Hydrolats – also known as hydrosols – have been described as the ‘next aromatherapy’. They are safer than essential oils, easier to use, and gentler. But what exactly are hydrolats?
Most essential oils are produced by a process of steam distillation. Here’s how it is done:
You take a large quantity of, say lavender stalks, and you put them into a still. You then allow steam to pass through the plant material. (It is far better to do this under gentle pressure and gentle temperature. Higher temperatures give a greater yield, but a lesser quality.)
As the plant is exposed to the steam, many active chemicals in the plant are released into the steam, which is then condensed (cooled down by passing into a cool tube). The steam then turns back into water, but the water now contains many wonderful natural healing chemicals that were in the plant.
Now here’s the interesting bit: some of those chemicals are so-called hydrophillic (that means they love water and dissolve in it), while others are oily and ‘hydrophobic’ (they are repelled by water). When you leave this water-oily mix for 15 minutes or so, the two parts quickly separate out, just as vinegar and oil will separate out when left to their own devices. The oil is the plant’s ‘essential oil’, and the water is known as a hydrolat, or a hydrosol.
So we can understand that, generally speaking, the hydrolat contains the water soluble chemicals from the plant, while the essential oil contains the non-water soluble chemicals.
Now consider something else: the human body is composed of about 60% water. Water is the major compound in every single cell in the body, and also in the fluid that runs around the outside of the cells. So if we want to get the balancing, therapeutic energies from the plants to our body’s cells, would it not make great sense to use the ones that dissolve in water? We can begin to see the power of the hydrolat!
Hydrolats are great to use in situations that involve great gentleness and delicacy. They can be used on children (even babies), on the elderly, and many vets use them too. One word of warning. Hydrolats can be a little unstable, and for that reason they are frequently adulterated with alcohol and or preservatives. These chemicals certainly preserve their shelf life, but they may adversely affect their therapeutic value. So it is always better to try to find hydrolats that are unadulterated and 100% pure, but also that come from a reputable supplier who tests each batch for the existence of microbes.
You will be familiar with some hydrolats already. True ‘Rose Water’ is in reality rose hydrolat. Witchhazel, which is a wonderful natural antioxidant, that is great for skin care is the hydrolat from the Hamamelis plant. You may be familiar with Orange Blossom water (neroli hydrolat), and of course Lavender water too.