Category Archives: Hydrosols

Hydrosols: The Tipping Point is Safety!

Thursday - 2 November 2017

I purchased my first hydrosol in 1989, a lovely gallon of Rosa damascena from the May 1989 Turkish harvest. The well-known aromatherapist must have given direction on storage and use, but I don’t recall them. I still have some of that hydrosol, archived for decades in a refrigerator, brought out now and then to sniff, or transfer a bit to a sterile sprayer for use on the tips of my hair. No sign of microbial growth, the main problem with hydrosols, but I am aware that sometimes the growth does not show up as dark swirls or gunk on the bottom of the bottle, it can be invisible.

For readers who aren’t familiar with what hydrosols are, they’re the water from distillation, and they contain water-soluble aromatics of the plant. Many now distill just for hydrosol, which is a slightly different process from distilling for essential oils, wherein hydrosols are a “byproduct” of the essential oil process.

I often make “stovetop” distillations which don’t require a distillation unit, and pop them into sterile bottles and into the fridge, with an expected shelf life of a week or so. Care must be taken to avoid allowing microbes into the hydrosol, as it is easily contaminated by your fingers, microbes in the air and such.

Refreshing rosemary simplers’ hydrosol made with fresh rosemary from my garden. Note the bottle and cap from the UV sterilization unit.

Quick and easy way to sterilize materials with UV light.

Over the years, I’ve purchased organic hydrosols that I resold, and they were microbe-free. I purchased two hydrosols for personal use, one from a very well-known herbal supplier, and the orange blossom hydrosol quickly went bad. I knew it wasn’t my having a hand in contaminating it, as it had a spray top. When I wrote them, they said they had distilled it themselves from *dried*! orange blossoms, and didn’t know about needing sterile bottles. Mind you, this is a huge company, but I guess nobody did their research. Another bad hydrosol came from a friend who was in the essential oil supply business, but who didn’t know anything about hydrosols. It went bad very quickly.

In 2009, I distilled for the first time, in a glass still, and got a few milliliters of exquisite bay leaf essential oil, and some lovely hydrosol. Well, I wasn’t stringent about sterile bottles, and the hydrosol went bad, even under refrigeration. I should have known better, but the distillation was haphazard, as we were both learning, and scrambling around. I never made that mistake again!

Here’s my problem in 2017. Everybody is loving hydrosols and jumping on the hydrosol-making trend. Too many folks, in my opinion, although they may have taken a course with a great distiller, don’t understand all the need for sterilization of equipment, and good labeling.

A few months ago, a local friend received a gift of a hydrosol made from grapes at an herbal conference. She called me when the bottle developed an obvious microbial contamination, full of dark swirls. I was shocked, and told her to toss it. What made this so urgent in my mind is the fact she has an illness that requires her to have zero immune system. Yes, she must surpress her immune system to live. No eating at buffets, no digging in the soil, no public transportation, just a very carefully-controlled environment to prevent anything from attacking her because it can KILL her.

The person who gave her the hydrosol is known to me to be very sloppy and incompetent when it comes to safety, from making body butters that can cause citrus phototoxicity and permanent scarring, to not sterilizing her bottles for hydrosols. Ugh. I had warned her many times about her careless use of essential oils, hydrosols and such, but here was an event that could cause death.

I propose that not only do makers of hydrosols get highly educated on how to sterilize, store, and distribute these beautiful fragrant waters, but that they adopt a labeling standard that can help keep the waters safe(r).

  1. Botanical and common name of plant material
  2. Date distilled
  3. Warning to those with compromised immune systems or other health concern to not use them.
  4. Instructions to not open the cap and leave the hydrosol exposed to air.
  5. Instructions to no touch the neck of the bottle so that their finger comes in contact with the hydrosol.
  6. Do not breath into the hydrosol, it may distribute microbes from your respiratory system into the hydrosol.
  7. Keep it in the refrigerator
  8. At the sign of anything “growing” inside, discard the hydrosol.
  9. Take the pH of the hydrosol, if it goes above 4.0, discard

Dear reader, can you think of anything else. Please help me correct any errors and spread the word about safety and hydrosols.

Make Hydrosol the Simplers Herbalist Way

Sunday - 17 January 2016

Simplers Distillation to Create a Quick and Easy Hydrosol

There are times I just want to spray a delectable floral, spice, herb, or other botanical water on my face or body. The well-known botanical waters, rose or orange blossom, are also known as hydrolats, distillate waters, or hydrosols. I’ll call them hydrosols for this article, because that is perhaps the best-known name for them.

What’s the difference between Hydrosols and Simply Boiling the Botanical?

When you boil a botanical, whether it’s a rose or oolong tea, you are making an infusion. All of the properties of the botanical are being drawn out into the hot water, and you can drink it ‘as is’. When you make a hydrosol, many of the chemical properties of the botanical are left in the water in the bottom of the pot, as in making tea. It’s the volatile, scented properties of the botanical that rise with the steam, condense on the iced top of the container (more about that below) and drip down into a container that will collect the hydrosol.

Hydrosol is much more concentrated than the tea, and should always be diluted before using it in food or drink. However, if you’re like me, you make it mostly for spraying on the body or hair, or for splashing on the face, like a toner.

Why Make Hydrosols?

Why hydrosol? Besides the health benefits of using a botanical with beneficial chemical components, maybe I just want to capture the ethereal citrusy scent of a rare lemongrass (C. flexuosus) from my garden. It’s sweeter and lighter than the bulbous “regular” lemongrass we all know from Asian recipes, and I find it very refreshing. Maybe I only have a few dozen golden campaca flowers, or a few handfuls of ylang ylang, in all their rare and glorious sensual beauty. Let’s not forget the lemon leaves, rosemary, lime leaves, patchouli, pineapple sage and other fragrant beauties I have in my garden — the list is long, and I love them all!

Some ideas for a simplers' hydrosol - lilies, rose geranium, citrus rinds, leaves, or flowers, dried patchouli or other herbs or teas - etc., etc.

Some ideas for a simplers’ hydrosol – lilies, rose geranium, citrus rinds, leaves, or flowers, dried patchouli or other herbs or teas – etc., etc.

I have several distillation devices: a 2 Liter glass hydrodistillation unit from Heart Magic, and a gorgeous piece of art in the form of a 20 Liter copper hydro- or steam- distillation unit from The Essential Oil company. Due to their small size, I mostly get hydrosol, and a little bit of essential oil. Using them, I get anywhere from a pint to three liters or so of hydrosol. These units are great for production, but sometimes when I just want a quick hydrosol, I don’t set up the formal distillation units. Instead, I use a method that was probably used thousands of years ago, and is still efficient and productive today.

I call it a simplers’ distillation, paying homage to the ancient simplers’ method of herbal tincturing and infusion. The simplers’ way means nothing is measured, and the botanical is simply covered by the menstruum – water, in this case – and the process is adapted for a stovetop or campfire.

Our ancestors in northern climates probably used cold water from a stream or well, but since Miami’s tap water (which I filter) rarely goes lower than 78F, I have to resort to using ice to facilitate the necessary condensation. This condensation of the rising steam is what chills the steam and allows the scented hydrosol to fall into the bowl for collections.

simplers hydrosol pot with bowl lid and steam small_opt

Inverted glass lid with metal handle (all non-reactive materials) showing steam starting to materialize after a few minutes of water and rosemary in pot being heated.After steam appears, place a ziplock bag filled with ice on the lid. You will have to replace with a new bag with ice several times during distillation. They can be refrozen and reused over and over.

After steam appears, place a ziplock bag filled with ice on the lid. You will have to replace with a new bag with ice several times during distillation. They can be refrozen and reused over and over.

This method is easy any season of the year, anywhere you live, and with any fragrant botanical you have on hand, which can be from your garden, the grocery, or even dried – dried rose petals work well with this method, as do many other dried botanicals.

Equipment needed:

All of the equipment needs to be made of non-reactive material, such as stainless steel, enamel, or pyrex.

– A large pot or saucepan
– A lid with a slight dome, no flat lids. Turn the lid upside down, so the hydrosol will drop down into the bowl.
– A platform to elevate the bowl. It should be as small as possible to do the job, because the area around it needs to be sufficiently generous to hold as much plant material as possible. I use an upside-down custard cup aka a ramekin, with a flat bottom
– Plant material: fresh is best, but you can experiment with flowers, seeds, bark, roots and other materials that are dried.
– Filtered water
– Appropriate size ziplock plastic bag to fit onto the lid. I use one gallon bags.
– Ice to fill the plastic bag. You may need to refill the bag several times as the ice melts, so have a backup supply of ice. After the distillation is completed, I let the melted ice in the bag refreeze by placing the bag inside the lid and placing it in the freezer. That way, the bag is conformed to the lid, and in a solid chunk, which slows down the melting time for the next distillation.
– Sterile container for the finished hydrosol. Directions on how to sterilize the container are detailed below.

Directions

1. Place the pot or saucepan on the heat source
2. Place the platform to elevate the bowl in the bottom of the pot, centered.
3. Place the plant material around the platform, up to the top of the platform. Pack the plant material to fit as much as possible in the space.
4. Pour in enough water to cover the plant material.
5. Place the bowl on the platform
6. Place the lid on the pot, inverted, so that the dome faces down, to allow the steam to drip into the bowl. The hydrosol will drip from the handle into the bowl
7. Turn on the heat to high, and when the water begins to boil, turn it down to medium and place a bag of ice on the lid.
8. Maintain an even temperature for the heat, and replace the bag of ice as needed with a fresh bag of ice.
9. The distillation is finished when the plant material looks “spent”, or you detect an odor that indicates no more fragrant molecules are being extracted.
10. Lift the bag of ice from the lid
11. Do not open the lid. Allow the pot and contents to cool down to room temperature.
12. Remove the lid and pour the contents of the bowl into a sterile container and secure a lid on the container.
13. Label the container with date, plant material, and method used.
14. Store in a cool place, out of sunlight.

Sterilizing The Hydrosol Container

There are several methods that you can choose from to sterilize the container you use for storing the hydrosol, whether it is a jar or bottle. Of course, glass is the best choice, due to its non-reactive properties, and a tight fitting cap is necessary, as a cork will allow microbes to migrate into the container.

1. While the hydrosol is cooking on the stove, place your container and its lid into a separate pan and gently boil for at least twenty minutes. Carefully remove the container and lid with tongs, and place them upside down on a clean towel. Allow them to cool. You may also boil a pyrex or stainless steel funnel at this time if you wish to use it for transferring the hydrosol to the container.

2. Use an alcohol wash of the container and lid and funnel (optional) by diluting 190 proof undenatured alcohol to 170 proof and washing the inside of the container and the lid and funnel with it.

3. I use a UV light box, such as the ones used by tattoo artists and cosmeticians. I place the container and funnel on the top shelf, and the cap on the bottom, facing upwards, so the UV light can reach the inside of it. Put the UV machine on for 15 minutes to sterilize.

 

Quick and easy way to sterilize materials with UV light.

Quick and easy way to sterilize materials with UV light.

Refreshing rosemary simplers' hydrosol made with fresh rosemary from my garden. Note the bottle and cap from the UV sterilization unit.

Refreshing rosemary simplers’ hydrosol made with fresh rosemary from my garden. Note the bottle and cap from the UV sterilization unit.

My photos don’t do the process justice. The first link is a good documentation of the process. The author uses dried elderflowers.

http://ourheritageofhealth.com/elderflower-water-a-homemade-hydrosol/

This video is a great tutorial on simplers’ hydrosol making. She uses fresh rose petals, so it’s a great visual. My instructions and preferences differ a bit from hers: I like a glass lid so I can observe the process, and I think it’s a lot more convenient to place the ice cubes in a plastic bag. Also, as noted above, I’m very strict about sterilization. Hydrosols can grow microbes very quickly if not transferred into sterile containers with sterile lids.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Vnv4gTeTv8

Combo hydrosols

Experiment and find some combinations of plant materials that you like. Mint, rosemary, and bay leaf. Rose and jasmine – yum! Patchouli and cedar wood shavings. Citrus and ambrette seeds. Have fun!

Distilling Cornutia grandifolia for perfume and health

Thursday - 29 October 2015

I’ve long been obsessed with a tropical member of the Mint family Labiatae and focused on obtaining some plants of it to grow in my fragrant garden. They were harder to find than I imagined, but I got two in small pots about a year and a half ago. You can read more about them here.

These plants are as aggressive in their growth habit as mints; instead of growing horizontally via runners, they grow vertically, leaping skyward at an astonishing rate. I don’t fertilize them, and they don’t have any pests or diseases. On a sunny Sunday in Miami, Angie and Julia showed up to harvest them and we worked together on the distillation of the big, soft, velvety, fragrant leaves. The leaves smell like a combination of balsam, tobacco, mint, and sweetness.

Angie and Julia harvesting the Cornutia grandifolia leaves

Angie and Julia harvesting the Cornutia grandifolia leaves

This photo gives you a sense of the size of the leaves: “grandifolia” for sure. Some are as big as your head, most will cover your hand, even with fingers outstretched.

Julia harvesting cornutia

Julia harvesting cornutia; a context shot to show the size of the leaves, and the height of the plant

Here’s a shot of a leaf covering my hand:

Cornutia leaf covering my hand - with Lulu looking on

Cornutia leaf covering my hand – with Lulu looking on

Once the branches were harvested, they were brought immediately inside, and the leaves were stripped off of them, and torn into pieces. From harvest to distillation pot, approximately a half hour. Cornutia is amazing: no insects, no diseases, very healthy foliage. We did find one ladybug who hitched a ride inside!

Angie and Julia starting to process the leaves for the distillation pot. It soon got serious and focused, with the three of us around the table. We then weighed the leaves, and got over four pounds for the hydro pot and the steam column.

Angie and Julia starting to process the leaves for the distillation pot. It soon got serious and focused, with the three of us around the table. We then weighed the leaves, and got over four pounds for the hydro pot and the steam column.

Angie kept meticulous records throughout, and she is still refining the record sheet to adjust it as we learn more of the process.

So the retort (hydrodistillation pot) and the steam column were packed, and we used Ann Barker Harmon’s book Harvest to Hydrosol as a guide, finding the ratios of water to plant material very helpful.

The beautiful 20L copper alembic is from The Essential Oil Company, and is adaptable for either hydrosol or essential oil production. It’s the minimum size required for essential oil, as the yields of that are typically very low, so you need a critical mass of plant material to get some. We were happy to get hydrosol, because distillate waters have a beauty and magic all their own, and we wanted to explore this rare plant’s hydrosol.

There is an overuse of the sealing tape, because we're beginners and were nervous about steam escaping, but we're pretty happy about the set up for the distillation itself, and have captioned it to help convey the logistics of the process.

There is an overuse of the sealing tape, because we’re beginners and were nervous about steam escaping, but we’re pretty happy about the set up for the distillation itself, and have captioned it to help convey the logistics of the process. One correction: the arrow for “warm water out” should be pointing in the opposite direction of the “cold water in” arrow. It flows from the top of the condenser back to the ice chest where it is cooled again.

We were so excited when the hydrosol started dripping into the jar, I had to remove the sound from the video! 🙂 Anyway, this may be the first-ever video of Cornutia grandifolia being distilled in the USA.

This is my first attempt to embed a youtube video into a blog post, I hope it works.

The first part of a hydrosol that appears is called the “head”, and it is typically very beautiful, sweet, perhaps full of esters. Not only did the Cornutia fill that description, it was the palest of silvery blue. I was wondering if it might contain chamazulene, the antiinflammatory agent in Roman Chamomile. The undersides of the leaves are silvery, and maybe the blue is present because of the blue flowers – which we did not distill, but might be present in other parts of the plant. After I posted about this on Jeanne Rose’s Hydrosols group on Facebook, she informed us that the flowers are mixed with lime(stone?) in France to make a blue ink.

Here is a photo of the “head” hydrosol:

The "head of the hydrsol captures the sweetest, prettiest notes. We got about 16 ounces.

The “head of the hydrsol captures the sweetest, prettiest notes.

We then switched to another sterile jar, and go the “body” of the hydrosol, and all the time, including while the “head” was processing, we were chatting about the scents we were observing coming from the still. Artichoke, ghee, floral, tobacco, mint were the first observations. Then in the “body” the artichoke receded a bit, and a balsam scent came through. I think we were a little perplexed, because we had never smelled anything like this before. We all agreed that the fragrance was strong, and an analogy could be made that it was a big and powerful looking as the plant and leaves.

I feel the hydrosol could be used in perfume, a tiny bit added to round out and give a complex, beautiful note.

When we detected that the scent coming out of the distillation was going flat, we knew we had reached the “tail” or end of the great-smelling distillate.The hydrosol was now finished, so we turned off the gas, capped the jar, and began the process of disassembling and cleaning the still – no easy task! Angie and Julia were so helpful, I can’t thank them enough.

Here is what the spent Cornutia leaves from the retort pot looked like when we took the column off:

The spent Cornutia leaves after the distillation is over. Looking down into the retort pot. We were surprised at the green leaves that survived the heat.

The spent Cornutia leaves after the distillation is over. Looking down into the retort pot. We were surprised at the green leaves that survived the heat.

Ann Harman’s book has instructions for evaluating the marc, how to examine the texture and look of the plant material, and despite the few odd green leaves, the marc fit the description of what it should look and feel like. You also have to examine the marc in the column, the part that was steam distilled. There were no dry spots, no areas where the steam did not pass through, so we felt pretty good about the project.

We now have almost two liters of “body” hydrosol distillate, and slightly less than one pint of “head”. We all took samples of the “body” to evaluate as it slightly aged. Over the course of this week, the artichoke has disappeared, and some sage notes, and then black tea notes (it even smells like sweetened iced tea!) have emerged along with floral, balsam, and others that are hard to define. No, no essential oil. Perhaps like the other Mint family plant that yields *very* little essential oil – Lemon Balm – this plant is to be prized for its hydrosol. What are the medicinal properties? Good question.

Angie Gonzales is an Ayurvedic practitioner and she will be delving into the large body of Spanish language written materials on this plant . It’s an ancient, powerful medicinal plant, and there have been a number of studies done on its medicinal properties in Central and South America. Since it was used by the Mayans, and Angie is from Mexico, she feels a special affinity for it. We will be reporting more on this wonderful plant in the future. Subscribe to this blog to be informed when we update it regarding Cornutia.