“Distillation is a beautiful metaphor for the life and death process. It is where you essentially take something in the process of dying (harvested plant matter) and transform it into something of value that contains part of the living plant energy within it.”
A hydrosol is the enriched water that remains after distillation of flowers, fruit, leaves, branches, bark or roots. This water is enriched with aromatic compounds, some of which are found in a concentrated form in essential oils and others which are not found in essential oils. The best hydrosols are those distilled for the hydrosol rather than as a by product of essential oil production.
Hydrosols can be considered a branch of aromatherapy in their own right and have been referred to as the homeopathic version of aromatherapy. They contain their own therapeutic qualities and are safe to use on babies, children, pregnant women and the elderly. Most may be taken internally at a specific dosage.
Hydrosols are also known as hydrolats and distillate water in Europe and elsewhere. They appear milky just after distillation but become clear with time. Hydrosols are not flower waters, that is, water to which essential oils have been added.
For most of history hydrosols were prized above the essential oil obtained which was usually negligible. They were used by healers, priests, alchemists and doctors to treat insomnia, depression and other illnesses. They were also used in cooking and cosmetics.
Hydrosols will typically last for one to two years provided they are distilled appropriately and are stored well. The pH of a hydrosol can give an indication of how long it will last. Other considerations are the conditions in which the hydrosol is stored, the cleanliness of the area in which it was obtained and stored and the cleanliness and care with which the hydrosol is transferred to other containers. Another consideration is whether the hydrosol has been adulterated with alcohol or preservatives. If using internally or for therapeutic reasons, make sure that the hydrosol you buy is pure and unadulterated.
Today hydrosols may be considered where an essential oil is not appropriate. They are well tolerated by the skin and mucous membranes. They may be used undiluted except in the case of phenols which should be diluted with other hydrosols or spring water.
When used internally hydrosols are best diluted. As a guide when using internally therapeutically 1 tablespoon (10 ml) of hydrosol or a mixture of hydrosols in 1 litre of spring water, to drink during the day OR 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of hydrosol in a glass of water or herbal tea (to be added once the water has warmed) 2 to 3 times a day. This is usually done for 20 days.
If using to help heal psycho-emotional problems then use for 40 days. This allows the body to detox in the first twenty days and to act more deeply and integrate the new in the following 20 days.
Always use pure water and preferably spring water. Warm the water to aid digestion. Hydrosols may also be used as an oral spray or drops.
Hydrosol Storage Guidelines
Hydrosols have a shelf life ranging from 3 months to 2 years depending on the hydrosol, the date you receive it and the way it’s stored. Never buy hydrosols with preservatives added or add them yourself if you’re using them for therapeutic purposes or to ingest.
1. Keep your hydrosols in the fridge. If you don’t have room in your fridge store them in a box in a cool dark area away from heat and sunlight.
2. Store in clean, clear, sterilized glass containers with tightly fitting tops. Flip tops are ideal here to cut down on oxygen exposure. Hydrosols are often shipped in plastic bottles to prevent breakage so transfer them on receipt to glass.
3. To prevent deterioration due to oxygen reacting with the hydrosol transfer the hydrosol to smaller bottles as the empty space in the bottle increases.
4. Use sterilized equipment and gloves to transfer your hydrosol to other sterilized containers. Resist the urge to smell the hydrosol in the bottle. There is a real risk of contaminating your hydrosol.
5. Check for bloom regularly. This is a sign the hydrosol is contaminated by bacteria and can show up as white or dark material floating in your hydrosol. Check the pH regularly as changes can show your hydrosol is going off before the bloom appears.
6. Make a note of the date your hydrosol was distilled and the date you received it. This will help you to keep track of the freshness of your hydrosol and when it’s approaching its use by date.
15 Ways to Use Hydrosols
1. Wash open wounds with tea tree or rosalina hydrosol to disinfect them and begin the healing process.
2. Spray on sunburnt areas of the skin several times during the day to reduce the pain and heal the skin without peeling.
3. Use them to tone your skin after cleansing and before moisturizing. They help to soothe the skin. Rose makes an ideal toner plus it smells wonderful.
4. Combine 2 or 3 hydrosols in a spray bottle to make an energetic blend. Make a spray to balance your chakras, clear stale energy from a room, energize or relax you, ease stress, for meditation or to bring clarity to a situation.
5. Add a splash of eucalyptus hydrosol along with a drop or two of essential oil to your steaming bowl when you have a cold to clear your respiratory passages.
6. Add a splash of hydrosol to a foot or hand bath to enhance the therapeutic effects. Depending on the hydrosol you use you may feel more relaxed or energetic.
7. You can also use tea tree hydrosol in a foot bath or spray to treat athlete’s foot. Try also spraying inside shoes and sneakers to remove the smell.
8. Use hydrosols to help with nappy rash. Spray between each nappy change and allow to dry. Lavender, Roman and German chamomile are great sprays to use.
9. Mist your face and neck and wherever else you feel the heat when you have a hot flush to cool you down. Clary sage, peppermint and geranium hydrosols are good choices here.
10. Use as a gargle or to rinse the mouth especially in case of infections.
11. Use in sprays and compresses to help clear or ease the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, itching, infections and other skin irritations.
12. Add a teaspoon to your herbal tea to enhance the flavor and healing properties.
13. Use a teaspoon or a couple of sprays in a glass of water to flavor it or add to plain yogurt or ice cream for something different.
14. Use in an ultrasonic diffuser instead of water and essential oils. It will scent a room and is safe to use when children and pets are around.
15. Use to disinfect your tabletops, massage tables and yoga mats. Simply spray and let dry.
16. Use undiluted lavender in a compress on the neck, shoulders and forehead to ease headaches, stress and tension.
9 Hydrosols and Their Properties
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – analgesic, antiseptic, antibacterial, minor wounds, insect bites, itchy skin, toner for normal and sensitive skin, makeup remover, sunburn, minor burns, heat rash, insomnia, stress, mental fatigue, boost self-confidence, to calm cranky moods and tantrums in children.
Chamomile Roman (Chamaemelum nobile) – soothing, dry, sensitive and inflamed skin, rosacea, acne, insect bites, nappy rash, heat rash, burns, sunburn, diluted as an eyewash for conjunctivitis, sprayed in the mouth or applied along the gums and with a compress on the cheeks can help ease the pain of teething, useful also for stress, depression and insomnia.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) – hot flushes, mature skin, rosacea or broken capillaries on the face, tired, devitalized, dull, irritated and damaged skin, sunburn, rash, insect bites, wounds and cuts
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) congestion, energy healing and clearing, meditation, deepen and expand breathing and open airways, can dry up excess mucus in the lungs and help expel phlegm, mouth and gum infections as a gargle
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) – anti-inflammatory, decongestant, wound healing, bruises, rejuvenating mature or damaged skin, gingivitis, pain or inflammation
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – decongestant, itching, tired, devitalized, dull skin, cooling and deodorizing foot spray, digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome, creativity and the joy of living
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, purifying, athlete’s foot, sore throat, cough, gingivitis, cuts, scrapes and wounds
Rose Otto (Rosa damascena) – anti aging, good toner for all skin types, irritated tired eyes, PMS, cramps, moodiness, aids emotional processing
Sandalwood Australian (Santalum spicatum) – soothing, dry, sensitive, irritated and damaged skin, dry coughs, nasal and chest congestion, meditation and stress
Catty Suzanne Hydrosols, The Next Aromatherapy Healing Arts Press 2001