Latin name: Artemisia californica
Calfornia Sagebrush is not a true sage, although you would think that judging from its name. It is in the Asteraceae or Compositae family. Medicinal plants belonging to this family include the chamomile, the field and pot marigolds, daisy, mugwort, wormwood, chicory, thistles, ragwort and artichoke. The Luiseno, Cahuilla, Costanoans and Chumash first nations people relied on California sagebrush for many purposes ranging from girls puberty rites, menstruation teas, to bring back pleasant memories, anxiety, bronchitis, colds, flus, wound healing and depression.
My first California Sage distillation, was on June 3, 2017. I gathered the sagebrush the day before and started the distillation the next morning. This plant has fine feathery leaves, so I carefully removed them from the stems and placed them in the mother flask. The weight of the plant material is so light I felt it was safe to pack in a large amount as the steam would break it down fairly quickly. My distillation unit is very small (2 liter capacity), therefore it is difficult to get a substantial amount of essential oil out and easier to create a hydrosol (see definition of hydrosol below). I started around 9'oclock a.m. and I saw the first drop of hydrosol at 9:07. This was a "true steam distillation" which means no water is mixed with the plant material in the mother flask as opposed to a "steam and water distillation" which mixes the plant material with water in the mother flask. Both methods are used for different reasons usually depending on what is being distilled.
While these alchemical steps are occurring, the contemplation of my own transmutation is happening. I take notes. I attend to the temperature of the mother flask and the ice bucket, and I also add more water to the steam generator flask, if needed. I stand over the receiving flask and breathe in the vapor. I am becoming it and it is becoming me.
The aroma is sharp and sweet. I feel my lungs expand. There is a quality of direction. After two hours the small receiving flask became full. I carefully poured out its contents to a glass jar. Everything is still going as I did not detach anything. The yield was approximately 2 cups at this point. I tasted it. Wow intense concentration of constituents. I sat with the first batch, which means I literally put the jar on my lap, closed my eyes, and repeatedly inhaled it. Again it went straight to my lungs and chest. Bitter and warm with a lingering sweetness. The spiritual or energetic quality I felt tapped my heart. There was an opened awareness with a undeviating focus. I continued.....And I will continue to form the relationship with California sagebrush from the inhalations, the taste, the misting on my skin, and the meditations in reverence for her teachings.
I love distilling outside. I saw a huge turkey vulture fly over. Lizards sunning, bees buzzing, butterflies dancing, hummingbirds darting and in a nearby tree a raven was making one of my favorite sounds.
How is a hydrosol made?
Refer to the photo above as I explain how a hydrosol and an essential oil are made. First, water is heated from the steam generator flask that sits on the burner (the image closest to you). As the water begins to boil the steam travels through the steam hose (the black tubing) into the plant material via the steam injection tube (the glass rod) in the center of the mother flask (where you can see the plant material). From here the steam slowly breaks down the plant material. This allows the release of volatile constituents to rise into the condenser (the glass insulated rod that is situated downward). The top plastic tube you see is exiting heated water into an ice bath below the table. There is a circulating pump in the ice bath to recycle the cooling water. The second tube on the lower half is the water entrance for the condenser. As the steam is cooled, it transforms into liquid and is gathered in the receiving flask (the small glass bottle you see at the back of the photo). This will end up looking like a milky vessel of water with a film floating on top or settling below. The water solution is called the hydrosol and the oily solution within this base is the essential oil. Water and essential oils do not mix. To extract the essential oil from the hydrosol a separator unit is often used. The proportions of plant material used in this distillation resulted in the minuscule amounts of essential oil suspended in the hydrosol. Therefore, there was no need to extract the oil. If I was working with a larger still then the oil would need time to settle out before extracting.
What is a hydrosol?
A hydrosol is synonymous with hydrolate, flower water or aromatic water. It refers to the water product of the distillation and it carries the hydrophilic (water loving) properties of the plant. Within every hydrosol their are microscopic droplets of essential oil. Hydrosols are gentle and can be applied directly on the skin without dilution. Unlike essential oils that should not be applied undiluted. Hydrosols have benefits of being highly anti-inflammatory, hydrating to the skin, they make great bases for cosmetics, they are recommended for internal use, deemed safe for infants, children and pets (topically). What you can expect from the aroma is usually greener, sharper, and wild. Many hydrosols have a shelf life between 1-2 years, storing them in the refrigerator will help extend their life. Hopefully you will be integrating them into your wellness routine and they will be finished long before that period.
*Do not use California Sagebrush, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, suffer from seizure disorders, or have high blood pressure. If you have allergies relating to the Asteraceae family - do not use as cross-reactivity is common.
Planting a Native Landscape
The California native plant companions to California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) are Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum), Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus). They are spectacular in the wild and make for a great drought tolerant, insect, butterfly, bee, and bird loving habitat in your own landscape.
Garcia and Adams. (2012) Healing with Medicinal Plants. La Crescenta, Ca. Abedus Press.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and information on distilling California sagebrush, and also hydrosol. I realize this is an older post but the information remains valuable to me. I am a candle-maker in Wyoming where we have 21 species of sagebrush with 16 varieties. I recently purchased a very small copper still made solely for the purpose of distilling essential oils. I can purchase essential oils all day long; but it is difficult to find sagebrush essential oil. I have found it and have purchased it at exorbitant prices. And now I am finished paying those high prices when I am literally surrounded by sagebrush. My question is, what part of the sagebrush plant should I be using in the distillation process? Most plants have oils in all parts, the bark, leaves, seeds, etc. And each part will produce a different nose and possibly more product or oil. Your post seemed to indicate you used the leaves, I believe. Do you not think the bark would produce oil? Or have you tested the bark and know the smell is awful, lol, or there isn’t enough oil to be worth the effort? I just have so many questions that I could go on and on, but I suppose I’m trying to gain all of your knowledge without testing everything myself. Thank you in advance for any insight you may lend my way.