What is a Hydrosol?

Photo of Alembic copper still courtesy of Morning Myst Botanics

Hydrosols have been in my aromatherapy arsenal for years, but it’s only in the last 3-4 years that I’ve really embraced their wonderfulness.  Now, they’re a regular part of aromatherapy use for my whole family – even the animals!

What is a Hydrosol?
Hydrosols (also know as hydrolats, distillate water or floral waters)  are the aromatic water that results from steam distilling plant materials. When a distiller wants to extract essential oils from plant material, he fills a large cooker called a  “retort” with plant material.  This cooker is then filled with steam, and as the steam rises,  the glands of the plants burst open and release essential oils inside of the plant into the steam. The oil moves through a condenser that cools things down, and finally, the oil is collected in a separate vessel.  This is what we know as essential oil.    However, what happens to that lovely fragrant water that was once steam?   That is hydrosol!

This image may help you visually understand the process:


How Much Essential Oil is in a Hydrosol?

This is from author Jeanne Rose
“The best comes from a distillation where it is the hydrosol that is being produced rather than the essential oil. Often the best comes from the earliest part of the distillation rather than the body of the distillation. This usually smells bright and pleasantly fragrant. Although, some of the therapeutic part of the hydrosol is also produced at the very end of the distillation, and usually has a rather grassy or vegetative note. As the plants are being distilled, micro-particles of essential oil are in suspension, they give the aromatic distillate its scent and will separate out as the hydrosol cools. There is approximately .02% essential oil in hydrosol”.

Essential oils should always be diluted when put on the skin (my blending guidelines are here), but that doesn’t hold true for hydrosols.  Because they are so gentle, they can be used directly on the skin without dilution!  You can use them on babies, animals and anywhere on your body.  You can even drink them; add  about 1/4 of hydrosol to a litre of water!

If you enjoyed this, you’ll love Practical and Creative Ways to Use Hydrosols!

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