pour clean water into the pressure cooker. Use enough water to last through the distillation process. Depending upon the quantity and the specific plant used, the whole process can take up to 6 hours or more to complete.
- Pack the cooker with the plant matter, leaving just enough space so that the steam outlet is not blocked. Seal the lid of the cooker and bring it to a boil.
- Most plants will start releasing essential oils when the water starts to boil. The steam escaping from the cooker will pass through the pipe connected to the valve. The container with the cold water will cause the steam in the pipe to condense. The distillate will now start collecting in the essencier.
- Keep a watch on the cooker to ensure there is enough water for the distillation process to continue. Also ensure the water in the condenser remains cold. If required, replace the water or ice.
- Once the distillation process is complete, use cheesecloth to filter the distillate. Pour it into a clean dark glass bottle immediately and keep in a cool, shaded place. Always store in this manner to ensure the essential oil has a longer shelf life.
Check this video to see how this works in practice:
And here’s a video showing an essencier at work:
Method 2: Using Carrier Oil
An easy way of making infused essential oil is to use a carrier oil such as jojoba, grapeseed, olive oil to extract the essential oil from the plant matter. In order to maintain the therapeutic benefits of the essential oil, the two ingredients need to be mixed in the ratio of one cup of carrier oil for each quarter ounce of plant matter.
Note: To make a 2% solution, you would mix 12 drops of the essential oil to one fluid ounce of carrier oil via Essential Oil Safety.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A crock pot
- One cup of carrier oil of choice
- Plant matter containing the essential oil
Infusing oils with a carrier oil
Step 1: Pour the carrier oil into the crock pot
Step 2: Immerse the plant matter into the carrier oil.
Step 3: Cook the oil on low heat for 4-8 hours. In case after this duration the fragrance of the essential oil isn’t strong enough, you can continue cooking for a couple of hours more but not more than that.
Overcooking can spoil the essential oil extracted. If required, you can even replace the cooked plant matter with fresh ones and repeat this step.
Here is a good video on infusing essential oil with grapeseed oil:
An alternative to cooking is to store the plant matter with the carrier oil in tightly closed mason jars. The jars are then placed in direct sunlight for up to two weeks. Be sure not to use a Mason jar with a metallic ring, since it can contaminate the oil.
This video shows how simple it is to infuse essential oil with a carrier oil using direct sunlight:
Once the mixture has finished cooking, or has been set aside long enough, strain it through a cheesecloth and store immediately in a dark glass bottle.
Method 3: Using Alcohol
Another very easy way of extracting essential oils is by using a solvent such as alcohol. Use only pure ethyl alcohol and not rubbing alcohol. It is ideal for usage with plant matter, such as jasmine flowers, that contain volatile components in low quantities.
The extraction process is similar to the carrier oil method, only here the plant matter is immersed in alcohol. Since the plant matter is mostly water, in which oil is not soluble, introduction of an organic solvent such as alcohol causes the essential oil to separate and infuse with the solvent.
The final solution that remains is a fragrant alcohol with essential oils infused into it. It can be used directly or diluted using water. Freezing the solution will cause the oil to separate and settle on the top, which can then be scraped off and collected separately if required.
Method 4: Pressing
Also called ‘Expression’, this method of extracting essential oils may not be viable for most people because of the amount of labor required. This practice is used for extracting oils from citrus plants such as lemon, orange, grapefruit etc, as the heat from distillation tends to damage citrus oil.
The peel of the fruit, where the oil reservoirs are located, needs to be separated from the pulp and soaked in water for several hours. The peel is then kept in between two sponges and squeezed over a wooden bar held against a bowl. Every now and then the sponges should be squeezed, dripping the essential oil and water into the bowl.
Extraction of essential oil using the pressing method is very time-consuming and straining hard work. Considering you only manage to get a tiny quantity of essential oil from every batch, this method hardly seems practical (or even possible) to most of us.
This video shows the cold pressing of oils:
A Time-Tested Natural Health Care Package
Extremely long-lasting and armed with anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and emotionally soothing properties, making essential oil at home is without a doubt one of the most practical and economical healthcare solution for the everyday survivalist.
It swiftly metabolizes and repairs the body internally. Not only is it highly effective during an emergency situation, but it also promotes overall wellness when diluted and used regularly in small doses. Note that essential oils are a concentrated substance. Always check with your doctor beforehand for allergies etc.
Each essential oil, with its own unique healing qualities, can be more beneficial when used in combination with other essential oils. An excellent example of this is the Thieves Oil, a combination of cinnamon, eucalyptus, clove, rosemary and lemon. It was found to be effective even during the times of the black plague.
Essential oils are an age-old discovery, trusted and routinely used by our ancestors for their many benefits. Different cultures have experimented with it and found miraculous solutions to various afflictions. These recipes have been traditionally passed down to younger generations.
Knowing or unknowingly, you probably already used essential oils at some point in the past, when modern medicine turned out to be ineffective. Check your grandma’s medical stash, or better still ask her about it. When you find it, share the secret of this natural gift with us in the comments and tell us about it!