Poetry. When working with aromatic plants and their distilled essences, we are in-touch with only the most volatile components that are able to come over on water in its gaseous state: steam. Water and distillation are essential (pun intended) for obtaining essential oils. The ancient practice of distillation is science, artistry and alchemy combined to create something ethereal. There is a knowing when practicing distillation, an intimacy with the elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether…
|Earth:||plant material and the soil it was grown in, the copper still|
|Water:||ancient molecules (H-O-H) that may be solid, liquid or gaseous|
|Fire:||fuel and combustion needed to create the heat to turn water into its gaseous state|
|Air:||air that feeds the fire, that allows for cellular respiration and metabolism in living beings|
|Ether:||spirit of the plant and distillation|
Magical, Therapeutic Waters
The ancient art of distillation is a sacred dance of fire, water, pressure, temperature and living elements from the plant and human realms. This dance coaxes out essential oils and the forever changed water, also known as “hydrosols” as well as “distillates” or “hydrolats”. Ah! Hydrosols – the water solution that comes over the still as steam and is turned back to liquid as it hits the cooling condenser. Magic.
When distilling aromatic plant material a hydrosol will have minute amounts of water-loving essential oil components. This is key: water loving. If non-aromatic plant material is distilled we also obtain a hydrosol, the water-loving components that come over with the steam. This is a marriage of aromatherapy and herbalism.
Essential oils are potent and quite direct-one drop is all you need to realize a change in the mind-body. Hydrosols are potent in their own way-they may work more diffusely, seep into and penetrate tissues, hydrate-yet they are more subtle than the lipid-loving oils. Nuanced. Similar to essential oils, you need only use a small amount. It is not homeopathy – but think of it in a similar manner-diffuse, diluted. Water has memory and holds the memory of the plant it was distilled with. It holds the memory of ages; it has been eternally recycled on this planet.
To be honest with you, I love the waters. I love the fact there is not a ton of research or scientific documentation (versus essential oils) and that there is a lack of a “this is good for that” mentality as far as incorporating them into daily life. I love the fact people favored “distilled waters” for hundreds of years over the essential oils. I love the fact that many women were involved in distillation and the still rooms in homes and estates of years gone by.
Some of the more popular “waters” are rose, neroli, lavender and melissa. I invite you to further explore the world of hydrosols and incorporating them into your repertoire. Following are a few ideas:
Elevate Hydration with Hydrosols:
I often suggest the incorporation of aromatic hydrosols into a client’s daily routine, especially to stay hydrated and support the nervous system where my go-to is neroli, backed by melissa due to their brightening, nervine qualities.
Let’s keep things simple, but nuanced, just like hydrosols. Consider adding the distilled waters to things you drink. I’ve used cucumber hydrosol in gin-based cocktails, rose and neroli hydrosols in baking and added several different hydrosols to my drinking water for their effect on the mind-body as well as the simple joy of adding a distilled botanical burst of joy to my everyday water. All the while knowing the plant molecules are influencing my being. Here are some guidelines:
- Add ½ to 1 tablespoon of hydrosol to a liter of water to enjoy through the day
- Remember, this is nuanced-don’t think more is better
- Make ice cubes with a hydrosol of your choice (or a blend!) and add one cube to a drink of your choice
- Add a teaspoon to a cup of tea or herbal tisane
Honestly I keep my hydrosols in the fridge. A bonus? This makes them decadently cooling in the summer. I simply open up my fridge1, select a hydrosol and spritz my face and neck a few times. Bliss? Very much so.
To be a bit more formal, try creating a simple toner to incorporate into your personal hygiene routine. Consider taking equal parts of Rose (Rosa x damascena) and Neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara) hydrosols and combining them in a glass bottle with a spray top.
- Rosa x damascena is often indicated for mature, sensitive, normal to dry skin. It has an affinity for the heart (i.e., grieving, sadness, nurturing) as well as supporting women through the stages of their lives.
- Neroli is a mild astringent that may help calm the nervous system, aid with sleep and bring brightness during the day (e.g., antidepressant). A few weeks ago a client sprayed Neroli hydrosol onto her body and her face just lit up-she beamed. She was so moved by the hydrosol that tears came to her eyes.
To use: Simply spray your face with the mixture (after cleansing and before moisturizing) and let the waters sit on your skin for a bit before moisturizing -OR- liberally spray a cotton pad and gently wipe the pad across your face and neck.
The possibilities are endless. Want to learn more? Look on the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies’ calendar for distillation retreats and hydrosol workshops. Also, read these other posts: “Hydrosols: the Quiet Revolution in Herbal Medicine” and “Ways to Use Hydrosols.” Happy hydrating!
1Note: they may be stored at a comfortable “room temperature”-what matters most is they are not subject to constant temperature fluctuation. Treat them like a fine wine.