Sunday, May 24, 2009

Distillation Part One - Gemini New Moon Distillation - The Noble Bay Laurel in a Heart Magic distillation unit

Bay Leaf hydrosol flowing into the beaker

I recently had to cut down - with much sorrow - a huge bay leaf tree/bush that I planted about 10 years ago. Many meals have benefited from the organic leaves of the Laurus nobilis I harvested from that tree. Planted at the SE corner of my patio, it had to be removed for patio expansion. I saved the roots, trunk, limbs and leaves, and they are all going to be used, nothing wasted. The roots, trunk and twigs will be used when I barbeque, as their aromatic beauty will flavor everything on the grill with a complex, floral, yet earthy and woody fragrance and taste.

Now, I reasoned, was a great time to start distilling. Then with amazing clarity, the Universe confirmed my feeling. Within one week, a distiller I had known for years on the internet but not corresponded with in a year or two contacted me about joining the Guild with his newly-founded business, a Yahoo Natural Perfumery (YNP) group member joined the Guild and informed me he's making absolutes and tinctures of some of the rarest, best quality ambergris in the world (and is a distillation expert), and chat on the YNP group caused me to contact a fellow who makes hand-blown glass distillation units and he sent me one. Wow!

My student Elise Pearlstine of Tambela Belly Perfumes is my partner in the distillation process. Ironically, she was to meet with Ambergris Guy in Salt Lake City last year but they missed each other. She's going back in two weeks, and they'll meet up. Small world.

Elise and I assist each other with interpreting the instructions on the distillation unit(s) we have worked with in the two sessions we've held so far. The first, a few weeks ago, was with a unit loaned by Chris Ziegler of A Little Olfactory. We got the best-smelling bay leaf hydrosol, true to scent, floral, earthy, woody and fitting Suzanne Catty's descrition of well-made bay leaf hydrosol in her book Hydrosols.

Like many of you, I use bay leaf often in cooking. I have never used the essential oil of it in perfumery, although I purchased some back in the 70's. I used that for cooking, too. Our first distillation was done in the back garden, under the huge oak trees, near the fragrant plants - a very calm and peaceful setting.

However, it was a big comical, since I had to run inside the house every two minutes to get stuff we needed:
scissors, a twistee, more ice, etc., etc. Once the distillation started, we were enthralled, and spent a lot of time fiddling with the heat source, checking the connections, wearing eye protection and generally geeking out. Alchemy occurred, and we were the anxious witnesses. We got about 250mls of hydrosol, maybe a tiny film of oil.

Yesterday, under the energizing Gemini New Moon, we had a much more fruitful and less comical alchemical session. Everything was there, the HeartMagic unit went together rather well. We marveled at the beauty of the hand-blown glass, recognizing Gary Stadler really, really put together a beautiful unit. He has developed a unique receiver, with hydrosol coming out one spout, and the essential oil capture in the middle of the receiver, waiting for the person distilling to release it into a bottle.

You can see the meniscus where the bay leaf essential oil is floating on top of the hydrosol.

As per Gary's instructions, the hydrosol started to flow about thirty minutes after we turned on the heat source. The fragrance was beautiful and we enjoyed tasting the hydrosol at various intervals to check for the change - which evidenced itself as a slightly less spicy taste, which is when we stopped the distillation.

Following Gary's instructions, I let the unit cool down, and got some more hydrosol released from the glassworks, a total of 350mls. About a half ml of oil was produced. I'll be posting a lot more soon, I just wanted to share this with y'all, and share how the distillation urge is hitting so many folks right now - hopefully, you, too!

"Distillation is the act of the
invisible being made visible"
. . . Jeanne Rose 2001
from Jeanne Rose's website


  1. Magnificent Anya! That delicious experience. You did not make a simple destillation. Collecting hidrosol in intervals of time and temperature he carried through a fracionada destillation almost. That wonderful to feel the aroma changes… Which was the amount of leves for 0,5ml of essential Oil? XOXO Elisabeth

  2. It's a memory for a lifetime, my first distillation, bay laurel, Anya's lovely back garden, even the geeking out part. Getting some EO the second time, pricless!


  3. That sounds like some wonderful barbq you will be having!

    Also beautiful to see that photo of the bay distillation floating on top of the water/hydrosol. I bet that hydrosol would be great as a body spray in the summer humidity.

  4. Elisabeth, thanks for your comments. Yes, it is almost fractional distillation, but just for the hydrosol, since I don't have a big enough distillation unit for frac. distill of oils (yet). The unit is 2 liters, bigger one later. I used about the 2liters of leaves, but made the mistake of not breaking them up finely first. Doing that today with the new distillation.

  5. Elise, hopefully more oil today after the Cuisinart does its chopping.

  6. Lucy, the hydrosol *is* the spritz of the season. Plus, it's a nice way to finish the hair washing, it's good for the scalp. I've even saved the "bong water" from the flask and will probably use that in some body rinse fashion or other.


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