Friday, April 26, 2013

Violet Leaf Experiment #1

 Disclaimer - I am so far from a scientist that my high school science teacher probably rolls around uncomfortably in his grave every time I even use the *word* scientist.  This is an interesting hobby, but no testing is done except with my senses.

A few days ago I decided that it would be interesting to try to distill violet leaf.  To the best of my knowledge, true violet FLOWER essential oil is non-existent.  You will possibly find people who sell it, but my guess is that they are either misinformed or dishonest.  The LEAF oil is available and is obtained through solvent extraction.  The leaf oil is soothing and relaxing, green and earthy at the same time.  It is often used in skin care products.  So even though I knew there would be no essential oil produced from a steam distillation, sometimes I get some pretty interesting hydrosols.  That would be pretty cool in a lotion, if it works...
Originally my thought was to wait until fall when the leaves would be more substantial, but I just couldn't wait.  Now it will be fun to do it again at that time and compare the results.  
As it turns out, in the spring it is almost as time-consuming to pick a basketful of leaves as it is to pick a basket full of blossoms.  The young leaves are still below the flowers, making the picking a little complicated.  It took a few hours to do, but it was such a gorgeous day that the time flew.  The best leaves were in the woods, along the path.
Getting set up, I packed the still with the leaves.
There is a full market basket of leaves crammed into that globe.
Usually it doesn't really get stuffed, but I wanted as much material in there as possible.  It was so tightly packed that after the water below started to boil, I started to ponder what would happen if the steam was unable to penetrate the leaves and gave the boiling flask a wide berth until it was clear that it could.
The first few tablespoons of hydrosol to be produced had an almost melon-y scent.  Very interesting and complex.  However, over the course of the next 45 minutes, the green bean scent that is typical of leaves with little or no essential oil became more pronounced.  Plantain, jewelweed, comfrey, chickweed - all produce a green bean type aroma.  In many cases, the hydrosol still has the property we're looking for, especially jewelweed and comfrey.
So the basketful of leaves eventually steams down to about 3 cups worth of green goo.  In less than an hour, the steam finds a direct channel through the goo and bubbles up through that one spot consistently.  It occurs to me that the distillation is finished, because it is pretty much just steam anymore - not passing through the material, but making a straight shot through it instead.

If you look just below the clamp and compare it to the picture above, you'll see the mesh plug protruding downward.
The heat is turned off and we have a couple of cups of the clear hydrosol.  The bean scent is prominent, but there is more... a very light floral, and something that makes me want to keep sniffing it from time to time.  If the bean fades, it might turn out to be pretty nice (but not holding my breath).

It was late, so I left the still to cool and went to bed.  This morning the goo had really settled in and was starting to ooze out of the bottom of the flask.  There's a mesh plug that is not a tight fit - but it never got pushed out before.  Fortunately the goo was pretty intertwined in the mesh...  Not my favorite before-breakfast activity, but it all worked out.
I'm very curious to see what happens in a few months with leaves that are not so tender, and also to see if the background fragrance will develop. 


Mark said...

This looks really cool and really scientific. It's the curious minds through out the ages that have gone on and changed history and shaped how we live today!

Marcia Elston said...

Some tips. Never fill your plant vessel more than 50%. You want the steam to circulate through the plant material. The reason violet leaf is solvent extracted for the best results in the industry is that steam distillation doesn't work well, as you are finding. By "bean" smell, do you mean the sulfurous still note? During steam distillation the heat causes decomposition of certain materials and generates traces of nitrogen and sulphur compounds. These give unpleasant “still notes”. Although these still notes sometimes age
and disappear if the oil is kept, this required storage for up to 6 months. Sometimes leaving your distillate in an open (unlidded) wide mouth vessel for 24-48 hours will help dissipate the still note.

Tina Sams said...

THANK you, Marcia! That explains (partially) why bulky stuff like sage and scented geranium does so well.
This particular distillate has a great scent if I can get that note to dissipate. Just un-lidded the mason jar :-)

Daniela! said...

Thanks for posting, someday I will try.

Pamela said...

I love violet leaf oil, but have never stumbled across the hydrosol - until now. Well done! I'm saving up for a small still of my own, so one day I may have to try this, too. By the way, I have not come across an oil made from the flower (Yet!) but it would need to be extracted the same ways rose oil is. You can't get much by steaming. Maybe an idea for another experiment :) Thanks for sharing!


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