Medicinal Extraction of Aromatic Plants

For centuries, aromatic plants have been extracted in various ways for both perfumery and medicinal purposes. The ancient Egyptians understood the therapeutic properties of aromatic plants, as did the Greeks and the Romans; plants were used to heal many health-related problems. However, plants are extracted in different ways, resulting in a different end product, depending on both the plant species and its ability to heal. Extraction methods have changed over the years but some of the most common methods of extracting aromatic plants for medicinal purposes include maceration,distillation and herbal extraction.

Maceration of Plants for Medicinal Benefits

Maceration, also known as infusion, of plants is an ancient practice that is so simple in its method that you can carry out the process at home. According to Patricia Davis, in Aromatherapy: An A-Z, maceration of plants pre-dates the process of extracting essential oils. Ancient civilizations simply stood jars of plant material out in the sun to macerate. Infused, or macerated, oils hold similar medicinal properties to those extracted to produce an essential oil; however, some plants can be macerated that do not produce an essential oil too.

You can use plant material such as roses, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, calendula, rosemary and lilac to make your own macerated or infused oils. Fill a small jar approximately three-quarters full with a organic carrier oil such as sunflower or almond oil and place the collected plant material (ie rose petals etc) inside of the jar. Place a lid on top of the jar and leave it in a sunny or warm place. After about one week, separate the plant material from the oil with a sieve/strainer; you can add fresh plant material and leave to macerate for longer as appropriate.

Distillation of Plants for Medicinal Purposes

Distillation of plants for essential oils is also an ancient practice, although the process of distillation that we know today is not quite the same as that used long ago. The break though in the distillation of essential oils came with the invention of the refrigerated coil by Avicenna (AD 980 – 1037) which allowed the process to cool more quickly. Essential oils are complex chemical substances that retain many of the therapeutic properties of the plant from which they are extracted from.

Distillation is essentially a process by which the plant material is placed in a large vat, heated up to release tiny molecules through evaporation and cooled down again so that they condense back into liquid form. The resulting essential oil is separated from the water because the density of the essential oil differs from water; it will either sink or float and is then drawn off. Essential oils are used in the practice of aromatherapy to help with many health complaints.

Herbal Extraction of Plants for Medicinal Purposes

Plants can also be herbally extracted to produce a substance called a tincture. One of the most common substances used to produce a tincture from a plant is alcohol. The plant material is combined with the alcohol; the resulting extract is a combination of the oils of the plant mixed with alcohol. Tinctures differ to macerated oils in that the plant material is left to stand for several weeks – without the aid of heat or sunlight. Tinctures are used in herbal medicine for a number of health conditions.

Methods of Medicinal Extraction of Aromatic Plants

Aromatic plants can also be extracted for their medicinal benefits in other ways to those described above; however, these are some of the most common ways in which plant extracts are used. In addition, plants can be used in a variety of ways in plant medicine, including in their natural state. Medicinal extraction of plants produces a substance that retains many of the healing properties of the extracted plant and allows it to be used in various ways.