Hydrosols, also known as floral waters, have quickly become my absolute favorite way to use herbs. As a student of herbalism, I love learning about the amazing properties of plants and the variety of ways they contribute to our overall health and well-being. However, I don’t always find tinctures to be palatable and may not be up to drinking a whole quart-sized herbal infusion every day, but I find it very easy to incorporate hydrosols into my daily routine. So, it’s my delight to introduce you to this herbal wonder.
What is a Hydrosol?
Hydrosols are water-based solutions of the water-soluble plant constituents, including traces of essential oils, that are formed by the steam-distillation of plant materials in water. However, hydrosols are NOT just essential oils and water. Hydrosols contain additional substances from the plant material not found in the essential oil that you might find in a tea or decoction of the herb. However, there is much more plant material represented in a cup of hydrosol (even if diluted) than you’d find in a cup of tea, which only uses a small amount of plant material.
They also generally smell quite different than the essential oil, some can have completely different scents because of their complex chemistry. It’s part of the process of learning to explore and love these wonderful plant extracts.
Learn how hydrosols are made here.
Hydrosols Vs. Essential Oils
Although essential oils are believed to be water-insoluble, they do have a maximum solubility in water. This means, once a certain amount is dissolved in the hydrosol, the oil will start separating out. This is how essential oils are collected during distillation. However, these separated oils will have different chemical properties than the dissovled ones — since some of the chemicals found in the essential oil are too oil-loving to stay in water while others are too water-loving to stay in the oil and are found only in the hydrosol.
Why Not Just Use Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly potent extracts and include a narrower range of plant chemicals than a hydrosol. Many of these chemicals are only needed in incredibly small amounts to work effectively. When used regularly, these chemicals can build up in the body and amount to the intake of what ends up being a huge amount of plant materials, which often much more than your body actually needs.
If this much plant material is taken in, especially in people whose immune system is depressed, the body will reject much of it and potentially even shut down due to the immune system being overwhelmed and overstimulated.
Babies are another example of this. They don’t need dozens of pounds of lavender or chamomile to go to sleep or ease teething, so the oils are far too strong for them. Babies react better to lower doses. Even when using a hydrosol, you can dilute a teaspoon in a cup of water, and then dilute a teaspoon of the watered-down solution in another cup of water and still have an incredibly effective application.
Hydrosols offer safer, milder doses of these plants in a much easier to absorb form. Since they are water solutions, they don’t irritate the skin’s lipid barrier like oils can and they are easier to apply and absorb. They’re also much more sustainably made than essential oils, requiring far less plant materials per bottle.
Using Hydrosols Alongside Herbal-infused Oils
Plants have a variety of beneficial constituents that are soluble in a wide range of mediums, depending largely on their polarity and the pH of the solvent. Some constituents extract well in oil, while others are more water or alcohol-soluble.
Each method of extraction will draw out different concentrations and types of constituents. Therefore, using both an oil extract and a water extract of the same plant will give you a broader spectrum of the plant’s benefits and give you different benefits for your skin and overall health. So, pairing a hydrosol facial toner with our infused oil cleanser or tallow moisturizer gives you a great representation of plant constituents to nourish your skin.
How to Use Hydrosols
Most hydrosols can be used undiluted topically without any issues.
Easy ways to apply them topically include:
- Spray them directly on the skin using a spritz bottle as a toner, hydrating body mist, aftershave or to soothe skin conditions
- Add to a bath
- Add to a compress and apply to the skin
- Use to clean wounds
- Mix a tablespoon into other products - such as shampoos, cleansers, aloe or diaper wipe solutions
- Apply to a cotton ball or cloth to dab skin, remove makeup
- Add to a bowl of warm water for a facial steam
The uses are endless. They make great linen sprays, household cleaners, room sprays and more.
Applications in skincare include use for sunburns, bug bites, wounds, acne, joint pain, inflammation, eczema, aftershave, postpartum, aging skin, stings, oily skin, clogged pores, deodorant, fevers, diaper rash and more depending on the herb used. Read more about uses for specific herbal hydrosols here.
Hydrosols are incredibly safe and gentle to use in their full strength, especially for topical use. However, an acceptable dilution is one drop of hydrosol in ten drops of water. Hydrosols are still incredibly effective in very low doses and dilutions. It’s generally recommended to dilute for use with an infant under 2 years old, since their senses are easily overwhelmed by smell.
What is a Hydrosol’s Shelf Life?
Most mass-produced rosewater or witch hazel (which are both hydrosols) are heavily preserved with alcohol or other chemicals to give them a long shelf-life.
However, we believe a real, pure hydrosol should not contain anything except the condensate water collected during the time of distillation. Because of this, they should be used while they are still fresh and vibrant. We recommend storing them as outlined below and using them within 4 months for the best results. However, some hydrosols can last up to 1-2 years if they remain uncontaminated and are stored properly.
This is a surprising shelf-life for a water-based solution that doesn’t contain preservatives. That’s why we sell our hydrosols in 1oz bottles, giving you what should be enough to use up within a few months or less. Our personal bottles don’t normally last longer than 3-4 months (or a couple weeks).
On the other hand, if you find you are flying through your own stash, you can always dilute it with water to make it go a little further. These powerful extracts are still incredibly effective even in small doses. We frequently dilute ours with 50% water and still love the results.
Hydrosols require great care after production, unlike essential oils, since they have fewer natural preservatives and contain water.
Hydrosols are best stored in dark glass containers, away from the light and in cool temperatures of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The rate of degradation and the likelihood of contamination are significantly higher if the hydrosols are exposed to light and heat.
Avoid opening the tops of the container to smell the hydrosol, this can expose it to contaminants. Using a fine mist bottle allows you to dispense as much hydrosol as you need without contaminating the rest of the bottle.
So, grab a bottle of your favorite herbal hydrosol here and begin exploring all the ways you can incorporate hydrosols into your skincare and household.
Explore our other hydrosol resources here: