One of the fun things I do on the farm is distill some of the herbs we grow. When distilling herbs, you get two products; an essential oil and an herbal water or distillate (also known as a hydrosol). These plant waters have a delightful aroma; it is very light compared to the essential oil and so it is very skin friendly as well. Remember, because of their potency, essential oils should never (or rarely) be used directly on the skin without dilution, but hydrosols can be used directly on the skin. In fact, they make great face and body mists.
To produce a high quality hydrosol, we do what is called ‘hydrodistillation’. We harvest the herb when it is at it’s peak fragrance. For lavender, this is just a little after the flower has bloomed, much later than we would harvest for bud or for bundles. The plant material is stuffed into the body or ‘pot’ of our stainless steel still; we use stainless because it is non-reactive. Many distillers love the look of copper, but we do put a copper mesh in our column because it seems the copper adds a little something to the aroma. The lid which has a neck and a condenser goes on the top of the still. As the steam rises it collects in the condenser which turns the steam back into liquid. We light a flame under the still to boil it’s contents.
As the water boils, the aromatic molecules of the herb rise up in the steam of the water. These vapors are collected and a condenser on the still collects the liquid that comes off. When we collect that liquid, the oil soluble portion, or essential oil, rises to the top, while the majority of the product is the watery distillate or hydrosol.
When the distilling is finished, we separate the essential oil from the top. You may be seeing some new products this year that we make with that essential oil. But our prize product is the watery part of the distillate. It’s aroma is delightful and much more like the scent of the plant than the essential oil is. The hydrosol contains some similar components as the essential oil, but more diluted, as well as additional water soluble molecules that are not found in the essential oil.
Because the hydrosol is watery, it is prone to bacterial contamination (unlike the essential oil). So, we put part of it in the refrigerator to sell wholesale to other cosmetics companies, and the other part we add a mild preservative to, and fill spritzer bottles for our face and body mists.
Hydrosols that have a long history of use and may be more familiar to you are rose water and orange water. Some skin benefits include:
- They are pH balanced to the skin (between pH 4-6) so they can be used as toners to help restore the normal acid pH of the skin.
- They are anti-inflammatory and can be used to calm any redness.
- They are hydrating to the skin. Because they are water based, they actually hydrate and refresh the skin and can be used anytime throughout the day.
Here are some ways to use them at home:
- Spritz them on the face for toning/hydration/refreshment.
- Spritz on the hair to help close the cuticle and decrease frizz.
- Use them to moisten a dry clay mask.
- Use 2-3 tablespoons in steam facial.
- Dip cosmetic pads into a distillate to use on the eyes.
- Spritz them on after applying mineral makeup to help set the makeup.
- Add a some to a foot soak or hand soak.
- Use them as a linen spray on your pillow or clothing.
These distillate waters are great for spa treatments too. They can be used to treat any redness that occurs during a facial treatment, used as a toner, or use them as an aromatherapy part of treatment. See if your esthetician uses them and if not, suggest them.
On our farm we distill lavender, rose, clary sage, lemon balm, mint, cucumber, tulsi, fennel, catnip, and blue spruce. You can buy them as face and body mists here. We also sell our distillates wholesale to other cosmetics businesses who use them in their formulas.