The process of distilling herbs is thousands of years old...
The history of essential oils and thus distillation as a method for their extraction is very long. They were used by all known ancient civilisations – Egypt. Greece, Rome, India. The oldest known distillers from Mesopotamia and ancient India were in use for the distillation of perfumes, the distillation of alcohol appeared only later.
Steam distillation, used to extract essential oils, is said to have been invented by Avicenna in the 11th century. It was originally supposed to be used to make ‘flower waters’ or hydrosols, as we call them today. Interestingly, at that time hydrosols were the most desirable and most widely used distillation product in medicine. If essential oils were extracted during distillation, they were discarded as undesirable. It was not until the 13th century that the use of essential oils in perfumes became widespread in medieval Europe. They were so expensive that only the nobility could afford them.
European alchemists of the 15th and 16th centuries, including Paracelsus, continued to develop distillation and acquired many new essential oils. In the 16th century, distillation was already so widespread in Europe that it was used in many households to obtain floral waters and essential oils. In 1500, the German alchemist Hieronymus Braunschweig published the first written work on the subject of distillation, entitled The Book of the Art of Distillation.
The first distillers of ancient peoples were made of clay. Later, Arab masters began to make them from copper and brought this skill to Europe as well. The greatest European masters in the making of copper alembics are still the Portuguese.
With the development of modern chemistry from the 19th century onward, distillation is the basis of large industrial sectors – perfumery, petrochemical, alcoholic beverage industry. Therefore, today distillation for essential oils is only one aspect of distillation. Stainless steel boilers are mainly used for industrial needs. They are easy to maintain and clean, but the aroma of essential oils and hydrolsols from such boilers is less sophisticated than from copper.