Long celebrated for its versatility, mint, both in its herbal form and as an essential oil, has many applications in health, beauty and cooking. Many moms have soothed a troubled tummy with mint tea, while modern aromatherapists believe its scent can help alleviate nausea, headaches, fatigue and anxiety. Mint oil is commercially available but many find it a far more satisfying experience to distill their own. Surprisingly, making your own mint essential oil requires little time and effort and yet can yield innumerable benefits to the overall well-being of you and your family.
Things You'll Need
- Metal cooking pot with a vegetable steamer basket
- Large metal coffee can with a hole drilled in the bottom
- Copper tubing
- Deep plastic or metal bowl
- Small dark-colored glass bottle
- Distilled water
- Mint leaves and stems
- Plastic spray bottle
Prepare the mint plants
Cut the aerial portions of your mint plant, which include all the leaves and the stem, down to an inch past the bottommost leaves.
Tie the mint into bundles and allow it to dry in a paper bag in a cool, dry room for 48 hours. The dried or cured mint plants are called "mint hay" and should still retain a little moisture.
Immediately prior to distilling your mint oil, tear the mint hay into smaller pieces. This will help the oils inside the plant release more easily.
Constructing your essential oil still
Drill a hole the same diameter as the copper tubing into the bottom of the coffee can.
Place the vegetable steamer inside of the pot, then place the coffee can upside down on top of the vegetable steamer.
Insert one end of the copper tubing into the hole in the can and seal the edges.
Fill the deep bowl with ice and place it near the cooking pot. Run the rest of the copper tubing several times through the bowl of ice and over the edge of the bowl.
Place one of the dark glass bottles directly underneath the end of the tube, where it can catch your freshly distilled mint oil.
The distillation process
Place your retort on your stovetop burner. Pour enough distilled water in the pot to reach just below the bottom of the vegetable steamer.
Place your cured mint hay into the vegetable steamer and then replace the coffee can on top of the hay.
Turn the burner to medium to medium-high heat so that the water comes to a slow boil. Allow the water to boil for about 20 to 30 minutes and then turn off the burner. Most of your oil will distill during the early part of the distillation process. However, you may let the still sit undisturbed for up to two hours to finish collecting the small amount of oil that may continue to accumulate.
Seal your receiver bottle and store your mint essential oil in a cool, dark space such as a medicine cabinet.
What to do with the leftovers
In addition to the essential oil, you now have two byproducts left over from the distillation process: the used plant material and the leftover water.
You may either discard the used mint hay or use it as fertilizer for outdoor plants.
The leftover water, called hydrosol, should be poured into the plastic spray bottle. Hydrosol, available at many natural beauty supply stores, can be used as a refreshing body or room spray, as an invigorating facial toner, or as a gentle, all-natural mouth rinse.
Tips & Warnings
- Both peppermint and spearmint are suitable for producing mint oil although the health and beauty properties of peppermint have been more extensively researched.
- Ten pounds of cured mint hay will yield one ounce of peppermint oil although most home producers do not have the equipment to handle this much plant material nor the need for a full ounce of mint oil.
- If you do not wish to make your own essential oil still, often referred to as an "essencier," you may purchase one. Commercial essenciers are generally made out of either copper or plastic and can range in price from $200-$450.
- Methods of Extracting Volatile Oils from Plant Material and the Production of Such Oils in the United States; Arthur F. Sievers, 1928 (USDA Technical Bulletin #16)
- The Art of Aromatherapy; Robert B. Tisserand, 1977
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