Essential Oils from Flower Crops
Authors: D. V. S. Raju, K. V. Prasad, Namita and Prabhat Kumar
Division of Floriculture and Landscaping
IARI, New Delhi-110012

In India, floriculture has been associated with culture and heritage since ancient time. In the increasingly competitive international market, new and novel business in essential oils plays an important role in stabilization and expanding market share. Besides, many aromatic crops yielding aromatic oils, some of the ornamental plants like rose, jasmine, tuberose, etc., apart from their ornamental value, also yield very good high grade aromatic essential oils. Flowers have been known for a long time to be source of sweet fragrance. Their ornamental value is not only for their size and shape but abundance of flowering and their fragrance have attracted attention. Flowers provide one of the most important essential oils which are indispensable in perfumery production.

Essential oil are the subtle, aromatic and volatile liquids extracted from the flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark and roots of herbs, bushes, shrubs, and trees, through different extraction producers. An oil is "essential" in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Essential oils do not, as a group, have any specific chemical or pharmaceutical properties in common. Instead, they are defined by the fact that they convey characteristic fragrances. The United States is the largest user of essential oils.

Global Trade

Essential Oils represent a significant upstream business opportunity for agricultural sector. These oils are used in a wide range of areas, from cooking to aromatherapy and perfumes, and based on its uses, requires strict quality production protocols. According to the United Nation’s COMTRADE database, global imports of essential oils stood at US$2bn in 2005. Spending rose by an annual average of 8% between 2000 and 2005 but there was no corresponding increase in volume. As listed by COMTRADE, the top ten import markets in 2005 were the United States of America (US$391mn), France ($199mn), the United Kingdom ($175mn), Japan ($152mn), Germany ($117mn), Switzerland ($103mn), Ireland ($75mn), China ($65mn), Singapore ($61mn) and Spain ($61mn). The fastest growing markets, based on import spending between 2000 and 2005, included Vietnam(14% growth per annum), Poland (35% per annum),Nigeria (16%), Turkey (25%), South Africa (14%), Indonesia (14%), Saudi Arabia (14%), India (19%),Spain (13%), Singapore (35%), Switzerland (14%) and Japan (13%). In 2008, the top 10 exporters of essential oils were the USA, India, France, Brazil, Indonesia, the UK, Germany, China, Argentina, and Switzerland. These countries can be seen as Joint venture targets particularly in those sectors where currently no trade in essential oils is occurring.

The demand for essential oils is increasing and the major reason is the growing popularity of aromatherapy. India’s biodiversity coupled with its vast resources, including competitive work force, highly intelligent scientific and rich business community make our country the best choice for growing flower crops for essential oil trade. To meet the demand of good quality essential oil, these can be extracted by using different methods depending upon the flower crop.

Essential oil extraction methods

For mankind’s multifarious needs, essential oil must often not only be separated from the solid portion of plant tissue, but must be further processed to comparatively pure form. The basic system for accomplishing the extraction process is distillation, enfleurage (Cold fat extraction), maceration (Hot fat extraction), solvent extraction, expression and supercritical fluid extraction (SCFE). Distillation has always been the most widely practised method of essential oil production but enfleurage and supercritical fluid extraction (SCFE) methods are called for to trap such delicate essences as are utilized in perfumery, which would be altered or destroyed by distillation. Solvent extraction and SCFE are recent processes, which show considerable promise and are in many cases invading fields where distillation or enfleurage was formerly customary.

Fig.1 Basic flow sheet of operations necessary to obtain an essential oils or derivatives from flower crops

Technical terms used in the trade

It is the prepared perfumed material. Absolutes are highly concentrated, entirely alcohol soluble and usually liquid perfume material. They are obtained by alcohol extraction of concrete or from fat extracts of plant material. Here, the waxes terpenes, sesquiterpenes and most of the odourless materials are eliminated.

It is a non " purified form of essential oil obtained mostly by means of solvent extraction where the essential oils, plant pigments and waxes are present. From concrete, the absolute is obtained. The concrete may yield about 45-50% of absolute on a weight basis.

It is an alcoholic solution of odorous part of pomade. This is an intermediate product in the preparation of absolute from pomades.

In perfumery a fixatives literally means a material which slows down the rate of evaporation of more volatile materials in a perfume composition, e.g. Sandalwood.

An oleoresin is either a natural or a prepared material. Natural oleoresins are exudations from the trunk, bark, etc. The prepared oleoresins, on the other hand, are liquid preparations extracted from plants with the help of solvents, which can extract oil and resinous matter.

Table 1: List of Essential oils from flowers
Essential oil Flower crop Uses
Rose oil , Rosa damascena or Rosa centifolia Distilled from rose petals and used primarily in perfumery.
Rosehip oil Rosa rubiginosa Distilled from the seeds of rose and used medicinally.
Geranium oil Pelargonium graveolens Used medicinally, particularly in aromatherapy, used for hormonal imbalance, for this reason geranium is often considered to be "female" oil.
Jasmine oil Jasminum grandiflorum Used for its flowery fragrance.
Lavender oil Lavendula officinalis Used primarily as a fragrance and also as medicinally.
Tuberose oil Polianthes tuberosa L. The flowers have a strong odour and on extraction yield highly valued natural flower oil
Champaka or champa oil Michelia champaka L. The oil is highly esteemed in perfumery and also used in preparation of attars and hair oils
Temple or plumeria oil Plumeria acutifolia The oil may be used in perfumery and medicine preparation
Magnolia Magnolia stellata Used in perfumery
Cestrum oil Cestrum nocturnum Used in perfumery and preparation of attars
Parijata Oil Nyctanthes arbortristis Less available but may be used in perfumery
Keora oil Pandanus odorotissimus Used in attar preparation by maceration of flowers and use in cosmetics
Marigold oil Calendula officinalis Dark green or brown viscous oil with a sharp, herbaceous fragrance. Used to treat burns, cuts, greasy skins and rashes
Melissa oil Melissa officinalis The oil has a lemony aroma and sharp, floral lemon flavour
Junniper oil Juniperus communis Used as hairloss, oily complexion, cellulite, diabetes and female reproductive system remedy
Basil oil Ocimum basilicum Wide range of culinary uses. Basil’s floral spicy odour is also excellent for use in perfumery

Before starting a business in extraction of essential oils and further their use in perfumery, medicine, etc. maintenance of all qualities of essential oils by steam distillation extraction procedure using extremely low pressure & low heat should be ensured. There are in general four grades of essential oils which should be kept in mind prior to starting a business.
• The oil should be pure i.e. no dilution with a lesser quality essential oil.
• The oil must be natural i.e. no adulteration with vegetable oils, propylene glycol, SD Alcohol 40 or other chemicals.
• These oils should be complete i.e. not rectified or purified (means stripped or redistilled.) Essential oils are often redistilled to make a small amount of oil. They can make more profit that way. The problem is, when you redistill the oil you lose the therapeutic properties. It's like using a tea bag over & over again. There are anywhere from 200 - 800 chemical constituents that make up a single essential oil. When the oil is not distilled properly, you will be left with as few as 10.
• The essential oils should be genuine & authentic or grade A as these are the cream of the crop.


With the fast changing scenario in floriculture trade, the availability of different climatic zones, good climate and soil, cheap labour and skilled manpower, our growers can do extremely well in competitive sector by taking steps for essential oil extraction as a business in the fast changing scenario.

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