Hydrosols, also known as floral waters, hydroflorates, flower waters or distillates are products from steam distilling plant materials. Hydrosols are like essential oils but in far less of a concentration. When a distiller brews plant material with water in a large cooker the steam fills the pot and, as it rises, it causes the glands of the plants to burst and release the oils and essence of the plant into the steam. The oil rises through a condenser and collects in a separate vessel. This is what we know as essential oil, but what about all that fragrant water that was steamed with the original plant material? That is our hydrosol, or floral water.
Hydrosols are usually the result of essential oil production as a by-product but the highest quality hydrosols come from the devoted distillers who, with artist like precision steam the floral and plant material strictly to produce a hydrosol. (The Hydrosols offered by Mountain Rose Herbs are produced in this fashion) Hydrosols contain all of the essence of the plant in every drop, just like essential oils but in a milder form; making them suitable for all manner of applications where essential oils would be too strong.
Noted author Jeanne Rose is quoted as saying:
The best comes from a distillation where it is the hydrosol that is being produced rather than the essential oil. Often the best comes from the earliest part of the distillation rather than the body of the distillation. This usually smells bright and pleasantly fragrant. Although, some of the therapeutic part of the hydrosol is also produced at the very end of the distillation, and usually has a rather grassy or vegetative note. As the plants are being distilled, micro-particles of essential oil are in suspension, they give the aromatic distillate its scent and will separate out as the hydrosol cools. There is approximately .02% essential oil in hydrosol
Clinically, the chemical components in the hydrosol are primarily acids, which are hydrophilic (water-loving). Why do they work? Because they acidify the water or the product and bacteria do not live well in acidic environments. This is why acidic liquids such as vinegar make good preservatives for food items like pickles, Chile peppers and Olives. Acidic environments are astringent and so the hydrosols are useful in skin care products as astringents constrict and contract the tissues. Hydrosols can be used externally in skin care products, internally as a douche, taken as a tonic or combined in a beverage drink. They also make lovely food mists as Rose water has been employed for such reasons for quite some time.