By Françoise Rapp,
Certified Aromatherapist and French Natural Perfumer Expert
What are Hydrolats?
The distillation process of a plant or one of its parts leads to the development of two different products. At the exit of the still, in the essence, there are indeed two superimposed phases corresponding to the essential oil and the hydrosol. The latter is the aqueous phase most often located under the essential oil at the bottom of the essence, milky in color at the exit of the still. The word “hydrolat” comes from the Latin “hydro” which means “water” and from the French “lat” which means “milk”; this no doubt to recall the milky aspect in the essence, immediately after distillation, before decantation.
A hydrosol is extracted from parts of the plant such as the flowering tops (lavender, leafy and needle-like branches, with berries (petitgrains, pines, eucalyptus, juniper, noble laurel, etc.), leaves (mint, lemon balm, etc.), bark (Ceylon cinnamon, sandalwood, …).
A floral water is aptly named since it will be extracted from flowers, and we find among the most common: rose water, orange blossom water, and cornflower water.
In the History of the Use of Plants
We are renewing a real interest in the use of hydrosols and floral waters and know that distilled waters were probably already known to the Egyptians.
The first indications of their knowledge comes to us from the writings of Synesios of Ptolomais and Zozymos of Panapolis who described in detail the distilling apparatus of the Egyptians.
In the 6th century, Aetius of Amida, a physician and writer living in Constantinople, described empyreumatic distillation by hydro-diffusion. But it is from the 8th to the 11th century during the heyday of Arabian science that we find traces of various experiments such as those of Mesue the Younger, who describes distilled waters of rose and absinthe. Théophanes, doctor of Emperor Michael of Constantinople, recommended rose water as a remedy or Avenzoar, doctor to the Caliph of Morocco who used rose water and rose essential oil as a remedy.
After the Crusades, knowledge spread to Europe…
Through various writings of the time, it is known that distilled waters were the purpose of distillation – essential oils were then neglected. This period also corresponds to the first alchemical research. The appearance of the printing press promoted the transmission of knowledge. Ex: Walter Hermann Reiff (1556), doctor in Strasbourg gave many details on the distilling devices, the hydrosols, their production and their therapeutic actions.
From the 16th century, aromatic waters were sold by apothecaries and then pharmacies at the end of the 18th century. From the 18th century (1708), at least 120 essential oils are listed and used particularly in perfumery. Knowledge and chemical discoveries were multiplying. The science of aromatherapy implemented by Gattefossé was more interested in essential oils than aromatic waters. These do not fall into oblivion, but are used as food flavouring and in the cosmetics industry.
What are the most used hydrosols and floral waters?
Among the most used hydrosols and floral waters are orange blossom water, rose water, lavender water and Roman chamomile water, mint, lemon balm, blueberry, and clary sage.
Did you know that hydrosols and floral waters are the perfect base for a natural, alcohol-free fragrance?
For many, we have been talking about the toxic and harmful aspects of DEP, which is an ingredient added to perfumery alcohol in order to prevent it from being consumable. Many people are increasingly aware of the impact of aggressive products on the skin and in the respiratory system. Alcohol-free perfumes exist but their sale is centered on perfumed mists for young children. And yet, sensitive people, seniors, pregnant or breastfeeding women are customers who can enjoy natural perfumes without alcohol; see the whole population. Perhaps 100% vegetable perfumery can become a new kind of natural, healthy, and well-being perfumery. Perfume yourself with a mist composed solely of floral water or a hydrosol and natural essences!
Certainly, the question that is generally asked when we approach the subject of this natural alcohol-free perfumery is the hold of the perfume on the skin, suspended in the air. Let's be honest, this natural perfumery is in no way comparable to existing natural perfumery and very far from conventional perfumery. What is different is the olfactory quality, the fact of reconnecting with the subtlety and the real vegetable notes either of the molecules which catch the nose not to let you go.
It's another world of perfumery and totally different that we get used to. An alcohol-free perfume with a base of floral water is a perfume for oneself, not for others. We do good. We feel good. It's like a rejuvenating and beneficial ritual from Mother Nature.
These are hyper-creative compositions for the perfumer with a few challenges: the fragrance of the base must match and complement the composition of the perfume formula. A dispersant must be used in order to dissolve the natural essences in this aqueous and fragrant base.
What type of botanical perfume can we compose?
Natural alcohol-free perfumes based on hydrosol or floral waters limit the choice of olfactory families. Are we going to favour more compositions such as fresh aromatic waters, green floral waters or not, a modern fern revisited in an aqueous base of mint, rosemary or laurel hydrosol?
Learn how to dissolve natural essences in an aqueous phase.
This Spring make up your own hydrosol or floral water and create an alcohol-free natural perfume. Share it with us on our social media.
Do you want to follow your passion and become a professional certified natural perfumer? Enrol now to the French Natural Perfumery Course Spring session
The course is taught in English, Italian (thanks to Andrej Babicky) and Arabic (thanks to Naziha Allalou)