Hydrolats are known by many different names: flower waters, floral waters, hydrosols, aromatic waters, etc.
Hydrolats are distilled plant waters – that is, they are a product of the process of distillation, and can be considered as partial extracts of the plant material from which they are derived. They may be the by-products of distillation for volatile oils (e.g. lavender water, chamomile water, etc.), or distillation of plant material which has little, or no volatile oil within it (e.g., elderflower, cornflower, plantain). For therapeutic use, these products need to be totally natural, with no added synthetic fragrance components, stabilisers or preservatives. Consequently, they must be stored very carefully, since they are prone to microbial contamination, especially once beyond their ‘use by’ date.
Hydrolats are much more gentle therapeutic agents than essential oils. They have a mild action, which is without toxicity, making them ideal for use as skin tonics, or in therapeutic baths. The human skin is naturally slightly acidic (pH 5.5) which can be damaged if exposed to products which are alkaline (which most man-made skin formulations are). However, most hydrolats have a pH of between 4 to 6, making them neutral or slightly acid, so they are particularly well tolerated for skincare.
Hydrolats have a subtle (almost homeopathic effect) without the risk of irritation and are suitable for sensitive skins, babies, children and the elderly.
The uses of hydrolats are many and varied, but generally include the following:
- they can form the water element when diluting a cream into a lotion, prior to the addition of essential oils;
- added to baths;
- hydrolats can be used with essential oils in a vaporiser;
- can be used instead of the water element in the preparation of a compress;
- for skincare: as toners, facial sprays, aftershave lotions, face masks;
- as a spray for airborne infections and skin infections, wounds, burns, etc. and other conditions which should not be touched;
- haircare: in shampoos, conditioners and hair rinses;
- gargles, mouthwashes;
- disinfecting and freshening the atmosphere, e.g. in a sick room;
- dampening/freshening laundry/bedding;
- a skin or body tonic, for cooling the body (especially good for hot flushes);
- as an insect repellent.