This summer has been fabulous. I had a great experience on a road trip seeking out hydrosol distillers. On part of my journey, I drove North into some remote country, crossed through a gate and entered a beautiful organic farm. Every wild plant on almost 300 acres was special and served its purpose by bringing us treasures of hydrosols. What an amazing experience to see the big copper stills, walk through the sacred grounds that are nourishing flowers, herbs, and various plants.
My hostess Annie was remarkable, with her knowledge of the plants easily flowing into our conversation. I could have stayed for days, but only had a few hours. I bent down and savored the aroma of the various plants and was reminded how blessed we all are with our oils and hydrosols. Annie made a comment how essential oils and hydrosols are “like a fine wine”. I’ve often thought of the oils this way and agreed with her. The seasons, climate, rain or drought all affect the chemical composition of our oils and hydrosols. Some years are exceptional and others acceptable.
How are hydrosols made?
The distillation process involves filling the still with plant material and passing steam through the plant under pressure. The pressurized steam breaks open the cells of the plant and release its oil content. The steam and the oil molecules pass through a cooling condenser, which turns the steam back to water. The water is collected in a Florentine flask and the oil generally floats on the surface of the water. This water is the hydrosol.
Large Copper Still
Elizabeth Anne Jones states, “A hydrosol contains 99 percent water that is chemically bonded to less than 1 percent essential oil. Some of the water-soluble constituents of the plant remained married to the powerful qualities of the essential oil. This creates a perfect phytotherapy wedding of the herb and the oil”. She also says that the hydrosols are a more complete carrier of the chemical imprint of the whole plant. An example that Elizabeth sites in the case of the hydosol Saint John’s Wort. It contains tannins, flavonoids, and xanthones that do not exist in the essential oil.
Suzanne Catty in her book, Hydrosols, the next Aromatherapy, states that hydrosols contain all of the plant in every drop, just like a hologram.
There are many terms used for hydrosols, but what I look for is the distillation of the plant. Water with essential oil added has its benefits but is not a “true” hydrosol. I also look for organic or unsprayed hydrosols.
What are some traditional uses for hydrosols?
I have grown to appreciate organic St John’s Wort Hydrosol (Hypericum perforatum) and organic Lemon Balm Hydrosol (Melissa officinalis) in a glass of water when I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. I spritz organic Peppermint Hydrosol (Mentha x piperita) on my face and neck when I need to cool off. I also use Peppermint hydrosol as a base for mosquito repellent. Lavender is great as a toner. I spray Cornflower Hydrosol (Centaurea cyanus) directly into my eyes when they are itchy from allergies. Calendula Hydrosol (Calendula officinalis) is great for cuts and slow healing wounds. Most are antibacterial and antiviral. Bay Laurel Hydrosol (Laurus nobilis) has had great success with lymphatic drainage. German Chamomile Hydrosol (Matricaria recutita) is soothing, calming and emotionally uplifting. Hydrosols contain so many more benefits!
Suzanne Caty states, “They can be played with, consumed, bathed in, washed with, poured in fountains, mixed with champagne, used on your pets, fed to your plants, and more”.
In talking with Annie, she said it is best to store the hydrosols in a cool, dark place and not necessarily the refrigerator. Consistency is important in the shelf life of the hydrosols. Most hydrosols should be used within 1-2 years. If they’ve gone beyond their shelf life a white cloud appears in the hydrosol. At that point, either use for a room spray or discard.
I’m having fun trying out the different hydrosols and am patiently waiting for the next batch to arrive!
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