The Alchemy of Hydrosols

How to Prepare Floral Waters, or in ancient terms: Preparing Hydrosols using Alembics
Katolen Yardley, MNIMH, RH (AHG)
Copyright 2017
www.katolenyardley.com

The art of distillation dates back past 5000 BC. Herbal waters or hydrosols even predate
the preparation of essential oils by hundreds of years. If you are interested in creating
floral waters, aka, hydrosols, then learn the basics of plant distillation. Becoming familiar with the words used in the process and the rituals associated with historical use immediately aligns us with historic practices and the magic of transformation itself. When creating hydrosols, know that you are tapping into ancient wisdom and transformative alchemical processes.

Deciphering Terms:

  • Floral water creates a useful visual but is not the most accurate representation, as hydrosols can be steam distilled from other plant parts, barks, seeds, fruits, roots as well as flowers, vegetables, even beeswax.
  • Aromatic water or plant water are descriptive terms – painting the picture of an ‘aroma filled’ water; however water from plants do not always bringing forth the familiar characteristic scent of the plant, but take on there is a fingerprint of the plants’ essence.
  • Hydrosol The term hydrosol was first recorded around 1860, the term comes from the Latin hydro, meaning ‘water’ and sol, which means ‘solution.’ ‘Hydrosol’ indicates any water-based solution or distillate waters.
  • Hydrolate or hydrolat may be the most accurate words to use. Sourced from the Greek word ‘hydor’, and Latin word ‘hydro’, means ‘water,’ and lait, meaning ‘milk’ referring to how the liquid appears when it comes off the still.

Distillation The process of purifying a liquid by volatilization or evaporation and subsequent condensation of a liquid, as when water is boiled in a retort and the steam is condensed in a cool receiver. (Dictionary.com) The process of heating a liquid until it gives off a gas and then cooling the gas until it again becomes liquid (Mirriam Webster Dictionary Online). The word ‘distillation’ comes from the Latin word ‘destillare’ meaning ‘to trickle down drop by drop.’

An alembic is an apparatus or piece of equipment used in distillation, an agent something that refines or transmutes as if by distillation.  There are many types of Alembics, also known as distillation units or stills which can vary in design, purpose and materials used. There are clay pottery alembics, stills made from  brass, iron, copper and stainless steel. If you are using equipment for medicine making ensure you choose food grade equipment.

How Hydrosols are Created
Hydrosols are created from the steam distillation of plant matter which produces both essential oils and a water component (hydrosol). Steam distillation can occur in a large, tall pot (alembic), containing plant matter and water. As the pot is heated the water will break through the plant material and loosen the volatile constituents. Steam, intermingled with the aromatic essence of the plant material, will rise to the top of the alembic. A tightly fitting lid, with a secure seal ensures that no steam will leak out of the vessel and instead allows for the steam to rise to the top of the alembic. As the steam cools it transforms into liquid which is collected at the top of the lid and as the steam cools it transforms back into aromatic water, seeping down the sides, into the spout and  and into the collecting bowl container.

For kitchen preparations- the steam collects on the lid of the pan and condenses due to the ice cubes (the ice cools down the steam), turning the steam back into water (hydrolat), with small amounts of oil (essential oil). Because the pot lid is upside down, as the steam turns back into a liquid, the liquid drips down into the smaller collecting bowl. Small amount of essential oil also transfer into the hydrosol. Aromatic waters and essential oil do not mix, so any the essential oil, may be seen on the top of the water where it can be siphoned off or mixed into the final product. As hydrosols are a water-based product; pay close attention in both the distillation and preservation processes to preventing bacterial contamination. First and foremost is the cleanliness of the still, tubing, high quality water, collecting vessels, and work surfaces used in the distilling process. For more information on kitchen preparations of hydrosols, continue reading.