What are Enfleurage Essential Oils?
Enfleurage is an ancient technique used for extracting essential oils from the most delicate flowers and this includes some of the oils that we sell here at Artisan Aromatics like Frangipani, Gardenia, Jasmine, Lily, Rose and Tuberose. Enfleurage Essential Oils are extremely rare. In fact, our production facility in South America is the only one in the world that uses the old traditional method of enfleurage. But, of course, we also sell essential oils that have been extracted by other means, like steam distillation and expression. Steam Distillation is the most common method used to extract essential oils from plants like Lavender, Tea Tree, Geranium and hundreds more. Expression is most commonly used for extracting essential oils from citrus fruit (orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc.)
Enfleurage is a technique of extracting the aromatic oils from flowers that goes back thousands of years to the days of the pharaohs in Egypt. Enfleurage Essential Oil production works on the simple principle that fats dissolve essential oils and thereby absorb their aromas. Petals and other fragrant plant parts are soaked in fat or non-evaporating oil which absorbs the fragrance. In the 19th century and early parts of the 20th, pork, lard and beef fat were used though now some producers use vegetable fats like palm oil. In the early days, the animal fat was smeared on glass plates in a wooden frame called a chassis and then the flowers were placed on the fat and left to release their oils for several days. The process was repeated several more times with fresh flowers being added to the plates until the fat on the plates was completely saturated with the aromatic oils of the flowers. The oil saturated fat, called a pomade, was then dissolved by alcohol. The aromatic oils migrate to the alcohol which is then separated from the fat and then the alcohol is evaporated to leave the pure aromatic oil of the flower. The resultant essential oil is technically called an “absolute”. Our supplier of absolutes extracted by enfleurage uses only Organic Palm Oil and Organic Sugar Cane Alcohol in the extraction process.
Enfleurage is used on certain flowers because some fragrant compounds denature when heat is applied and almost all fragrance is lost if steam distillation is attempted. Today most essential oils that are extracted from flowers that are too delicate for steam distillation are done so by solvent (chemical) extraction. These oils, extracted by solvents, are called absolutes. The production of absolutes using harsh chemicals, while still quite expensive, is cheaper than the old method of enfleurage of essential oils but, of course, the resultant oil can no longer be considered organic and there is always a hint of “chemical” smell to the aroma of the oil. The flowers that cannot withstand steam distillation for the extraction of their oils but for which enfleurage is appropriate include: Gardenia, Lily, Rose, Tuberose, jasmine, narcissus (daffodil/jonquil), mignonette (birthday flower), neroli, cassie, violet and carnation. Rose and neroli (orange blossom) are also available both as fine distilled oils and as absolutes.
Today only a few producers use the ancient technique of enfleurage because it is quite labor intensive and therefore quite costly but the exquisite results are truly worth it. The aroma of the oils extracted by enfleurage with an aroma much like the flower. If you close your eyes and inhale the aroma of the oil, you’ll find that the the smell to be quite similar to that of the actual flower. Just one drop of Frangipani Absolute, Jasmine Absolute, Gardenia Absolute, Lily Absolute, Rose Absolute, or Tuberose Absolute oil makes a wonderful perfume. In addition to the extraction process being labor intensive, a lot of plant material is needed to produce the oil. In one study, 1000 kilos of Tuberose blossoms yielded only 801 grams of oil.
Here at Artisan Aromatics, we have found one small producer in South America that uses a modern version of the ancient technique of enfleurage to produce completely organic oils of Frangipani Essential Oil, Jasmine Essential Oil, Gardenia Essential Oil, Lily Essential Oil, Rose Essential Oil, or Tuberose Essential Oil. On his small farm (and surrounding farms), he grows the Frangipani, Jasmines,Gardenias, Lilies, Roses, and Tuberoses and then processes them using palm oil as the fat and pure alcohol derived from local sugar cane. By using all local products, he helps to support the local economy and small farmers and gives employment to those who have been devastated by warfare in the area.