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Hydrosols & Aromatherapy

In the late 80″s and early 90″s one of the biggest problems that essential oil distillers had was what to do with the by-product of the distillation process, hydrosol. It soon became apparent that hydrosols had their own healing properties and benefits. Hydrosols are now also known as floral waters, hydrolats, and essential waters.

The steam distillation process of essential oils itself is remarkably simple. Plant material is placed in a still and water is boiled underneath it. As steam rises through the plant material it brings with it the essential oil. As it passes through the condenser and cools, the steam goes back to its liquid form. As it settles, the water left over (which is heavier) falls to the bottom of the collection container and the essential oil sits on top. The essential oil is then scooped off and the left over water is hydrosol.

Essential Oil Stills

Stills used in the production of essential oils come in all sizes – small ones for home use (about a gallon) or larger commercial ones that distill thousands of gallons. Smaller farms often have a portable still that the farmer on a tractor pulls out to the field where the harvesting is done. These stills are between 100 and 200 gallons. This means that every time a distillation process is finished and the farmer has to skim off the essential oil, they have to get rid of about 200 gallons of hydrosol. In the past this “waste water” was often used to water the crops, was buried in plastic containers in the ground or was set up to slowly leak back into the ground.

Uses of Hydrosols

What to do with hydrosols is no longer a problem, thanks to people like Suzanne Catty who wrote the book Hydrosols – The Next Aromatherapy and has spent many years promoting all the wonderful ways to use them. There are many recipes online or in books that will help you to find ways to naturally and effectively use hydrosols in your home and health care.

So why would one use hydrosol rather than essential oil? Essential oils are highly concentrated and need to be diluted in a carrier oil (such as sweet almond oil) to be used on the body. Hydrosols are much less concentrated and have a low pH making them safe for use on the skin for cleansing, cooling, removing makeup or a general freshen up. They can be used to clean babies bottoms (instead of wipes which often contain alcohol) and for menopausal women who feel the need to freshen up and cool down. Hydrosols can be added to creams, lotions, compresses, facial misters, body sprays and other recipes.

Because of its antiseptic qualities, Tea Tree hydrosol is great for teens with troubled skin. Apply it to the face with a cotton pad or cotton ball. If you wax or do any hair removal, spray Tea Tree hydrosol on afterwards to remove the sting and redness. Lavender hydrosol is excellent for cuts and scrapes as it helps to clean the wound as well as calm the wounded! Diaper rash can be helped with a spritz of diluted Chamomile hydrosol or blended 50/50 with Lavender hydrosol.

References: Catty, Suzanne. 2001. Hydrosols: The next aromatherapy. Canada: Healing Arts Press

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