Essential oils of India, is an area of interest for Zizira. What we learnt while exploring this area is what we are presenting here, which includes information on top 5 essential oils produced in India.
You may wonder why essential oils? Curiosity, they say, kills a cat, but it seems to give Zizira a boost of life! Our constant curiosity and quest to discover hidden agricultural and horticultural potential of Meghalaya leads us to many different organizations and one such as the Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Bangalore.
(CIMAP) is a veritable treasure house of knowledge about aromatic and medicinal plants that is enriched further by the extensive research that is carried out to discover new strains of these plants. Set up by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISR), CIMAP is a premier plant research organization with its headquarters in Lucknow and four other research centers.
We were very fortunate to meet the Chief Scientist of CIMAP, Bangalore, Dr. Sundaresan. His love for what he does shone through and he took the time to educate us on aromatic and medicinal plants.
The patience and diligence with which he explained made it clear to us that there is nothing better that CIMAP would like than to see farmers benefiting from all the work they are doing in developing better strains of these plants. Dr. Sundaresan was really happy to know that we were there looking for better opportunities for farmers in Northeast India.
(R to L): Dr. Sundaresan, Chief Scientist, CIMAP, Bangalore with Zizira team members Indeed, our visit to CIMAP, Bangalore, is proving to be an eye-opener. We are seeing potential for farmers in Meghalaya to benefit by cultivating aromatic plants that can grow well in the cool hilly regions of Meghalaya, for example Geranium and rosemary.
Zizira is taking the path of discovery about aromatic plants to the next level by doing a test cultivation run in a few farms. We bought some aromatic plants from CIMAP, Bangalore, and are testing to see which of these do well in Meghalaya. Based on the outcome, the next step will be to encourage farmers to diversify into aromatic plants, so they make better returns.
Benefits to Farmers in Growing Aromatic Plants
Growing medicinal & aromatic plants is good diversification option for farmers.
Of course there should be an assured market for aromatic plants the farmers grow. Zizira will work to make this happen.
Meanwhile, we wanted to keep you, our readers, posted about what we have learnt thus far about essential oils of India. Maybe you are an expert and know enough? If yes, and you are a well-wisher of Northeast India, please share your thoughts. We would love to hear from you. Add them as comments.
Tell us where we could start and what we could do - of course with the overall objective of the farmers getting an assured and better returns for their efforts.
What are Essential Oils?
For those who could do with an intro to essential oils – here is a simple version!
Only tender twig of Eucalyptus Citriodora like you see above is used as bio-mass for distilling essential oil through steam distillation. Mostly used in the perfumery, cosmetics, soaps industries, food & beverages, aromatherapy and so on, essential oils have an ever increasing demand. The numbers are mind boggling. See for yourself.
The global essential oil market is expected to reach USD 11.67 billion by 2022, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. Growing consumer awareness regarding health benefits associated with natural and organic personal care products is expected to remain a key driving factor for global essential oil market over the forecast period.
Growth of organic product industry has prompted major manufacturers to shift their focus from synthetic to natural additives. (Source)
When you crush a leaf of eucalyptus between your fingers do you not get a whiff of smell similar to what you find in balms used to fight cold? The aroma of freshly plucked mint – does it not transport you? It is so refreshing and soothing, is it not? Or the scent of a tangy flavor you get when you scratch the skin of a lemon or an orange – hmmmm!
The volatile compounds that produce these smells and aromas are what combine to make essential oils. Broadly, essential oils are complex mixture of volatile chemical compounds that are found in the leaves, flowers, stems and roots etc. of plants. The most popular method used to extract essential oils from plants is through steam distillation.
Freshly distilled Essential Oil of Eucalyptus Citriodora. Note that the oil is a bit cloudy. It is further filtered to get clear, transparent essential oil.
Did you know?
Most plants produce essential oils as protection or as means of communication with nature (like ‘I am ready for pollination’ or while getting over 'stress' of drought etc). These oils have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and even anti-inflammatory properties. Essential oils of value are those from aromatic and medicinal plants.
The composition and quality of an essential oil can be affected by conditions under which the plants are cultivated, like the soil, the climate changes and nutritional short comings and so on.
Quality Herbs Very Important for Quality Essential Oil
Quality of the herbs, I understand, is very important – more than the yield of herbage. Unless the quality of the herb is right, the essential oil extracted will not meet the standards the discerning buyers look for.
Can Essential Oil Can Be Extracted From All Plants?
Most plants have essential oils, but some have in such small amounts that it does not make business sense to extract them. Or their chemical constituents may not be of interest to the industry.
Top 5 Essential Oils of India, Volume of Production-wise
1. Mentha Oil from Mentha Arvensis also called Menthol Mint, Japanese Mint or Corn Mint
Mentha oil is a major essential oil of India. Mentha Arvensis from which it is distilled is a perennial herb that grows to a height of 60 to 75 cms. Because it has a short harvest cycle (can be harvested 3 months after planting), farmers cultivate it in-between two major crops. It is easy to propagate through cuttings.
The content of the chemical 'menthol' determines the price the oil can command. The herb yields 0.8 to 1% oil. In one Acre one can expect around 60 to 70 Kgs of oil through steam distillation.
In early 2016 the price of the essential oil of Mentha Arvensis was around Rs. 800 to Rs. 900 per Kg. Did you know that India is a world leader in Mint oil? In 2014-15 India produced over 35,000 Metric Tonne (MT) of Mentha oil and exported over 25,000 MT.
2. Peppermint Oil from Metha Piperita
Native to Europe, this too is a perennial herb, which grows to 85 to 90 cm. Peppermint is known as black mint or candy mint. It can be cultivated well in areas with cool climate and well distributed rainfall. The essential oil of Mentha Piperita is known for its sweet flavor.
Organically grown peppermint oil is highly valued. The plant yields 0.5% of essential oil and from one Acre it is possible to get around 40 Kg of peppermint oil. The price in 2015 was between Rs. 800 and Rs.1000 per Kg.
The estimated production of Peppermint oil in India in 2011 was 1,200 MT (Source of data: CIMAP, Bangalore).
3. Sweet Basil Oil
The essential oil of Sweet Basil or French Basil or Common Basil or Ocimum Basilicum, as it is called is much in demand in both the perfumery and flavoring industries.
India is the largest producer of Sweet Basil oil in the world.The plant is an erect one growing up to 120 cm in height and because of its adaptability it can thrive in a variety of environments, right from sea level to heights of over 1000 m (3000 ft)!
The flowers are white or purplish white. Two types of sweet basil oils are produced - European type that has more than 50% Linalool; and Reunion type that has more Methyl Chavicol and has a spicy odour.
Do not worry if these names are confusing at the first read! These are the chemical constituents of the essential oil. This essential oil of India is used as herbal spice, in cosmetics, in fly repellents, as flavoring agent in soups and so on.The plant yields 0.4% oil and so from one acre one can expect around 80 Kgs of essential oil.
The estimated production of Sweet Basil in India in 2011 was 500 MT (Source of data: CIMAP, Bangalore). The price of Sweet Basil oil was around Rs. 900 in 2015.
4. Lemongrass oil
Lemongrass is an indigenous aromatic grass and India has been a traditional producer of lemongrass oil. The plant yields 0.8 to 1% of essential oil which comes to around 80 Kg per acre per year.
In 2015 the price of Lemongrass oil was around Rs 800 a kg. Best part is it is a sturdy plant and does not get any pest attacks. The best variety is Krishna (a CIMAP cultivar). The plant is propagated from cuttings (or slips) and the first harvest can be had 8 to 9 months after planting.
Lemongrass oil with citral content of 75 to 80% is in demand in the market. The steam distillation is done the same day, within a few hours of harvesting. The estimated production of lemongrass oil in India in 2011 was 150 MT (Source of data: CIMAP, Bangalore)
5. Citronella Oil
Citronella plant looks a lot like Lemongrass but a trained eye can make out the difference. This too is a sturdy plant, with no major pest attacks. It can grow in a variety of soils. Essential oil from Citronella is used in soaps, detergent, mosquito repellent and cosmetics.
The yield of the best variety is around 1% which results in 80 to 100 Kg of oil per acre per year. I understand that the Citronella oils trades a bit higher than the lemongrass oil. In 2015 the average price was around Rs 1000 a Kg.
The herbage is quickly sent for steam distillation. The estimated production of Citronella oil in India in 2011 was 100 MT (Source of data: CIMAP, Bangalore). Both lemongrass oil and citronella oil continue to be one of the much in demand essential oils of India.
Zizira will soon be starting essential oil extraction using a very basic distillation unit we have. The plan is to then send the samples for GC (Gas Chromatography) testing - which will tell us the grade and quality of the oils. Those results will guide us to our next steps.
As always we will continue on our path of explorations and 'discoveries' - of ways in which to help the farmers of Northeast India prosper. We will keep you posted about what we find in our new trail - of aromatic plants and essential oils. I had a question. If Zizira had a product line of essential oils in our online store, will you be interested? Maybe for your personal use or for buying in bulk? Add your comments or contact us.