Several months ago, the Yahoo list for the magazine started talking about distillation. Tamara Hartley-Hunt helped put together a buy on stills from her friends at Heart Magic. Maggie from Prairieland Herbs has talked about how much she enjoys it for quite some time, and I've been interested ever since I read about using a pan, a brick, a bowl, and an inverted lid filled with ice. But I digress... I decided to spring for this still, and it has been sitting in the box through the move. This morning, Maggie gave me a kick in the pants and I got started. This is sure to become my latest obsession.
After figuring out the instructions for putting the thing together, the rest is fun and exciting.... well, once I got the hoses on the condenser to stop popping off and shooting water all over the kitchen.
In the shot above, the still is set to go, and in this picture it is actually turned on. The water is clear in the bottom chamber. Nothing has started to drip into the collection flask yet. What you can't see is the wet towel used to sop up the water that got all over the counter, nor can you hear my panicky phone call to my sister asking for a hand. However by the time she got here, all was under control.
Here you can see that the water is starting to boil. The condenser (the long thin tube above the green clamp) is starting to have tiny bits of steam adhere to the inside and cool from the water running inside the walls of the tube. It is something like a donut, with cool water pumped through the "donut" part. The steam comes through the "hole" part. This still came with the hot plate, and that has a heat shield on the back, where the collection takes place so that the oil and hydrosol are not exposed to the direct heat.
Now the boiling water is starting to darken. If you look at the flask under the drip spout, you'll notice that it is starting to collect some hydrosol. Inside the spout, there is a chamber where the essential oil collects. Eventually, the water turns very dark. I kept adding ice cubes to the water in the pail. Inside the pail is the pump that circulates cool water in the condenser. I was surprised how quickly the water in the pail became warm.
We filled four 2 oz. spray bottles with the hydrosol and still have a full 8 ounces in the collection bowl. It was a little surprising how much hydrosol there was. As far as the essential oil, there were probably about 30-50 drops. Maryanne put it on her arm to test it, but I (of course) tasted it. It tastes slightly different from other peppermint essential oils I've tasted. Greener and VERY nice. It all smells delightful.
The spent plant material. It probably could have cooked longer, but we decided to turn it off because we had some errands that needed to be run. I emptied them after returning to the cooled still, and was very glad that I'd followed the instructions that suggested cutting the pieces to about 1" for ease of removal.
Clean up was pretty much of a breeze. Some bottle brushes might be in my future, though.
The very next thing I did was head out to pick the Holy Basil for tonight's adventure. I've been babying that stuff all summer to keep it from flowering. Pinch, pinch, pinch. See my green thumb? Ok, well maybe it's more like brown, but that's because of the purple stems of the Holy Basil.