What is a hydrosol?
Hydrosol is the water that is collected as a byproduct when plant matter is steam distilled for essential oils. It is sometimes also called “hydrolat”. They are aromatic, though lighter in scent than the essential oil and sometimes very different. Lavender hydrosol smells like lavender oil but myrrh hydrosol smells different from myrrh essential oil. Rosewater is a product you may be familiar with, and rosewater is actually a hydrosol. It is what is left over after rose petals are steam distilled to make rose essential oil.
When plants are steam distilled for essential oil the water used is passed through the plant material many times. This water becomes the hydrosol and it contains a very small amount of the essential oil. It also contains a lot of water soluble extracts from the plant material that you would not find in the oil. Therefore, hydrosols do not contain the exact same properties as their corresponding essential oil, but they are close. Usually you can use what you know about an essential oil and take that as a guide for its hydrosol.
Hydrosols are therapeutic in their own right. They have the added benefit of being gentler and “softer” than essential oils can be, though their therapeutic benefits are still effective. Hydrosols are great for using in cosmetic applications and are gentle enough to apply directly to the skin. They are good to use for sensitive skin issues like rashes and eczema, or in any situation where you would want to use a light water soluble product as opposed to a heavy cream. At Pasithea’s Garden, we use lavender hydrosol in our “Quit the Itch” spray. Many flower derived hydrosols have been used for centuries in perfumes and cosmetic products.
“Hydrosols contain all of the plant in every drop… here we have the water soluble components, the essential oil molecules, the very fluid that was flowing through the plant cells when the plant was collected. It’s all there in a matrix of water that is so much more than water.” - Suzanne Catty, Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy.
Most hydrosols are good to use with children. Their gentle makeup makes them safer for the very young. While you would not want to use essential oils directly on children under 5, or with pregnant women, hydrosols are a great alternative. Hydrosols are also recommended over essential oils for the elderly and the very ill, populations who need softer therapeutic assistance.
The most common hydrosols are what you might know as “flower waters”. Examples of these are the aforementioned rosewater, but also lavender water and orange flower water are very
common. Other popular hydrosols are frankincense, chamomile, peppermint, and geranium, though there are dozens more. Hydrosol can be made from pretty much any plant or resin that you would want to steam distill for essential oil.
Some of my favorite hydrosols are lavender and frankincense, and these are beautiful to use for your skin. They make a nice toner or you can keep them in the fridge and use them to “spritz” yourself in hot weather. I also really like cornflower hydrosol for my eyes. I like to spray some cornflower hydrosol on a cotton ball to wipe over my closed eyelids when my eyes are feeling tired or dry and itchy from allergies. Some other fun ways to use hydrosols are for room and linen sprays, personal fragrance, and a simple bug spray. Hydrosol’s gentle nature makes them perfect for emotional support such as for stress relief or as an energy clearing spray for a space or person.
Make sure to always store your hydrosols in a cool place. Because they’re water soluble they can be prone to bacteria growth. If you store them well, they should last you up to 2 years.