Floral waters, also known as hydrosols, hydrolats or aromatic waters are produced during the essential-oil-making process. Steam is used to draw out the volatile oils from aromatic herbs which is then condensed and the resulting liquid is the aromatic floral water, infused with both water- and oil-based plant compounds. In mass production, using very large stills called alembics, the essential oil floats on the top of this water and is siphoned off. A smaller home set-up will not produce essential oils, but does produce lovely, medicinal floral waters. Dried or fresh herbs can be used.
Although floral waters can be taken internally in small quantities, they are used here in external remedies, as they are excellent for skin-healing preparations and to make room and body sprays for calming anxiety and aiding sleep.
The following method enables distilling using everyday kitchen equipment. You’ll need a saucepan with a dome-shaped lid that you can turn upside- down; the handle of the lid should be non-absorbent. You will also need a heatproof bowl small enough to slip inside the pan, leaving a 3–5cm (11⁄4in–2in) gap around the edges. This is best suited for aromatic flowers and leaves such as lavender, rose, lemon balm and rosemary, to name a few.
500ml (18 fl oz) filtered water (plus extra for topping up)
a few handfuls of fresh or dried aromatic herbs
plenty of ice cubes
Pour the filtered water into the saucepan. Place the heatproof bowl in the centre of the pan, then place your flowers around the outside of the bowl, so that they cover the water. Put the lid, upside-down, onto the saucepan. The lid handle should be pointing into the empty bowl.
Bring the pan to a gentle simmer. Fill the inverted lid with ice cubes, then allow the steam to condense for approximately 30 minutes, ensuring the pan does not boil dry. The evaporating water, along with the aromatic properties of the plant material, will hit the upside-down pan lid and condense back into the bowl because the lid is iced. As the ice melts, top it up with more ice, pouring away the melted ice before you add more. This will not make copious amounts of floral water, but enough for face washes and toners.