Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The journey of an oil

I've mentioned my search for the rare Rosemary a-pinene chemotype, and my excitement at locating and importing a wee bit.  This is the story of that oil, as told by the words and pictures of artisan distiller, Chris Burder.

A rosemary hedgerow
First, the rosemary in the field. Rosemary var "Herb Cottage"  I can't judge the height of that fence, but am guessing it's close to a meter (or 39 inches for those who don't think metric.)  (Chris says the fence is 1.2 metres, 47 inches...MY Rosemary might reach 12 inches.) I want to reach out and run my fingers through the blossoms.  Chris mentioned in another conversation "If having trouble with any plant of Mediterranean origin, a thick blanket of mulch is what often makes the difference. At least 6" of firmly packed straw, for example. These plants can't put up with extremes of weather; flood, drought, heat, cold. Here in Australia, it's a must to buffer them against these extremes."

and... speaking of mulching... a shot from last May:

Mulch to be spread.

Friday, Sept 4th

The time frame... and another Rosemary photo Still in the field Sept 4th.

Harvested, wilting
This is the harvested rosemary, waiting for distillation, perhaps my favorite shot of this whole series. You can see some of the mulched Rosemary against the wall.  Somewhere I have a shot of the mulcher shooting out shredded rosemary, but can't find it.

 Someone asked how long the process takes: Chris said, "It will be another 3 days harvesting, 1 week wilting, a couple of days distilling, a day drying (oil), then the BIG unknown - shipping time!"

 But, like any farmer, Chris's schedule is at the mercy of the weather. "A rainy day has put paid to finishing the harvest so I went and cut a small load of firewood hopefully tomorrow..."    I snagged this photo from Chris's website. I doubt the small finch cooperated by posing while he was chopping wood for our distillation, but his mention of chopping wood for the still just brought it home to me how very much of himself he puts into these precious oils.

 After the harvesting, it needs to be chopped fine to load the still  A mulcher works beautifully.  I can't imagine the aroma of this huge stack of shredded rosemary!  and while the Rosemary is wilting, the still needs steam cleaning, to be ready for morning's distillation.

Steam Cleaning the Still

  After the biomass (what a totally inexpressive term for this lovely herb!) has dried slightly, it is packed into a charge for the still.  

Charge ready for loading.

Shall we look at numbers?

from Chris:
Approx 17L hydrosol
Approx 760-770mL oil (exact figure not known until oil dries)

8.25 charges - 33L charge chamber
Total weight of biomass: 106.341 Kg
Approx yield: 7.194 mL/Kg

Note to self: don't do figures after 14.5 hours straight distilling. There's actually only 680 mL approx. with an approx. yield of 6.395mL/Kg (I thought that first figure was too good to be true)

(Exact figure was only 710 mls of oil)   so little for so much labor... two hours of distilling for 100 ml of oil.  Actually, according to Chris, 2 1/2 hours to get the stove up to temperature, 15 minutes to load the first charge, 15 minutes heating the charge until the first condensate runs, 30 minutes distillation, repeat eight times, adding 15 minutes to top up the stove and reach temperature again. One hour to drain the separator, start drying the oil, general fluff-around time.)
The Still - waiting for action
Brief explanation of the photo above...  the large still sits on a burner to heat the water... water brought to boiling on the bottom...the charge is loaded into the top. Steam forces its way through the shredded rosemary and rises through the tube at the top.  The larger cylinder atop the still contains a metal coil (picture a spring,tightly wound) in the center with cold water piped in to quickly chill the steam to create the liquid distillate, hydrosol and essential oil. The coil contains cooling water in it, inside out compared to most condensers. The chilled distillate exits the tube to the left, where it enters the separator shown below.  (I couldn't figure out the use of the huge pot to the right of the still. "A 20 liter stock pot used to boil/sterilize my glassware, beakers, cylinders, etc.")

This is a view into the separator...where oil is separated from hydrosol...  the lighter oil will rise

Nothing left to give.
  And from the separator comes the precious, rare oil, and, nature's overlooked bounty the hydrosol.  and, after the distillation is finished.. we have what is technically known as "spent biomass" ... see it steaming?

Hydrosol exiting the still/separator.

Drying the oil

Chris mentioned "drying the oil" above.  The oil, fresh from the separator, is covered loosely and let sit on a warm hotplate. convection will remove the heavier water molecules and send them to the bottom of the jar.  The jar is then frozen, and the ice (frozen hydrosol) removed.  Every separator will leave microscopic droplets of water in the essential oil, and, if allowed to remain, the free H2O will drastically shorten the shelf life.  Commercial distillers often use anhydrous sodium sulphate. added to the essential oil overnight, it will remove any water. Pour off the oil, dry the sodium sulfate and reuse.  Chris prefers not to use chemicals if possible.   To test whether YOUR essential oil has been dried by the producer,  to one ml of essential oil, add five ml chloroform.  Shake gently to blend,  and let settle. If water is present, the mixture will turn milky.  If the essential oil has been properly dried, the mix will stay clear.


Canisters for the Oil.
Hydrosols bottled for storage or transport.

Chris shared, on Facebook, "
You're not going to believe this...
The Rosemary oil has already seen more of the world on its voyage to Nature's Gift Aromatherapy than most people see in a lifetime..."
From the farm... To Melbourne... To Sydney... To Guangzhou... To Angeles City... To Ta Yuan Hsiang... To...

To Anchorage Alaska
to Memphis, and then to Madison TN.

And... it arrives:

It's not an Absolute. Shippers really don't know

     and HERE is the precious cargo.

Chris's statement, "This kind of completes it for me... Modern tech like Facebook has allowed me to show you all everything from harvest to delivery... Something you don't see every day." 

Thank you for sharing the process with us, Chris... definitely something we do NOT see every day.  I wanted to share this so you all could see the journey, from plants in the ground, to the wee small bottles that we ship to you.

And.. final step..   upon arrival.  I believe Michelle poured these.  Not sure who labeled them.

Poured, sealed, and labeled.

Ready to start a new journey.


Unknown said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Chris' story "The Journey of an Oil".
This account will be most helpful to people who have never known the processes involved - from harvest to bottle.
As a distiller myself, I commend Chris for his full and very readable account, and hope to share it with others. Thankyou Chris!

Chris Burder said...

Thank you Fiona :) I've just now seen your comment because I happened upon this blog post from Marge Clark again tonight, and I still can't believe what it took to do it all... Telling everyone about the journey was the easy part! Regards and best wishes to you and yours in our dry, hot summer; have fun in the Ballarat shop and out on the farm :)

Marge said...

We use the term "artisan distiller" and think we know what is involved... but this article from Chris so paints the picture.. I can't imagine all the work involved. And people are appalled at the price... think of the time and the labor...as well as the sheer beauty of the finished product. so beautiful!