Summer is finally upon us and the growing season has officially kicked off in my rather cool, often rainy, almost always mild part of the world. In addition to the bounty of fruits and veggies soon to roll in, there are the flowers. Glorious, glorious flowers. My lavender and roses (both cultivated and wild varieties) are bursting into bloom, the elderflowers dripping from the boughs, the ceanothus is perfuming the front entry, and the helichrysum is thiiiiiis close to scenting the air with her curry-scented aroma. The rosemary, thyme, lemon balm and all the mints are in magnificent shape, long before the dog days leave the garden looking a bit tired and bedraggled. It is olfactory heaven, this early summer garden business.
One of my favorite ways to capture the essence of the season is by creating hydrosols. Hydrosols are the aqueous by-product of the essential oil distillation process, also called distillate or floral waters. I lack a proper still (I do have my eye on this lovely specimen), but that doesn’t hold me back from condensing the aromatic delights of the season into some dreamy hydrosols. A simple, still-free, hydrosols can be created using relatively common kitchen equipment.
What you will need:
- One large stockpot (sometimes I like to using my water bath canning pot for this job) with a lid
- A brick or flat stone
- A heat proof container (like these Pyrex measuring cups)
- Fresh or dried plant material (I use Mountain Rose Herbs for all the dried herbs that I don’t grow or gather myself)
My rule of thumb is that you can create a hydrosol out of virtually anything that there is an essential oil for. Hydrosols are simply the by-product of essential oil distillation. Some aromatic plant material, such as lilac, is not a good candidate for hydrosols as their aromatic compounds are far too volatile and destroyed by the heat. These botanicals leave you with a vegetative, often unpleasant end result. That said, there are some surprising candidates for hydrosols, namely cucumber which produces such a lovely refreshing mist for hot summer days (I use fresh cucumber peels or over overgrown specimens for this purpose). I encourage you to experiment with different botanicals to see what works well for you! In true distillation, the resulting essential oil would be separated from the hydrosol. Our home version produced such an infinitesimally small amount of essential oil that it is not worth the trouble of separating.
Hydrosols are like the gentler, more ethereal sister of pungent, robust essential oils. They are often considered far safer for use with sensitive individuals, while still retaining the some of the therapeutic action of the botanical (for more on essential oil safety see this post). A hydrosol can be used as the water phase in lotion making, as a toner for the skin, a facial mist, a room freshener, a linen mist — the possibilities are limited by your imagination.
Experiment with different botanicals, I would love to hear about the hydrosols that you create in the comments!
Not interested in making your own hydrosol? Check out the amazing selection at Mountain Rose Herbs.
- Gather the above-listed materials, making sure that all equipment is impeccably clean
- Place a brick in the center of a large stockpot and fill with water to the height of the brick.
- Add your chosen plant matter to the water. There should be a generous amount of plant material in the water, but not so much as not move about freely as the water simmers. Note: Dried herbs take up less space in the vessel and may result in a more aromatic hydrosol.
- Set your stockpot on the stove over medium heat, adding your heat proof bowl or Pyrex measuring cup on the brick. Place the lid on the stockpot upside down, then place a bit of ice in the lid “bowl”.
- Simmer the pot, allowing the aromatic steam to rise, condense on the lid, and drip back into the collection vessel on the brick. I like to use a pot with a glass lid so that I can observe the process. DO NOT over-simmer the pot or you risk scorching your pot and materials.
- Once you have collected enough distillate, your hydrosol is complete. Turn off heat and allow the pot and its contents to cool until safe to handle.
- When cool, carefully lift collection vessel from the pot. Pour resulting hydrosol into preferred containers (like these misting bottles), label and enjoy. Store unused hydrosol in a refrigerator for best results or preserve with a small amount of alcohol. If your hydrosol becomes cloudy, or smells, “off” please discard.