From harvest to distillation: a day of Myrtus

The alchemist’s journey continues with the experience of the first distillation. But before you get there, there is a lot of work to be done.

One of the things you definitely need to do is to collect the plants you want to distill. Here is a short report on our day of harvesting myrtle (Myrtus communis), a beautiful evergreen tree with deep green leaves and playfully elegant white flowers.

To gain the highest quality of pure essential oil through steam distillation we collected young leaves and flowering twiglets of myrtle. It took a whole day for 7 people in the heat of August to collect enough plant material for a distillation that resulted only a few hundred mls of myrtle oil.

We worked hard all day, only with a lunch break early afternoon to recharge our energy level. Classic food of field workers: salt-cured olives, goat cheese, barley rusk (paximadi) and tomatoes. Optionally to some local mates, Greek coffee and freshly rolled cigars.

Harvest was finished late afternoon and as myrtle has to be distilled fresh, once collection had been completed, we drove to the magical kingdom of the Wild Herbs of Crete distillery. Once of a lifetime experience (that will hopefully be followed by many): the very first steam distillation I ever attended after completing my aromatherapy studies. The real-time process and real-life experience I’ve been waiting to see for long!

About 30 boxes of fresh myrtle were fed into the stainless steel distillery units and locked to get a steam bath. Have you seen the move ‘Perfume’ – the classic for every fragrance-lover? Well, in about 3 hours from start, the first magical drops started dripping around midnight. Alchemy has now become a true experience!

We had some Cretan chairs to offer comfy seating while having a close-up on the exciting show and waiting to see the outcome of today’s harvest. I have to admit I could’t stay up all night like Babis, a master distiller who was supervising the process until the last drop was rolling down through the 9 meter long spiral cooling system.

The special Florence flask was collecting the best juices of essential oil distillation: liquid gold on top, while fragrant water below. They are being separated from here then. 300 ml of pure myrtle essential oil is the precious end product of all this work day and night. You ask why? The essential oil of myrtle is not only a delicate fresh perfume, but it tonifies the skin, helps respiration and infections of the lung, just to mention some of its healing properties. In addition to helping the body, it balances the mind, calms down the nerves, helps to handle anger, frustrations, fears.

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