What the HECK is a Hydrosol?
Updated: May 13, 2020
When I first learned about hyrdrosols over a decade ago I couldn't believe that I had never encountered them before. It occurred to me that other people may still not know what they are; I mean spellcheck still doesn't even recognize the word hydrosol. A hydrosol, sometimes called a hydrolate, in its simplest definition is just a water solution. But more specifically, it is the plant charged water that emerges during the process of distilling plants.
Years ago I became interested in making my own essential oils and started reading books and comparing stills online. After weeks of contemplation, I decided on this beautiful glass still from a company in California. Even though I feared breaking it or setting it up wrong, I was so excited to dive into the world of making my OWN essential oils. I felt like a mad scientist setting this contraption up for the first time (insert diabolical
I do not want to bore you, but I find the whole process so interesting and I thought some of you might too. So, time for your science class lesson. Though there are a few methods to extracting essential oils and hydrosols from plants, I prefer to use what is called the steam distillation method and that is what I am illustrating here. The bottom chamber is the boiling flask; it sits on the burner and holds the distilled water. The biomass chamber sits on top of the boiling water and holds all of the plant material. The steam rises up through the plant material and removes/collects the volatile oils. After traveling through the plant material, the steam moves to the still head before heading to the condenser. If you notice the tubes in the picture, the bottom one puts cold water into the outer condenser tube and the top one allows the water to drain back into the sink. When the hot steams reaches the inner tube of the condenser, the cold water running in the outside tube converts the steam back into water. This plant charged water flows down into the receiver to be collected for our herbal remedies.
As you can see in the picture, the essential oil sits on top of the hydrosol. When I first started learning about distilling essential oils I was informed to just let this "water" drain off into the sink, GASP! I did a little more research and became extremely interested in this "byproduct" of the distillation process. Now years later I actually distill plants to get the hydrosol and the essential oil has become the byproduct for me. Essential oils are EXTREMELY concentrated and need to be diluted before applying to skin. But hydrosols are much more forgiving, safe and can even be internally consumed. After an hour or two of distilling 2L of yarrow I was was left with less than 1/2" of essential oil, but was able to collect 72 oz of hydrosol. Many home remedy recipes posted online have you mix essential oils in with distilled water to create products. When I make my products I distill the plants and combine the essential oil with the highly prized hydrosol to create a more potent, wholly plant charged remedy.
Once I decided to start selling my herbal products I realized that my small-scale home still was not going to keep up with my new production. I ventured back online to start researching a larger, more durable still and excitedly purchased this new one from a company in Washington state.
The set up may be different than my glass still, but the process is still the same. In the next few weeks I will be distilling pounds of lavender for a product to be included in the upcoming Summer Subscription box. Check out my Instagram page and check the "highlights" section to see a video demonstrating the process.
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** For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease**