Which Hydrosols/Flower Waters/Aromatic Waters/Distillate are worth buying and which are well worth avoiding?
I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries recently on flower waters and how fantastic they are for the skin. Many beauty bloggers advocate their use and rightly so, a great flower water is a magical ingredient. They are used by themselves as spritzers, toners and subtle perfumes and added to food and drinks for unusual and interesting flavours. They are also incorporated into any number of mists and cosmetics as significant ingredients. However, as an artisanal distiller I wanted to write a little about some of the differences between flower waters because they are certainly not all equal and many are not quite what they seem.
Most hydrosols (flower waters) you see are a by-product of the essential oil industry. The conditions in which they are made are far from ideal for a quality hydrosol. To make commercial essential oils you need to distil a vast amount of plant material and, with profit as the primary motive, the faster the oil is collected the better. Most commercial distillations are over within an hour. The method is fast and furious. The plant matter regarded as a crop rather than a valuable healing ingredient.
Plant matter is put into a huge stainless steel vat, pushed down and then steam is injected at high pressure. This process smashes open the oil glands in the plant and releases the essential oil. At the same time a hydrosol is produced. It will lack the full body of both scent and therapeutics; the alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, phenols and acids are heavier than the lighter volatiles and so are slower to come over – these will be less evident in a commercial hydrosol.
The other key issue is water – the type of water you use will materially affect the hydrosol. The more pristine the water the better. A large commercial distillery will use whatever type of water is available, the nature of it is unlikely to be a priority. Where a preference is made commercially, it is for an alkaline water. In contrast when we distil we use Sussex Pear Tree Well Water which is from a local well and has a high silver content as well as a fantastic range of minerals and trace elements. It makes a huge difference.
The issue is this – why are you applying a hydrosol or adding it to your food? It is presumably because you want to experience the full benefit of the plant on your skin. When we distil we use Valerie our big copper Alembic, we make sure that our water supply is pristine. We have very high hygiene standards, another issue I’ll come to. Our distillations run until every last drop of scent and therapeutic has been extracted with our Still often running for 14 hours. The process is usually a hydro-distillation which means that the plant material is in water. Sometimes we add a column with more plant matter in, which allows the steam that rises gently from the retort part of the Still to penetrate more flowers to give an even richer hydrosol. We test our hydrosols at the end of a distillation, they are acidic – usually around 5 to 5.5. This is perfect for the skin.
Just returning briefly to hygiene – Ann Harman, a very experienced distiller and researcher from the Circle H Institute has bought and tested numerous hydrosols from all over the world including the USA and Canada as well as India and N.Africa and found the following:
Fungal: Aureobasidium, Cladosporium, Scopulariopsis, Yeasts
Bacteria: Actinomycetes, Ralston, Roseomonas, Bacillus, Staphylococcus.
This is not good. Some were terribly old having been sitting around for a long while prior to selling. Some of the hydrosols were not even plant based but rather a chemical cocktail. Many were adulterated.
As a distiller and a therapist every part of the process is critical to me. From selecting the best organic plants, to using an ancient method of distilling that ensures that the resulting hydrosol is the very best it can be, through to ensuring that good hygiene is maintained from beginning to end. Our Aromatic Waters are truly different and we are really proud of that. They nourish your skin and feed your spirit – very few producers can honestly say that.
I have contact details for some wonderful small, conscientious distillers all over the world. If you would like details, let me know because these are the people at the forefront of this plant revolution, the ones who strive to produce the very best.
Ann Harman via the Circle H Institute can be found at https://circlehinstitute.com/