In 1990 while Jeanne Rose was on a driving trip through the wine country of Northern California, Jeanne looked at the fields of grapes, at the various vineyards, at the rows of vines and thought that it would be a lovely idea to grow Lavender interspersed in or on the edges of all the vineyards. The Lavender water of distillation which she called the hydrosol could be used in skin care as well as all sorts of other possibilities. After beginning a newsletter called the Lavender Plant Project, her interest grew to all aromatic plants and the possibility of locally produced essential oils and hydrosols. She renamed the organization in 1993, the Aromatic Plant Project and spent the next two years getting the organization recognized and obtaining non-profit status.
By 1993 she had already distilled Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena on a small copper still and named the watery non-alcoholic distillate, the hydrosol, the first part of the distillate. Jeanne invented the word hydrosol as it was easy to say and easy to remember. She says, "'Hydro' means water and 'sol' means solution. Thus the word hydrosol means the watery solution of the distillation that contains both the water-soluble plant components and micro-drops of essential oil -- the hydrosol."
Hydrosols, also known as floral waters, hydroflorates, flower waters or distillates are products from steam distilling plant materials. Hydrosols are like essential oils but in far less of a concentration. When a distiller brews plant material with water in a large cooker the steam fills the pot and, as it rises, it causes the glands of the plants to burst and release the oils and essence of the plant into the steam. The oil rises through a condenser and collects in a separate vessel. This is what we know as essential oil, but what about all that fragrant water that was steamed with the original plant material? That is our hydrosol, or floral water.
Hydrosols are usually the result of essential oil production as a by-product but the highest quality hydrosols come from the devoted distillers who, with artist like precision steam the floral and plant material strictly to produce a hydrosol. (The Hydrosols offered by Mountain Rose Herbs are produced in this fashion) Hydrosols contain all of the essence of the plant in every drop, just like essential oils but in a milder form; making them suitable for all manner of applications where essential oils would be too strong.
Expert hydrosol distillers, including Ann Harman, author of Harvest to Hydrosol, specifically distill plants for the resulting hydrosol that they produce. This can result in hydrosols with superior aroma and therapeutic benefit. Most hydrosols, however, are produced simply as a result of essential oil distillation. The plant matter used in the distillation process imparts the hydrosol with the water-soluble aromatic and therapeutic properties of the plant.
Noted author Jeanne Rose is quoted as saying:
"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
Unlike essential oils that should be diluted prior to application to the skin, hydrosols are much gentler than their essential oil counterparts and can generally be used directly on the skin without further dilution.
Hydrosols can be used in place of water in creating natural fragrances, lotions, creams, facial toners and other skin care products. They can also be added to the bath, and used on their own as a light cologne or body spray. Hydrosol can be added to finger bowls for elegant, romantic dinners. Examples of botanicals that are available as hydrosols are Rose, Roman Chamomile, Neroli and Lavender.
Clinically, the chemical components in the hydrosol are primarily acids, which are hydrophilic (water-loving). Why do they work? Because they acidify the water or the product and bacteria do not live well in acidic environments. This is why acidic liquids such as vinegar make good preservatives for food items like pickles, Chile peppers and Olives. Acidic environments are astringent and so the hydrosols are useful in skin care products as astringents constrict and contract the tissues. Hydrosols can be used externally in skin care products, internally as a douche, taken as a tonic or combined in a beverage drink. They also make lovely food mists as Rose water has been employed for such reasons for quite some time.
Sometimes water simply blended with essential oils are sold as floral waters or improperly classified as hydrosols. It is always wise to ask vendors for details about the hydrosols that they sell to ensure that what you are purchasing is a true hydrosol as defined here.
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