Lavender hydrosol: What is it and how to use it

What is it?

Lavender hydrosol is one of two products resulting from the steam distillation of lavender. It is also sometimes referred to as lavender flower water. It contains a small percentage of essential oils, as well as the water soluble components of the plant material. It has similar properties as the essential oil, but is much gentler and also much safer to use.

It is interesting to note that up until the 18th century in Europe, distillation of plants was done to make hydrosols, and essential oils were considered the by-product. (Source). In the 20th century, it was not uncommon for the hydrosol to be considered a waste product in the production of essential oils. Modern distillers and the public are realizing the value and myriad uses of hydrosols and thankfully both are being retained. Some distillers are even distilling for the purposes of hydrosol again!

Appearance and odor:

Many people are surprised that the hydrosol doesn’t smell the same as lavender essential oil. The aroma is more herbal or grassy, with a light floral note. The odor is also not as strong as the essential oil. Get samples from a few of your favorite suppliers as there can be some variance in aroma.

Typical appearance of the hydrosol is a milky water. It is not viscous and has a slightly acidic pH.

Uses and benefits:

Lavender essential oil is extremely versatile so it is no surprise that the hydrosol has many uses. The benefits of lavender hydrosol include balancing, antiseptic, cooling, relaxing, soothing, and uplifting. Lavender tends to adapt to what your body needs, which is why it can be both soothing and uplifting.

Using Lavender hydrosol for skin care:

Lavender hydrosol can be used for all skin types. It is balancing to skin and can be helpful for redness or acne.
Facial cleanser/toner: The hydrosol can be used straight up as a gentle cleanser or a facial toner. Keeping a little in a spray bottle will allow you to spritz some on your face daily. The beauty of hydrosols is that they are gentle enough to be used everyday.
Body Spray: Spritzing your body with hydrosol after a shower will not only give your skin a light scent, but it can be helpful for dry skin.
Make lotions: Making lotions is an advanced DIY project since water based cosmetics require adequate preservation to avoid dangerous bacterial growth. It is not as scary as it sounds though. I highly recommend Anne Watson’s book Smart Lotionmaking if you are interested in giving it a try, and Lotioncrafters has a great selection of supplies for making lotion. I have made some lovely lotions using flower waters such as rose, geranium, and lavender as the liquid instead of water.
Sunburns: Since lavender oil has a famous reputation for use with burns, it makes sense that the hydrosol is cooling and soothing to sunburns. Using it in a spritzer bottle makes it easy to apply with a minimum of ouch. Some people mix it with witch hazel when using as a sunburn spray (Source).

Household Uses:

As if there weren’t enough skin care uses, there are several ways to use it around the house too.
Linen Spray/Room Spray: Many people use floral waters to gently fragrance their bedsheets or other linens. This is an especially nice use for insomniacs.
It also makes a natural substitute for an air freshener. If you have an ultrasonic diffuser, you could use a little hydrosol instead of water.
Laundry: You can use a little hydrosol in the rinse cycle of your washing machines to lightly freshen your clothes or some even report using it in their irons instead of water. In both cases, I recommend testing first to ensure you don’t damage your clothes (or your iron!). Remember, there is a small percentage of essential oils in there that could cause some spotting.
Cleaning: Many people use this versatile liquid to clean their house with. It seems there is nothing you can’t clean with it, but it is especially noted for cleaning glass, chrome and stainless steel without streaking.

Storage and shelf life:

Store hydrosols in a cool, dark place and you should be able to use it for up to 2 years (if you don’t use it up long before then!). Storing it in a refrigerator will prolong its shelf life.

Safety: Lavender hydrosol is generally considered safe to use. Unlike essential oils, it is gentle enough to use on a daily basis. As well, there are no known contraindications for use on or around babies or pets.

How to make it:

You may be thinking by now that you will need to have a gallon of this on hand, it is so versatile! While less expensive than essential oils, just 16 oz. of lavender hydrosol will still set you back a bit. So, is it possible to make it yourself?

It is possible to buy small stills for making essential oils (about $160 from the Essential Oil Company) or even make your own (which will get you a bigger capacity still for about the same investment).

If you are not interested in distilling your own oils/hydrosols, you can do a little DIY hack with stuff you already have and get similar results. You will likely end up with more essential oils in your finished product though as you won’t have enough to siphon off the essential oils.

  • You will need a large stockpot, a trivet or brick, a bowl, and a rounded lid for your stockpot. You will also need lavender, water, and ice. Once you use cookware to make hydrosol or any skin care product, I don’t recommend using it for cooking again. Picking up some cookware at your local thrift shop is a great idea.
  • Place the stockpot on the stove and put the trivet or brick in the middle of the pot. Place your lavender and water all around the bottom of the pan. Put the bowl on top of the trivet or brick. Place the lid on your pot upside down (so the convex part faces inside the pot). Place some ice on top of the lid.
  • The basic process of steam distillation is to force steam from water through the plant material, which ruptures the cells and carries the aromatic molecules with it. The steam goes through a condensation tube and is turned back to liquid. The condensed liquid is a mixture of hydrosol and essential oils. The liquid is placed in a separating flask and the heavier hydrosol is drained off while the lighter essential oils are prevented from being drained.
  • The stovetop method somewhat replicates this, however the plant material is in the water, not above the water. The steam from the lavender water rises to the top of the pot and hits the ice cooled lid. This turns it back to liquid, which rolls down the convex lid and drips into the bowl below. This is your hydrosol and essential oil mixture. The stovetop method usually does not produce a significant amount of essential oil due to the small amount of plant material used. This makes attempting to separate it out futile. If you see a fair amount of oil floating on top of the water, you could try to use a pipette to remove it instead.

Lavender hydrosol is a versatile and gentle liquid that has many properties in common with its essential oil counterpart. The biggest advantage of using hydrosols is that they are much milder and safer, making it possible to use them regularly instead of just as needed (as with essential oils). If you have a favorite way of using hydrosols, feel free to share in the comments.


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