How to Make a Homemade Herbal Hydrosol Without a Still, Right in Your Own Kitchen (Plus, Everything Else You Want to Learn About Hydrosols)!
I recently decided that I would try my hand at making my own herbal hydrosols from the aromatic plants I love to harvest either in the wild or from my own garden. I decided I’d just do this at home, in my kitchen, using a simple distillation process. You can use your own kitchen tools, too!
Hydrosols are wonderful substitutes for essential oils, which are far more concentrated and often dangerous and sensitizing extracts of a plant’s volatile and fat soluble oils. This is because hydrosols contain moisture from the water used, moisture from within the plant’s cells, and include micro amounts of essential oil as well as water soluble constituents from the plant.
The perfect combination!
Want a great skin toner or perfectly diluted spray for a small wound? A hydrosol is exceptional! AND, you do not need fancy equipment or the massive amount of plant matter required to make a pure essential oil.
Besides all this?
You can make your own hydrosol right in your own kitchen using simple kitchen tools, like a stock pot, that you probably already have!
Ready to get started?
Hey! Do you prefer to watch by video? You can! This link will take you to a video where you can see me quickly discuss foraging western red cedar, which is what I used in this hydrosol, as well as the whole process of making a hydrosol too.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
How to Make a Hydrosol Right in Your Own Kitchen
Before we get into the simple and easy directions for making a hydrosol at home, it’s probably a good idea to discuss what a hydrosol actually is and do a quick comparison between a hydrosol and an essential oil so you’ll really know the differences.
What is a Hydrosol and How is It Different Than an Essential Oil?
Very simply, a hydrosol is an aromatic water with the therapeutic benefits from beneficial plant constituents, similar to, but not nearly as concentrated as an essential oil. Sometimes they are referred to as “floral” waters.
Also, they are different from essential oils. If you come across a hydrosol marketed by a company that has simply added essential oil to water, then that is NOT a true hydrosol.
A true hydrosol requires distillation either through steam or a combination of water and steam, or through water. So, there are steam distillations, hydro-distillations, or combinations of methods It’s a different process than distilling for an essential oil.
Commercial companies or very serious home distillers will use fancy equipment and stills usually made with copper and include a condenser of some type. But….you don’t need all this fancy equipment to make hydrosols for your own family!
The process I’m going to show you now, where you don’t need a fancy still, is a hydro-distillation. But before we get into the easy directions, you’ll want to know the differences between essential oils and hydrosols, right?
Here is a quick rundown of essential oils vs. hydrosols:
1) A hydrosol uses much less plant matter than it takes to make essential oils. It takes 2,000 pounds of lavender blossoms to produce just one liter of lavender essential oil. It would take a fraction of the poundage (I’ll just estimate about one to two pounds or so) of lavender to yield a couple of cups of lovely lavender hydrosol.
**The measurements are estimates!
2) Essential oils are the fat soluble and volatile oils of the plant, while hydrosols are the water soluble constituents from the plant along with traces of the essential oil.
3) Hydrosols are much more sustainable to create, due to the reduced amount of plant matter you need.
4) Hydrosols can be used directly on the skin, while essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil.
5) Essential oils are highly concentrated and caution with dilution needs to be used. Hydrosols are much more gentle.
And now, the process I used…..
The Process for Making a Hydrosol at Home Without a Still
There are some basic tools you’ll need, and I bet you have them in your cupboards right now!
** A large stock pot that’s fairly deep
** An object to be placed on the bottom of the stock pot that a glass bowl or cup can sit on inside the stockpot with a lid on top. I used a stainless steel bowl, on the small side, turned upside down. Next time, I plan to use something heavier though, because the steam kept making it wanting to rise up.
I’ll be calling this the “lifter” because it lifts the container that will catch the hydrosol up and away from the plant matter.
** A heat resistant glass “catcher” like a Pyrex pitcher. Mine was the two-cup size. I’ll be calling this the “catcher.”
** The lid to the stock pot, which you will turn upside down. It needs to fit well across the top, even when upside down, and the handle should be right over the heat resistant catcher. in this process, the lid acts as the “condenser.”
** Ice cubes
** Your plant material. I used some foraged western red cedar. I didn’t weigh it, but I’d estimate I had about a pound and a half of cut up leaves and some stems.
Directions for Making Your Homemade Hydrosol
Place your small stainless steel bowl upside down in your stock pot. You can also use any object that will fit in the bottom that allows your pitcher to sit on top and still have the lid on tight so steam doesn’t escape. A friend of mine uses a heavy brick or other heavy flat object.
Next time, I’ll probably do this, because my stainless steel pan kept trying to rise up. The problems occurred when I tried to check my hydrosol. The whole system was in danger of tipping, so this is why a nice heavy object will be much better than a lightweight upside down bowl.
A heavy glass bowl sitting on top of a towel at the bottom of the pot would probably also work. I haven’t tried this, but the (heat resistant) glass bowl would be heavier than the stainless steel one I used, and the towel would hopefully protect it from breaking against the metal of bottom of the stock pot.
Cut up your plant matter if you need to and place it around your bowl or whatever you are choosing to use to hold the glass container that will sit on top. You’ll want the plant matter to reach at least halfway to 3/4 of the way up the sides of this “lifter.”
Fill your stock pot with water to about halfway up the sides of the “lifter.” A little more is just fine. No need to be exact.
Have more water ready to pour in as needed. I had to add extra water, and all together, I probably used about six quarts of water.
Place the vessel you plan to catch the hydrosol in on top of the “lifter.” I used a heat resistant Pyrex two cup pitcher.
Turn your lid upside down on the stockpot. The handle should be directly over the “catcher.”
Simmer the water in the pot, and be sure it doesn’t run dry, or you’ll end up with crispy plants….NOT good for hydrosol.
If you add some ice cubes to the top of your lid, the steam will condense very quickly, turning back into liquid inside the system. This liquid is your hydrosol, and contains all the wonderful plant benefits. This condensed liquid will fall right into the catcher.
Keep adding more water to the bottom of the pot as needed, until you are satisfied your plant matter is fully spent. You’ll be able to tell because it will turn colors, reduce in size significantly, and just look “spent.”
Remove your catcher and bottle up the hydrosol that’s inside! That’s it!
So easy, right?
NOTE: In the YouTube video I linked to above, I referred to the process as a steam distillation. The process I used here is actually a hydro-distillation, which is fairly similar. The exact type of distillation that’s best will depend on the type of plant matter you’re using.
But I had great results with the cedar, and I have a feeling I’ll continue to have great results. My next experiment will be on the wild roses that bloom profusely around here, and they are much, much lighter and take up far less space.
Stay tuned! I’ll let you know how it goes!
And here’s what you get: A wonderful and useful hydrosol for the health of your home and body to enjoy!
How to Use Your Hydrosol
Your hydrosol will contain scent molecules from the plant, and is a wonderful and lighter substitute for essential oils. If you love the smell of the plant, you’ll love the scent of your hydrosol too. My western red cedar hydrosol smells divine.
Can you imagine making your own hydrosol using aromatic flower petals such as lavender, roses, calendula, and others? But don’t just stick with flowers. Any aromatic plant that can yield essential oil can also be used to create a hydrosol.
2) Cleaning Products
Hydrosols make excellent bases for DIY cleaning products. They would substitute for the water portion, and contain most of the benefits of the plant constituents, including antimicrobial actions.
3) Cooling Skin Mist or Spray
Hydrosols are generally incredibly hydrating, and are excellent cooling sprays throughout the day for your face and body. I love misting my face with my hydrosol!
4) Natural Skincare Products
You can substitute the water portion of various skincare products you make at home with your hydrosol. Natural skincare products such as lotions, creams, facial serums, handmade soaps, and more can easily include a natural homemade hydrosol.
Where to Purchase Hydrosols if You Don’t Want to Make Them Yourself
Luckily, if you don’t want to deal with the diy process, you can purchase quality hydrosols from quality companies. I personally love Rocky Mountain Oils for my essential oil and hydrosol needs.
Other great companies include Starwest Botanicals (my all around herbal favorite). Mountain Rose Herbs is pretty good, but their shipping takes forever in my experience. There are also plenty of quality smaller producers of hydrosols, like Pompeii Organics and Evanhealy.
How Long Do Hydrosols Last?
Hydrosols will last up to a year or so, depending on the plants used. Because there is a great deal of water in them, bacteria stands a greater chance of forming. If you refrigerate your hydrosol, it will likely last a lot longer.
Essential oils will last for years, as a comparison.
Final Thoughts on Making Your Own Hydrosol
You know what? I highly recommend you give this a try if you are into natural aromatherapy! I think you’ll love the results and be inspired to try other wonderful plant hydrosols.
Also, I no longer have children at home as I am an empty nester, but if I did….this would be a GREAT science experiment to do with an older child. What a wonderful summer project since the plants are all in bloom and at the peak of their growth!
The herbal world is your oyster, my friend, and I just know you’ll become addicted to “doing herbs!” You can learn more about using herbs in your daily life in my private Facebook group, Practical Herbs with Heidi. It’s free, fun, and inspiring active group, and I do live herbal Q&A’s over there on a consistent basis.
Would you like a more intensive quick start course that will get you going fast on your home herbalism knowledge and help you feel confident and empowered in your family’s health? Take a look at The Confident Herbalist: A Course for Home Herbalism for more details.
And if you already have lots of experience using herbs, then I recommend The Herbal Academy of New England for higher levels of herbal education!
Have questions or comments? Go ahead and leave comments below in the comments section!
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Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and in no manner, stated or implied, is any statement made here or elsewhere meant or implied to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease or illness. Please be sure to seek medical attention from a doctor for any health conditions and before using herbs or essential oils. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.