Discovering Hydrosols, Powerful Secret Ingredients for the Body and Home
I receive poor marks when it comes to my “womanly” skills of make-up, cosmetics or special body products. My use of the word womanly is indeed tongue-in-cheek. I recognize it may have insulting overtones to women and dismisses many men who are quite knowledgeable on these subjects.
Nevertheless, womanly skills are simply not my forte. So, it wasn’t a complete surprise that I had never heard the word – or learned about – hydrosol. That was about to change.
From the Latin translation, hydrosol means “water solution.” Hydrosols are aromatic waters that remain after steam or hydro distilling of botanical materials. They are extracts made from common florals or herbs, but are not restricted to those categories. Trees, plants, barks, grasses, all could be candidates.
A Relationship to Essential Oils
Hydrosols are sometimes called “essential waters,” which is perhaps more descriptive. Both essential oils and essential waters are produced in the same manner – distillation. The “oily” part floats to the top of the distillation unit where it’s removed for further processing, becoming essential oil. But floral water is left behind – the essential water. In the past, this water was not considered a co-product but a by-product of little use.
So, was this an attempt by producers to make more money, or is value to be had? Mostly, the latter. Benefits of essential water (generally less than 1% concentration) are now recognized for their own worth. Hydrosols actually have some advantages over essential oils – not as a superior product, but simply a different one.
A one-word description of the difference could be “gentle.” Hydrosols are gentler than essential oil products. This allows for different uses. Hydrosols are lighter in fragrance and maintain many of the same salutary characteristics attributed to the various parent plants.
Seeing the Process in Person
Rose and lavender are two of the most popular varieties. I got interested in the subject after seeing the lavender production process at Sonoma County Farm Trails in California. My state of Oregon has similar growers that I haven’t visited, although I have tried their merchandise.
However, I could view the steam distillation process at Monte-Bellaria di California, an organic lavender farm in Sonoma County, California, a place more commonly associated with hillside vineyards than lovely lines of lavender fields. Their product involves just two items: organic lavender and Russian River well water.
Due to their use of different lavender types, the scent was more pleasant to me than those lavenders I find almost cloying. Some research shows that most men also avoid strict “English” sweet types. That suggests that many men might prefer some lighter hydrosols to essential oils.
I mention this attractive farm above to point out one tip about hydrosol – and essential oils – that is imperative to consider: The best quality products are grown locally where they are distilled and prepared. That statement does not solely reference lavender or rose, but all essential oils and essential waters.
Indeed many pure hydrosols are sometimes called, or marketed as, “floral waters.” Beware of this term. Sometimes purveyors simply blend a tiny bit of essential oil with large amounts of water and improperly classify it as hydrosol. It may contain the same characteristics, but you can’t be sure. Check vendor details online or in their literature.
I hope, like me, you are always a bit cautious of claims seen online or in social media. No difference here. I’ve included some general safety or consumer quality issues below. Also read “The History of Safety Issues of Using Essential Oils” and “Hydrosols or Distillation Waters: Their Production, Safety, Efficacy and the Sales Hype.”
The best rule is to use no essential oil or hydrosol near (or in) eyes.
External Use Only
Avoid consumption. I realize there are “recipes” for drinks and culinary dishes using essential oils and essential waters. Merely use caution. It has become popular for cafes to use essential oils in drinks. I am not a fan. A local shop near me was promoting cardamom milkshakes. Well, I absolutely love cardamom in almost anything. I finished it, but only by sharing half with a friend who ordered a great ginger beer. I regretted the shake order and only later discovered it was made with cardamom essential oil. Maybe this was purely personal taste – but my friend had a hard time getting the remaining portion down as well.
Involving another type of product, I confess I recently had another drink with new-craze bitters containing a floral tincture – and I loved it. But bitter products are specifically designed for consumption. I maintain that short-term caution is worth long term unknowns of essential ingestion.
Refrigeration is a good idea. Distillation is a high-temperature process and hydrosol is slightly acidic. As such, it inhibits bacterial growth, but not fungal growth. It’s a “fresh” product, not sterile. Hence, especially after being opened, the precaution to refrigerate retains freshness longer. Others are preserved with supplemental products added by manufacturers.
On the remarkable side, there are many terrific home and body hydrosol uses. To avoid reader over-load, I will cover some of those applications in my next guest blog (along with references for more information and product lines).
Have any other women in our community been experimenting with any aromatic waters or hydrosols? Do you have any favorites or favorite sources for these products? Please share in the comments.