What hydrosols are
When plant matter is steam distilled, both essential oils (oil-soluble constituents), and hydrosols (water-soluble constituents) are produced. Hydrosols contain all of the water-soluble chemical constituents of distilled plant matter.
Hydrosol comes from the Latin hydro, meaning “water,” and sol, which means “solution.” “Hydrosol” indicates any water-based solution, not specifically the type we are discussing here – but it is the word we will be using in this article.
Technically, “hydrolate” is the most accurate word to use. It comes from the Latin words hydro, meaning “water,” and lait, meaning “milk.” The “milky” reference reflects how it appears when it comes off the still. Hydrolate can also be spelled “hydrolat.”
Floral water is not a very accurate representation, as hydrosols can be steam distilled from more than just flowers.
Aromatic water is an acceptable way to describe a hydrolat, as they are full of aroma. They don't always smell like their essential oil counterpart, however. Some smell better than others. If you find you don't like the aroma of a hydrosol that you acquired for its therapeutic benefit, you can blend it with a more pleasant-smelling hydrosol, or make it into a lotion, adding essential oils that you do enjoy.
How hydrosols are made
Hydrosols are made during the steam distillation of plant matter that produces both essential oils and hydrosols.
Steam distillation has a simple, yet effective, design. A gentle fog-like steam enters through pipes with small vents located under a grate in the bottom of a large, tall pot containing plant matter. A tightly-fitting lid rests snugly on the pot, ensuring the steam makes its way into the tube leading to the condenser. The condenser contains coils, inside of which run cold water. This water cools down the steam, turning the steam back into water (hydrolat), and oil (essential oil).
Many distillers use a Florentine flask for collecting the water and oil. This container is designed to efficiently separate the essential oil, which floats on the top, from the aromatic water underneath. One drain is located on the bottom of the container, allowing the overflow of hydrosol to flow out during distillation. A second drain is located near the top, and is used to decant the essential oil after distillation is complete. Once complete, and the oil is drained and collected, the remaining waters are again drained from the bottom drain. The end result will produce many more times hydrosol than essential oil.
It can take an hour or longer to create a gallon of hydrosol, as best results are produced when slowly distilled under low pressure. This gallon will contain 0.2 – 0.8 milliliters of dissolved essential oil, which is not separated out due to its density.
The difference between hydrosols and essential oils
Essential oils and hydrosols are both products of steam distillation, but their chemical makeup and uses are very different. It is known that there are safety considerations that must be respected when using essential oils. For example:
- there are dozens of essential oils that are unsafe for children
- there are dozens of essential oils that are unsafe for pregnant and/or nursing mothers
- there are several essential oils that are unsafe if you are on blood thinners
- all essential oils need dilution – some need more than normal dilution
- no essential oils should be ingested without guidance from a qualified health care provider
- essential oils can cause sensitization
- essential oils can be phototoxic
- essential oils are unsafe for use on pets
Hydrosols, however, don't have these concerns.
Want to learn more? Request access to Hydrosols Profiles…
Here is what you will learn when you access Hydrosols Profiles…
- When do I use essential oils, and when do I use hydrosols?
- What is the shelf life of hydrosols?
- How do I know when hydrosols are going bad?
- What are the expected pH ranges of hydrosols?
- How do I use hydrosols topically?
- How do I use hydrosols internally?
- What are the dilution guidelines for hydrosols?
- What are some recipes and usage suggestions for hydrosols?
- What are the therapeutic benefits of hydrosols?
- How do I use hydrosols with my pets?
- What are some resources you recommend for learning more about hydrosols?
- Where can I purchase hydrosols?
And profiles for 31 different hydrosols: Balsam Fir, Basil, Bay Laurel/Leaf, Calendula, Carrot Seed, Cedarwood, Chamomile (German), Chamomile (Roman), Cinnamon Back, Clary Sage, Cornflower, Cucumber, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Geranium, Juniper Berry, Helichrysum, Lavender, Neroli, Oregano, Peppermint, Pine (Scotch), Rose, Rosemary, Sandalwood, Spruce (Black), Tea Tree, Thyme, Witch Hazel, Yarrow.
Usage suggestions included for: Acid reflux, Acne, Arthritic joints, Bath, Boo-boo spray, Breath spray, Burns, Caffeine jitters, Cellulite, Congestion, Conjunctivitis, Colicky baby, Diaper rash, Digestive issues, Eczema & Psoriasis, Emotional health, Flea repellent, Foot soak, Fungal issues, Gas, Gingivitis, Hair care, Headache, Hot flashes, Itching, Lice deterrent, Lymph swelling, Menstrual cramping, Mouthwash, Nausea, PMS, Scars, Sinus infection, Sitz bath, Skin care, Smelly feet, Sore throat, Stimulate the little gray cells, Sunburn, Teething, Thinning hair, Tonsillitis, Varicose veins, Wrinkle fighter
Where to find
You can find hydrosols on many website that also sell essential oils. Here are some places I personally purchase from: