The Art of Wildcrafted Essential Oils

//The Art of Wildcrafted Essential Oils

The Art of Wildcrafted Essential Oils

On Friday, October 14th, Moonflower hosted Eric Scott Bresselsmith. Eric owns House of Aromatics, an essential oils distillery based in Boulder, Utah. He taught an engaging class on his personal journey toward using and ultimately distilling his own wildcrafted essential oils. Eric’s class was well attended and began with a silent meditation accompanied by a spritz of hydrosol (a product of the essential oil distillation process) around each participant. Eric wanted everyone to feel grounded and present in the space. He then explained his journey toward becoming an essential oils distiller.

Eric’s initial hesitancy to utilize essential oils changed when he realized they could improve his health on multiple levels. Beginning in 2004, aromatherapy using high quality essential oils helped Eric achieve relaxation and acceptance of uncertainty in his life. Essential oils, according to Eric, can facilitate improved physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Inhaling the aromatic compounds within essential oils allows them to travel into our lungs and enter our bloodstream where they can physically impact our bodies. Eric demonstrated the acute effects of these compounds by passing around several different essential oils and oil blends throughout the class.

Eric acquired his extensive knowledge on producing essential oils through self-study, apprenticeship, and his clear passion for preparing wild-crafted medicine to improve his health and the health of others. House of Aromatics, operated by Eric and his partner Amber Xanthy Van Cleave, strives to produce high quality essential oils using plant materials sourced from the Colorado Plateau region. By working with the Forest Service and using leftover materials from forest management, Eric sustainably acquires plant matter, which mostly comes from local conifers and a few desert shrub species, including snakeweed, sagebrush and rabbitbrush. The House of Aromatics uses a somewhat uncommon process using un-macerated plant material before steam distilling. Slow steam distillation of whole plant material preserves more of the aromatic compounds and maintains the physical composition of the plant. Eric believes that maceration compromises the chemical compounds and harms the plant spirit and prefers a more gentle approach to extracting the essential oils.

The House of Aromatics steam distillation process requires a 55 gallon stainless steel drum containing the raw plant materials, including leaves, flowers, stems, and/or twigs. For single distillations, only one plant species is packed into the drum, while co-distillations include two or more plant species. Eric often co-distills plants which naturally grow together in the wild. He believes their symbiotic relationships in nature may indicate that a co-distillation could provide synergistic therapeutic benefits. A boiling pot near the drum boils water and releases steam into the bottom of the drum. The steam exits through the top of the drum and enters a glass condensing tower comprised of glass coils filled with cold water. The steam is flash cooled by this system and enters a separator flask, which is a staple of any organic chemistry lab. Distillation is a fundamental process within our society, producing many of the compounds we utilize on a daily basis, including refined petroleum products and artificial and natural flavorings/fragrances.

The condensed liquid forms the “first fraction” and can be separated into more fractions that can then be recombined to mimic other botanical compounds for natural flavors or fragrances. The pure essential oil component generally floats to the top, and an aromatic aqueous (water-based) solution settles at the bottom, known as hydrosol. High quality essential oils will consist only of the first fraction and will never include synthesized compounds derived from petroleum. The essential oils produced through the distillation process are highly complex with over 50,000 chemical compounds.

Eric likes to remind his customers and students that he is not a health practitioner. During the class, he emphasized that only certified aromatherapists can help people decide how to utilize essential oils to achieve their desired health outcomes. Aromatherapists describe essential oils according to their “notes,” or the qualities of their smells. Douglas fir essential oils, for example, include distinct citrus notes, which indicates the presence of compounds also found in citrus. Aromatherapists typically recommend diluted use of essential oils, which requires adding a small amount of essential oils into a carrier oil. Eric prefers jojoba oil for this purpose and recommends diluting just enough to use in the moment to preserve the aromatic compounds of the essential oil. Essential oils can be directly applied to the skin, but the absorption rate is much more rapid and inefficient. Carrier oils can slow the absorption rate, making their application more effective. Aromatherapists do not recommend internal use of essential oils, including adding drops to water or other drinks.

Eric imparted a wealth of knowledge during his class, and the participants took home many important concepts about both the use and preparation of essential oils. Products from the House of Aromatics can be found at Moonflower Co-op, including new regionally sourced conifer-based cleaners and essential oil-infused bath salts.

Moonflower’s monthly Lifetime Learning classes feature community experts and healthcare practitioners who disseminate knowledge on topics ranging from herbal preparations to permaculture and watershed protection. As a community cooperative, uplifting the health and wellness of our physical community and the people within it represents our main priority. Collaborating with various community organizations and individuals doing positive work in our city and surrounding areas gives our community resiliency and strength.

Additionally, for several years, Moonflower Community Co-op has compiled and published a list of integrative healthcare practitioners as a resource for the Moab community. Our Integrative Healthcare Practitioners Guide features herbalists, mental health counselors, acupuncturists, naturopathic physicians, and providers who specialize in bodywork, wellness education, astrology consultation, and various other holistic health and wellness practices.