Whenever you hear the word aromatherapy, a picture of a person lying on stomach, with just a towel to cover the skin, and some nice fleshy and soft hands giving a sumptuous massage crosses the mind, isn’t it? Well, there is much to aromatherapy and floral waters.
Aromatherapy usually deals with essential oils that are derived from plant material either via distillation or expression. The latter method is used for fixed oils like olive, almond, sesame, etc., and also, for the volatile citrus oils which are expressed from the peel or zest of fruits mainly like –
However, the bulk of essential oils are produced by either hydro or steam distillation. This age-old process has been modernized for industrial purposes, but those who distil plants for health purposes still do so in the same delicate manner as distillers millennium ago.
The process produces a small amount of essential oil and a large amount of water and it is the waters, the co-product of distillation, or at least a portion of them, that are the hydrosols of which I write. I must say that in authentic distillation only 20-30% of the total waters produced would be deemed therapeutic and marketed as hydrosols, whereas in industrial distillation, which produces 3-4 times the volume of water, I have known companies to sell all of it as ‘therapeutic’ hydrosols for use primarily in the cosmetics industry.
Rosewater is a hydrosol, as is lavender, orange blossom, chamomile or rosemary water. In fact the most famous hydrosol is probably witch hazel, the distillate water of Hamamelis virginiana, and a product that is available in chemists and pharmacies all over the world. Unfortunately, due to its unstable nature, witch hazel is usually diluted with 10-30% alcohol to prevent bacterial growth. Which brings me to one last salient point – the issue of stabilizers and preservatives.
Hydrosols, since they are water, just beg to be used internally – to be consumed as a beverage. We need to drink water after all, so why not healing plant waters? In my definition, hydrosols are free from any additives, including stabilizers or preservatives such as alcohol, grapefruit seed extract or synthetic chemicals. It does not make sense to drink bottled or filtered water and then add chemicals to it – the same is true for hydrosols.
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