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Terpene Extraction Methods: Hydrodistillation

In this article we will discuss about Hydrodistillation. Terpenes are a natural product found in nature, known to give plants their distinctive smells and tastes. According to scientific research, there are over twenty thousand discovered variants of this compound currently in existence. These include monoterpenes, diterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and triterpenes, and many more. 

The majority of terpenoids come in the form of various biological structures that are active and now widely used for medicinal purposes. Because of this fact, it implies that not all terpenes are created equal. Many factors can significantly change the quality of this compound if not appropriately handled, such as its extraction methods. 

There are several extraction techniques collectors can use to attain the oils from terpenes safely. However, hydrodistillation is considered to be among the most common methods used today. This may be due to the fact that the process itself is relatively simple to perform and doesn’t involve significant technological requirements. 

What is Hydrodistillation?

Hydrodistillation and antimicrobial properties of lemongrass oil  (Cymbopogon citratus, Stapf): An undergraduate laboratory exercise bridging  chemistry and microbiology - Dangkulwanich - 2020 - Journal of Food Science  Education - Wiley Online Library
Source: Wiley Online Library

Also known as water distillation, hydrodistillation refers to one of the oldest methods used in extracting the oils from different types of plant life, such as petals and wood. This is also one of many traditional procedures that date back to various ancient civilizations found in China, Persia, Egypt, and India.

According to historical records, early forms of distillation were found as early as 1000 A.D by an Arab physician. Since then, ancient Arabians have continued to study plants and the chemical properties of their essential oils. Through their research, they could produce a more refined distillation process similar to what is used today. 

Through hydrodistillation, oils from plants can be extracted by soaking them in water that is placed over a heated container. While the water is boiling, steam and oil vapor are collected using a condensing apparatus that leads to a receiving flask. The moisture and oils are separated in this chamber, making it easy to collect and store into containers.

Today, the majority of essential oils are collected using this extraction method. More often, this procedure is compared to steam distillation due to the similar techniques that the materials are subjected to. However, the key difference between the two is that hydrodistillation boils the plants for their extracts and cannot recover once the process has begun. 

The Pros and Cons of Hydrodistillation

Much like several types of extraction methods, hydrodistillation also comes with a list of pros and cons. Despite being a simple process to perform, many companies prefer to use other procedures for collecting essential oils from plants due to their impact on terpene quality. 


Cost-efficient process.

Hydrodistillation is a simple extraction process that does not require complex equipment and materials to operate correctly. The tools needed are also considerably easy to maintain, where industries may seldom require repair costs. As a result, it is relatively easy to extract compounds at a much larger scale for faster production. 

No use of organic solvents.

Instead of using organic solvents to extract the oils from the compound, water is used as its primary extraction tool. Through hydrodistillation, the quality of the terpenes is maintained at a high level and prevents contamination from other organic materials. Simultaneously, the process also grants the extractor more amounts of oils compared to other collection methods. 

Simple extraction procedure

Unlike other complicated extraction methods, hydrodistillation can be done with a few simple steps. The process only requires thermal control while boiling the material in clean water to create vapor and condensation. Once the cooling process is complete, the oils collected can easily be stored and used as desired. Overall, the extraction process requires minimal supervision to control the heat through custom equipment and controls. 


High energy consumption.

Hydrodistillation requires a large amount of energy to complete the full process of extraction without harming its quality. Depending on the amount of material being boiled and collected, energy consumption may vary since the process requires controlled thermal distribution for the entire process. The larger the number of terpenes there are, the more energy is needed to extract its oils fully. 

Time-consuming procedure.

This extraction process requires long collection periods because the oil molecules found in terpenes need time to break down and turn into vapor. The larger the number of terpenes to extract, the longer the total time required is to complete the process. 

Thermal degradation of products.

Distillation through water significantly damages the terpenes that are used after extracting its oil molecules. This is because these compounds are susceptible to temperature changes and cannot be reused after being brought to a boil. 

The quick and easy extraction process

Terpenes have been proven beneficial for several different types of treatments. Due to this, many companies infuse their products with these compounds to improve quality and appeal to the public. 

While several extraction methods are commonly used today, hydrodistillation remains one of the most popular choices. For more high-quality terpenes and products, visit Medical Terpenes today!

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