Distilling Essential Oils from Southwest Medicinal Plants

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Tomas Enos
El Milagro Herbs, Inc.

Information Products


  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity


    The purpose of this project was to demonstrate and document the economical and technological feasibility of distilling three popular and abundant Southwest medicinal plants into marketable essential oils; pinyon pine (Pinus edulis), alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) and desert sage (Artemisia tridentata).

    The project was organized into three phases:

    -Bulk plant collection, distillation and final product bottling;

    -Essential oil production education and outreach;

    -Marketing demonstration and development.

    Raw plant material for distillation was harvested from two distinct sites; one north of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the other north of Silver City, New Mexico. All three plants are native species and abundant throughout New Mexico and the Southwest. The time period of the project from 2012 to 2013 proved to be challenging climatically, as severe drought was widespread in the project area, affecting the growth cycle of even native species and their available constituents. Fortunately, abundant rains in fall 2013 helped to invigorate the leaf structure of the targeted species, allowing for greater net distilled oils.

    Records were kept for harvest sites and times to identify possible factors for maximizing distillation of oils and hydrosols. Each plant material was bulk collected, then clipped manually to cull out unwanted stalks and stems, then passed through a gasoline-powered chipper/shredder to break down the live material for steam distillation. All weights of processed material were documented before heating.

    Of the three species processed, desert sage had the best results for net marketable products of essential oil (1.5%) from raw harvested material. Next in economic viability was pinyon pine (1.2%) and juniper was third (.95%).

    Labor was the single greatest cost associated with the harvesting and processing of plant material for each species. Pinyon had the least cost input with juniper and desert sage having second and third.

    Overall the project produced positive impacts as other agricultural producers expressed great interest in pursuing distillation for value-added income throughout New Mexico. Other possible agricultural crops, such as lavender (Lavandula sp.), were identified as ecologically-suited for distillation. Markets were identified for final essential oil distribution such as hotels, gift shops and spas, as well as direct marketing to consumers through farmers markets and farm-based retail stores.

    Project objectives:

    1)      To Purchase Distillation Equipment

    2)      To Attend Training for Distillation of Essential Oils

    3)      To Harvest and Process Targeted Plant Materials from Sites

    4)      To Conduct Test marketing of Finished Essential Oil Product

    5)      To Design and Implement Documentation of Project

    6)      To Conduct On-Site Outreach for Potential Producers

    7)      To Publish Informational Materials

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.