What are hydrosols? Hydrosols are another tool you can add to your home aromatherapy arsenal with some fantastic properties to take advantage of. They are an overall fairly low-risk option for use, easy to work with, and friendly for the whole family.
As a matter of fact, we can eliminate some of the extra steps and cautions necessary for essential oils for a lot of home DIY projects when it comes to these wondrous waters! You may have been told that hydrosols are the leftover waters from the distillation of essential oils – a byproduct of this distillation. But what if we told you this wasn’t the whole truth?
Just like with essential oils, there’s a bit more to hydrosols than meets the eye.
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What are Hydrosols?
Hydrosols, as touched on above, are the waters collected from the distillation of aromatic plant matter. They contain the water-soluble components of the plant material used as well as minute amounts of the more water-soluble essential oil constituents. (See Harvest to Hydrosol by Ann Harmon.) Very little essential oil is actually present in the waters, and there is still much being discovered today about hydrosols’ properties.
When distilled, the hydrosol remains separate from the essential oil as it is hydrophilic (water-loving) rather than hydrophobic (water-repelling). While much of the hydrosol on the market is the byproduct of essential oil distillations, you will also find product that has been specifically distilled for the sake of the hydrosol itself.
What Are Hydrosols Safety Concerns?
There really aren’t any glaring contraindications with hydrosols the way there sometimes is with essential oils. Part of this may be because we are still discovering more about these substances, so this information may change in the future as the industry gains more experience with their therapeutic applications. But in general, there is currently not much reason to expect problems with their external applications.
It’s also worth noting when exploring what hydrosols are, that they are overall less toxic than essential oils. This along with their water solubility makes them a great option for kids and even babies. As well, they are extremely easy to use in hydrous applications such as baths, hand and foot soaks, and compresses. Unlike essential oils, which would require the use of a surfactant to make the above options safe, hydrosols can be added directly to the water.
That all being said, there are a couple notable things to keep and mind in regard to hydrosol safety: personal allergies and the vessel used to distill the hydrosol.
Allergies: If you are allergic to any of the plants used to create a hydrosol, you do want to make sure to avoid that one. It’s just not worth the risk.
Distillation vessel: Sometimes, hydrosols are distilled in copper stills. While the copper stills do appear to give an antimicrobial edge to the end product, some of the copper matter does end up in the distillate. This could pose a risk to those with copper sensitivities or allergies or medical conditions that react negatively to too much of this metal. If this is you and you intend to use hydrosols internally, be sure to use those distilled in glass or steel! (See Aromatic Waters by Amy Kreydin.)
What are Hydrosols Used for?
What are hydrosols used for? Hydrosols are typically used to treat topical issues or in internal applications, though sometimes people do use them for inhaled applications as well (though this is much less common). Unlike essential oils, you can use them directly on the skin without the need for dilution in most cases. Hydrosol expert Suzanne Catty does recommend diluting hydrosols with small children, such as babies, but she also notes that the undiluted product can be used a bit as well.
While they are a more gentle option, hydrosols are stronger than your typical herbal infusions, so you still want to exercise diligence in oral dosing. In most cases a one-half to one teaspoon of hydrosol diluted into a quart of filtered water, sparkling water, or juice is going to be a reasonably safe guideline for oral use. Likewise, if your hydrosol is in a spritzer bottle, a few spritzes directly into your glass of water would not be excessive.
Hydrosols vs. Essential Oils One really important thing to note is that hydrosols are not necessarily direct replacements for their essential oil counterparts. Remember that they are comprised of the water-soluble components of the plant material, and essential oils are not. There may be some application crossovers, but you will want to be sure before assuming!
How to Source Quality Hydrosols
You may find different aqueous substances on the market referred to as “hydrosols,” so you want to make sure you know what you are looking at before purchasing. As a rule, you don’t want to be purchasing them from store shelves. These substances are easily prone to contamination, so it is best to avoid anything that is not kept in a refrigerated environment or that has been put in a position where it could have potentially been tampered with. Hydrosols for therapeutic use should be unpreserved, so you absolutely do not want to risk the introduction of any outside nasties to the water.
Some of what you find labeled as hydrosol on store shelves may actually even be an emulsion of water and essential oil. Such products will contain the water, essential oil (or even fragrance oil), a surfactant, and preservatives. It is in no way, shape, nor form actual hydrosol, and you want to avoid this.
Avoid it even more if you are considering any internal applications. If you are at all familiar with true hydrosols, these store-shelf fakes will smell noticeably “off” and be more reminiscent of conventional body products than the fresh, complex nature of a real hydrosol.
Hydrosols will always be distilled with the real deal being distilled for the sake of the hydrosol rather than simply being a byproduct of essential oil distillation. It may be easier to find the distillation byproduct, but you will benefit from obtaining the distillate that has been made with fresh plant matter, a quality water source, and have no additional materials added to them.
How the plant is distilled can be what makes or breaks the quality of what you find to use with yourself and your family. Just as when you are buying your essential oils, don’t be afraid to be picky about where you source from!
How to Care for Hydrosols
Hydrosols belong in the fridge. Keep them in bottles that have been appropriately sterilized and select tightly closed containers that you open as little as possible to reduce exposure to microbes. It’s important to even reduce the air exposure they get. This makes spray top bottles or flip top bottles good options to store them in.
It’s ideal as well to keep hydrosols in clear containers rather than the colored options typically used for essential oils. Bloom (or unsightly microbial growth) is something that must be watched for frequently and carefully. It will be much harder to do so if you are trying to see particulate matter through colored containers meant to help reduce light exposure.
Hydrosols will typically last 1-2 years if distilled under the appropriate conditions and cared for well. Where each hydrosol falls in that range will depend on things such the individual hydrosol, the pH of the hydrosol, storage conditions, and cleanliness. Changes to the pH of the hydrosol can actually be a sign that it is starting to go off. You can get pH testing strips to help you keep track of changes.
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What are Hydrosols Uses?
Using hydrosols can hugely increase your ability to decrease the amount of synthetic chemicals you are exposed to on a daily basis. Hydrosols added to DIY preparations will limit the shelf life of that DIY product, and you should treat the shelf life of such things like you would if it was water added. Keep things in cold storage and make just enough to last a week.
Toner: Add ½ oz frankincense hydrosol, ½ oz lemon hydrosol, and 1 oz of distilled water to a 2 oz flip top bottle. Add to a cotton pad and swipe over face morning and night for a refreshing facial toner.
Summer Cooling Mist: Spritz peppermint hydrosol over your face and arms after a day of working in the yard or as a part of your cool-down after exercising.
Relaxing Foot Bath: Add 2-4 tablespoons of lavender or neroli hydrosol (or a blend of the two!) to a basin of warm water to soak your feet in after a long day.