Like essential oils, aromatic hydrolats are derived from the distillation of plants. Also known as floral water when the raw material is a flower, as in the case of rose water, hydrolats are the condensed residue of the steam used to distill essential oils. Like essential oils, but to a lesser extent, hydrolats contain water-soluble plant active ingredients and aromatic molecules, and as such have a wide range of applications in cosmetics, cooking and skincare. French laboratory Helpac, a pioneer and specialist in aromatherapy, has been offering high-quality, organically grown aromatic hydrolats rich in beneficial active ingredients for almost 30 years.
The distillation of hydrosols and floral waters
To understand how aromatic hydrolats are produced, it’s important to understand how steam distillation works. Most people associate the distillation of hydrosols with the distillation of essential oils, but some plants, such as cornflower, do not produce essential oils and are distilled just to collect the hydrosol.
A still is used to distill a plant. The process consists of sending steam through a vat filled with aromatic plants or flower petals to extract their essence. The active ingredients and aromatic molecules mix with the steam, which passes through a cooling coil, condenses and flows into an essencier. After settling, two liquids will separate in the container: the essential oil, which will float to the surface and can be easily collected, and the hydrosol at the bottom.
While essential oils concentrate a large number of active plant ingredients, floral water (or hydrolat) is also loaded with aromatic molecules and active ingredients, albeit in much smaller proportions. Nonetheless, it has interesting properties, both therapeutically and cosmetically.
The Helpac method: gentle distillation at low pressure
Helpac has been distilling and marketing floral water and essential oils since 1988. Backed by this experience and its 3 distillation sites in France, the laboratory offers over twenty types of bulk hydrolats, made from organically grown flowers and plants.
To extract the precious liquid from the plants, Helpac has opted for gentle, slow steam distillation. This process, with a distillation temperature of only 88°C and a pressure lowered to 0.5 bar, allows all the plant’s components to express themselves without denaturing them. The result is essential oils that are rich in active ingredients, and hydrolats and floral waters that are highly interesting in terms of both aroma and therapeutic efficacy. On average, one kilo of petals or fresh plants is enough to produce one liter of floral water or hydrolat. To preserve the properties of each, Helpac has chosen not to dilute them, but to filter the hydrolats (micro-filtration at 0.2 microns) after distillation.
The Helpac laboratory is also a constant commitment to quality. Indeed, the production of hydrolats involves much more than the distillation of plants, and mastering the quality of the products on offer begins long before the plants are processed. That’s why Helpac carefully selects its raw materials, working with local certified organic farmers who guarantee the precise origin and quality of the flowers and aromatic plants used to make the hydrolats. This control, from harvesting to packaging, enables the laboratory to maintain total transparency over its products, and ensure a consistently high level of quality.
Hydrolat and floral water, what uses?
Although floral waters contain fewer active ingredients than essential oils, this is not necessarily a defect – quite the contrary. Hydrosols are much gentler and can be used by the whole family, with no particular contraindications.
Each floral water has unique properties and lends itself to a variety of uses. For example, rose water can be used in baking to perfume cakes, or as a make-up remover to moisturize the skin. Lavender water can be used as a toner to purify facial skin, or as a soothing lotion to inhale or dilute in a bath to combat stress. Other classic floral waters include orange blossom water, which soothes sensitive skin, cornflower water, which is highly effective as a compress for tired eyes, and Roman chamomile floral water, recommended for irritated skin.
Highly versatile, aromatic hydrosols provide benefits far beyond the beauty field where they are sometimes confined: as room fragrances, in cooking, as anti-stress mists to help you fall asleep… The natural power of plants knows no bounds!