Hydrosols have been around ever since the process of steam distillation was invented by a famed Arabic inventor known as Avicenna, sometime between 1000 and 1037 AD and were popular in the Middle East for a number of reasons. Many of us may use hydrosols as products on their own, but in most cases, the truth is that we don’t even see them as they’re added to a variety of different products which we use on a regular basis.
Hydrosols are frequently included in personal products such as deodorants, toothpastes, fragrances, and skin care products (such as moisturizers, toners, and cleansers) as well as a number of conventional cosmetics products such as lipsticks, foundation or eyeliner. Hydrosols are well known for their nutrient, vitamin and mineral compounds which help to nourish and soothe the skin when applied topically – hence their addition to a variety of different products.
However, hydrosols (or herbal distillates) are also frequently used in cooking and in the creation of a variety of natural health tonics. Because the distillates are rich in natural flavors, yet also contain a large, and often concentrated, amount of the phytochemicals – vitamins, and minerals that make the organic material so potent – they can be used to help boost the flavor of juices and smoothies while also adding to their natural health benefits.
The added bonus of herbal distillates, or hydrosol waters, is that they’re relatively cheap and more user-friendly than essential oils – which often require some experience or research. Hydrosols are a lot lighter in terms of concentration and mineral/vitamin content but can be used more vigorously than essential oils and in a wider variety of uses without the risk of side-effects or serious health issues. They’re ideal for people allergies, or those who have sensitive stomachs and can even be used on children without posing any threat to their health.
What Are Hydrosols? How Are Hydrosols Made?
Hydrosols are essentially a by-product of the steam distillation process that is used to create essential oils and are a lot less potent than the highly concentrated essential oil because they’re formed from the waste products that are used in the creation of essential oil. But don’t let that put you off, hydrosols are still perfectly healthy and are a lot more user-friendly than essential oils for a number of reasons.
But in order to understand how hydrosols are formed, we have to understand how the ancient process of steam distillation works in the first place. To begin with, the desired organic material is collected and added to a vat which is filled with boiling water (usually around 98 – 100 C) in order to help enable the extraction of the vital phytonutrients, vitamins, and various active chemical compounds that are contained within the cells of the organic material.
The heat helps to break down the physical components of the organic material and allows for the release of the essential oils – which are now contained in the water, much like a warm tea of sorts. The vat is connected to a smaller cooling chamber via a thin pipe, which is usually at a higher pressure than that of the vat itself. The essential oils are contained within the steam which is formed as the heat causes evaporation.
The organic material is usually left to brew for around 5-6 hours. During this time, the steam containing all the essential oils of the organic material is collected in the cooling chamber, where it then condensates in order to form droplets that form the now purified essential oil of the original organic matter.
However, a lot of the essential oil tends to remain in the boiling the water. After the vat is allowed to cool down, the remaining organic material is cleared from the vat and what’s left is known as a distillate – or the hydrosol.
This nutrient rich water is already purified – making it suitable for topical use and ingestion immediately and is generally bottled directly after the steam distillation process is completed. Because the essential oils have been blended with the water, they are a lot lighter than the concentrated essential oil and are therefore easier to use right out of the bottle.
Where to Find Hydrosols
Because hydrosols have become quite popular both in terms of their use in alternative medicine as well as in a range of different culinary uses, they’re often readily available in a number of places. Generally speaking, you’ll be more likely to find a wider selection of hydrosols in a health store or holistic medicine outlet as they tend to specialize in stocking a wider range of health products than your average green grocer.
However, certain hydrosols, such as rose water, are a lot more common as they’re regularly used in baking or savory dishes and you’ll most likely be able to find it in a regular grocery store. If you live close to a baking supply store, you could also try looking there or any store that specializes in selling herbs and spices.
If you’re looking for a specific type of hydrosol though, and are interested in buying in bulk or saving money on your purchase, the internet is most likely the place where you’ll find the best deal, as many health food stores have online shopping facilities that cater for more specific needs. If you buy in bulk, you can usually save money through a shipping discount or a discount on your goods as an incentive that many online stores have to promote business.
However, the only issue when it comes to buying anything online is that you aren’t able to physically view and test the product before using it which means you’re at the mercy of the supplier – plus there’s always the possibility that your goods could be damaged during shipping.
So I would recommend sticking to a trusted brand with a lot of reviews and as a general rule of thumb, it’s always better to spend a little more on shipping insurance to ensure that your goods are protected, rather than taking the risk of a small saving in the short-run and wind up losing the product altogether due to a shipping accident.
— Tisserand Institute (@TisserandInst) February 5, 2018
DIY Hydrosol Recipe and Guide
While hydrosols are quite cheap and easy to acquire, you can save a lot of money (and learn some valuable skills) by trying the process out at home. Granted that you have the right equipment, you can basically cut out the need to ever buy hydrosols ever again once you get the technique right. Free hydrosols for life? Who wouldn’t agree to that. So here’s what you’ll need:
– A stainless steel stock pot with a lid that has a steam hole
– A metal/stainless steel vegetable steamer (which should fit the dimensions of your stock pot)
– A large bowl
– 3 Liters of distilled water or spring water
– At least 300 grams (10 oz) of the relevant herb/flower that you wish to base the hydrosol on
– A bag of ice or a coolant brick
– A glass mason jar
The process of making the hydrosol is quite easy and can be down in the background while you go on with your day at home. First, pour the water into the bowl and add your organic material. Let the organic material rest in the water for at least 2-3 hours. Once the time has elapsed, place the vegetable steamer on top of the water, ideally holding the organic material underneath it, place the lid on top of the bowl upside down and bring the water to a boil.
While the water is boiling, place the bag of ice or coolant brick on top of the upside down lid and continue to let the water boil for a few hours (I would usually recommend 4-6 hours depending on how much hydrosol you’d like to make. After the time has passed, the water cool before you remove the bowl from the water. You’ll notice that a slightly colored liquid has gathered in the bowl – this is the hydrosol. You should let it cool at room temperature before pouring it into a glass container for later storage. You can repeat the process a few more times if you’d like to increase the amount of hydrosol you would like to make, and if you’re interested in making a more potent or flavorful hydrosol, try increasing the amount of organic material that you add to the mixture (go up in segments of 150g or roughly 2oz).
Turning into the ethnobotany channel here, but how fun is this picture of the happy distiller’s daughter in the clary sage? Had a visit from local perfumer @flore_botanical_alchemy who plans to distill the blossoms into a hydrosol. Felt like I was right back in my herbalism days ? Now where's my copy of Susun Weed? #yyj #yyjflowers #yyjbeauty
Hydrosols are really helpful around the home and can be used to help treat a variety of different health issues and ailments. Different plant or herbs have different medicinal benefits and can be used for different issues. Generally, hydrosols are known for their ability to help prevent the spread of bacteria and infection due to their strong natural antiseptic properties and can also help to clear the surface of the skin of germs that may lead to serious skin infections such as a staph infection. They are also widely known for their ability to help strengthen, rejuvenate and revitalize the skin due to their ability to promote cell growth and thin the blood, which makes it easier for your body to carry nutrients to areas where they’re most needed.
Hydrosols also great for more superficial uses such as adding flavor to a dish, being used as a natural (and chemical free) perfume or fragrance and have often been used to help brighten a room’s smell and relieve stress during aromatherapy practices. If you’re interested in natural healing techniques, aromatherapy or simply interested in finding more eco-friendly alternatives to many of the personal products you use on a regular basis – then hydrosols are definitely worth a try.