By Erin Oberlander, Certified Holistic Aromatherapist
Hydrosols are becoming more well-known in the home and natural health care communities, and this is causing many to wonder how to make a hydrosol. In order to understand this, we must first look at the distillation process of essential oils.
First, a distiller will gather and prepare plant material. Sometimes the plant material will be dried before distillation; other times the plant material will be distilled immediately to yield the highest amount of essential oil. Once the plant material has been prepared, the distiller will put the plant material into the body of a distillation vessel. To this, a moderate amount of pure water will be added. The distiller will be fully assembled at this point — including the condenser as well as the containers into which the byproducts of distillation will be collected.
Then heat will be applied to the distillation vessel. As the water boils and the steam rises, it carries with it the aromatic compounds and some of the herbaceous qualities of the plant material into the steam. As this steam condenses, it becomes liquid once again. But this liquid is no longer water — it has become the two by-products of the distillation process: the essential oil and the hydrosol, or flower water. These two liquids are most often different weights. The essential oil will separate from the hydrosol and either rise to the top or sink to the bottom and then will be siphoned off and bottled. The remaining liquid is the hydrosol which will also be bottled and used for therapeutic purposes.
In order to understand the uses of hydrosol, we must also understand what are essential oils. As discussed in a previous article, the essential oils represent the immune system and the reproductive system of highly-evolved plants. These aromatic chemical compounds serve as information for our brain where they are interpreted in various ways by the brain and then impact the body accordingly. Because we have similar biological systems to plants, we can deduce that the essential oils may work similarly in our bodies, both as protective and immunological support for the body and as hormone and mood enhancers and balancers.
When it comes to hydrosols vs. essential oils, most people are familiar with the latter but have little experience with the former. The reasons for this are myriad, but one of the primary reasons is that the essential oil industry has done much to champion the cause of essential oils in recent years while doing less to educate consumers on the benefits of hydrosols. However, when we look at the process of how to make a hydrosol — essentially the distillation process itself, we see that the hydrosol is ALSO a product of the plant’s immune and reproductive systems. As such, the hydrosol will have many of the same benefits of the same essential oil PLUS additional benefits. The hydrosol does have a small amount of the essential oil of the plant suspended within it. But it contains some of the herbaceous elements of the plant as well. This will change the scent of the hydrosol slightly as compared to the essential oil. Because of the addition of these herbaceous notes, some aromatherapists and scientists believe that the hydrosol may actually have additional benefits to the body as compared to the essential oil.
An added benefit of hydrosol vs. essential oils is that the hydrosol by its very nature is already pre-diluted for use, meaning, the amount of essential oil within the hydrosol is small and already contained within a carrier (the water). This increases the safety aspects of hydrosols. Whereas an essential oil on its own can be quite potent and needs to be diluted in a carrier oil or not used by certain groups of individuals (elderly, pregnant women, or children), the hydrosol of the same plant will most of the time be quite safe to use.
So we see that the answer of how to make a hydrosol is that plant material must be distilled. This can be a fun area of exploration for the home handcrafter. A small distiller is all that is needed to produce a hydrosol (though note that you will get very little yield of essential oil using a small distiller). Many companies now produce alembic stills of 1-5 liters which are ideal for the beginning stages of experimentation with distillation. Most of these can be heated on your stove top and will fit into your cupboards. I would suggest starting your distillation journey with common plants such as lavender, chamomile, and mints — and lavender hydrosol is sure to become a favorite for your family.
If home distillation does not resonate with you, it is heartening to note that hydrosols are beginning to be much more widely available. Check with your local health food store to see if they carry any hydrosols. If not, source them from companies that have an eye to sustainability and purity factors. Two of my favorite sources for ordering hydrosols are Mountain Rose Herbs and Floracopeia.
The applications for hydrosols are almost endless.
- Use the hydrosol as a linen spray.
- Use the hydrosol as a body spray.
- Use the hydrosol as an air freshener (spraying into a ceiling fan can help distribute).
- Diffuse the hydrosol in your home diffuser.
- Spray the hydrosol into your dryer before you dry your clothes as a much healthier alternative to dryer sheets.
- Add hydrosol to your bath water.
And finally, when it comes to soap making techniques, and if and when you have a larger quantity of hydrosol, you may use the hydrosol as your water phase in cold process soap-making. This can help to layer a scent and anchor it a bit in the final bar. For example, use a lavender hydrosol as your water phase, and then also scent the bar with lavender essential oil.
For a deeper dive into hydrosols and their uses, check out Jeanne Rose’s book 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols.
Erin Oberlander is a Certified Holistic Aromatherapist and owner of Prairie Soap House & Apothecary. Connect with her on Facebook and on her website: www.prairiearomatherapy.com