A hydrosol (also called hydrolate) is the condensate water produced during steam-distillation of plant material for aromatherapeutic purposes. In distillation of plant material for essential oil, water-steam is pressed through the plant material which releases all chemical molecules light enough to travel with the steam. From there it goes to a condenser where the steam is cooled down to form water and essential oil that separate upon cooling, with the EO usually floating on top of the water. The resulting water is an unique product as it contains all light-weight water-soluble substances + tiny amounts of essential oil (approximately 0.2%), but none of the heavier water-soluble substances. This is quite different from an infusion where all the water-soluble substances stay in the water, including some plant material and other heavier substances.
Hydrosol means “water solution” and comes from the Latin hydro (“water”) and sol (“solution”). Hydrolate means hydro (“water”) and late from the French lait, meaning milk. Supposedly this name stems from the fact that often the hydrosols are slightly milky when they first come out of the stills.
Sometimes the word Floral Water is used which I find misleading; hydrosols come from all aromatic plants, not only flowers. Very often a floral water is water scented with essential oil or synthetic fragrance in which case it is something entirely different. Therefor I prefer to stick with the word hydrosol.
A Hydrosol has a life-span of 1-3 years, depending on the original plant and storage. Hydrosols need to be stored in cool and dark places – the fridge is perfect. They should be distilled from organically grown plants and bottled without preservatives. The label should clearly state the name of the plant from which it was distilled, including the latin name, when it was distilled and if it is organic. A Hydrosol is primarily acidic, with a pH of 3.6-6.0, making it ideal for skin & personal care. It is mild enough to be used safely by most anybody – aged, sick and weak individuals as well as babies and children. Use it as a tonic for your skin, taste-enhancer in cooking and baking, to wash wounds, sooth burns and inflammations…The possibilities are endless.
- Tonifying water for skin: Wipe your skin with hydrosol on cotton balls after cleansing: dry, mature skin: Hydrosol of lavender or rose. Oily blemished skin: Hydrosol of orange water, witch hazel, Rosemary. Use Hydrosol in a spray for a guick freshen-up during the day (brilliant when traveling). Just spray a fine mist onto skin and let dry. You can even do this when wearing make-up.
- Sun-burn: Spray the area with Hydrosol of Lavender (soothing) or Mint (cooling). Apply Aloe Vera Gel. Works also for itchy skin and hot flashes.
- Disinfectant for air and hands while traveling; spray in the air, on your hands, on tissue.
- Drinks; add 5 ml of hydrosol to 200 ml of water for a refreshing drink. A dash of Rose hydrosol in some champagne – very luxurious – or white wine as an aperitif.
- Use as a scent to spray on linen, hair, clothes, curtains…
- Add to bath. (Even for babies and small children; lavender, rose)
- Use when baking cakes, cookies and pastries. (Do not mistake Hydrosol for the “floral waters” you can buy in asian markets. These “waters” are usually synthetically enhanced water.) Always check the label.
If you want to know more about hydrosols and their uses, this is an excellent read: “Hydrosols, the next aromatherapy” by Suzanne Catty.