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Hydrolate, Hydrolat, floral water, aromatic distilled water and hydrosol – what is the difference?

Posted by Lauren at 23:06 on 19 May 2017


Not that long ago before aromatherapy became so popular creating an ever growing market in the United Kingdom, all distillate waters were collectively known as 'floral waters'. In these days, it was usually only possible to buy rose and orange blossom waters because of their use in food and sometimes also lavender and peppermint waters.

However as the term ‘floral waters’ only really refers to the water left over from distillation of essential oils from flowers and more and more aromatic waters appeared on the market, a new term had to be used and most retailers adopted the terms hydrolates or hydrolats and both are currently in use.

A hydrolate (hydro=water; suffix ‘ate’ to indicate the product of a process), is the aromatic water left over from the condensation process in the distillation of an essential oil. A hydrolate still contain minute quantities of that essential oil (about 0.1% or more), i.e. rosemary hydrolate = the water left over from rosemary essential oil production, geranium hydrolate= the water left over from geranium essential oil production, etc.

  • Hydrolates also contain dissolved water-soluble essential oil molecules
  • Essential oils molecules are what give the hydrolats their scents and their active aromatherapeutic properties.
  • Aromatic distilled waters, floral waters , flower waters are all the same thing

Hydrosols - the term ‘hydrosol’ (hydro=water and sol = the sun) is the term adopted in the US to refer to hydrolate as is often the case in the US where a variant name is used to designate a product, for example linseed in the US is flax seeds, etc.

Hydrolate, Hydrolat, Hydrosol – what is the difference.jpg

Things got more complicated when aromatherapists in the UK realised that the cosmetic industry had been producing since the 1950’s a man-made version of ‘floral waters’ called hydrosols and it was near-impossible to establish whether the hydrolates/hydrosols were of natural origins or man-made products. This type of hydrosols which often consists of dried pulverised flowers such as jasmine or mimosa which cannot withstand the distillation process, were created to reduce transport cost as many hydrolates come from countries in different parts of the world. Generally the term hydrosol in the UK and other European countries is likely to refer to the reconstitution of ‘floral waters’. The only way to know which they are is to ask for assurances from the suppliers that these are natural by-products of distillation of essential oils.

Importance of Quality and Purity
Concentration of essential oils in hydrolates varies and is usually expressed in percentage. Most hydrolats are around 3% concentration depending on plant yield and on management of the distillation process (heat, pressure, etc.).

For example- a hydrolate at 10% means that 100 kilos of dried plants have been used to produce 10 liters of floral water.

  • Concentration of essential oils in hydrolates is important if using them for medicinal purposes (from 3% for cosmetic use and food; 5% to 10% of medicinal use) such as peppermint, rose or camomile, etc.; it is possible to tell the % by smelling them.Prices should reflect the quality and concentration.
    The best hydrolats are organically produced or obtained from distillation of freshly picked wild plants. Beware hydrolats can be polluted by water-purifying chemicals, preservatives and pesticides.
  • Hydrolats have a short lifespan – they should be kept in the fridge; they react even more quickly to light and heat than essential oils and are also susceptible to microbial invasions. For medicinal uses they should be no more than 6 months old and up to year for cosmetic use although you should check that there is no cloudiness in the hydrolates.

by Nicole Perez IFA Member (Hons)