Garden Hydrosol Tutorial
Home Foraged Herbs + The Medicinal Extractions
The Art of Distillation
The art of distillation has been around for thousands of years and is one of the most potent ways to harness the magic of the garden. Alcohol, essential oils, and plant-rich hydrosols can all be crafted using this ancient art and craft.
A byproduct of the essential oil distilling process, herbal hydrosols are produced through the distillation of water that then passes through plant matter through steam, and is finally condensed and collected for medicine and magic. The process infused the water with the medicinal properties of the plant, which we then call a hydrosol. Floating on top of your finished hydrosol you'll find a thin layer of oil, which is the essential oil from the plant. You can collect this and save it, though I tend to leave mine in my hydrosols creating an extra potent magical touch.
Garden Foraged Botanicals
An excellent way to utilize the bounty of the garden during the summer months, herbal hydrosols keep for 2-3 years when stored properly in the fridge and can be used in a variety of medicinal concoctions ranging from skincare products to beverages (if you remove the essential oils), bug sprays, and more.
To learn how I use my copper still to create hand-crafted garden hydrosols what this short video below and follow along through my step-by-step instructions.
Garden Hydrosols At Home
Home Foraged Herbs + The Distillation Process
Herbalist Anna Marie Beauchemin, RH(AHG) describes how she crafts herbal hydrosols at home
With Fresh Harvested Garden Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Harvest Herbs + Prepare For Processing
First I start with looking for something that looks abundant and just starting to flower in the garden, which was Catnip this time around. To prepare the herbs the evening before I make the hydrosol I spray the herbs with the hose to make sure they are clean and rinsed. The next morning when they are dry, I cut fresh stalks from the bush, usually about 1/4 lb for a large 1/2 gal mason jar full of hydrosol. Catnip is a leafy herb, so I don't bother removing the leaves and flowers from the stem and will use the entire stalk.
I will use this Catnip hydrosol in cooling and calming sprays, bug repellents, and other topical skincare products. To learn more about the medicinal properties of Catnip, see below.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
A cooling, diaphoretic, anxiolytic, carminative, and gentle antispasmodic herb, catnip is used to support ailments ranging from mild digestive upset to nervousness and tension. Catnip's soothing qualities make it an ideal herb for nervous tension in the digestive system, and its cooling properties make it an ideal herbal for cooling summer blends and sprays. Loved by humans and cats alike, this member of the mint family is a go-to nervous system and seasonal herb in herbalism. Catnip is also used as a natural bug repellent in sprays and through integrative pest management practices (IPM) in organic gardens.
Fill Column + The Base
Next, I fill the distillation column with my fresh herbs, packing the column tightly (but not too tight) so that the hydrosol is more potent. The herbs will shrink when they are steamed, so you can fill the column more than you think you may need to compensate for the herbs wilting. After filling the column you place the filter on the bottom of the column so the herbs cannot go into the base where the water is held.
To fill the base you can use tap water or purified drinking water, which is what I use. I like to fill the base with a few quarts of water, making sure that there is enough to run the entire process.
My still was handmade by Copper Pro in Ukraine, and I love it so! You can learn more about
this product and order your own here.
Assemble The Still + Heat On The Stovetop
Once you've filled your column and base, now you can assemble the still and place it on the stovetop to heat. My still has a small hole for a thermometer, which I insert so I can tell what temperature the steam is inside. To assemble the still I clamp the column to the base and then insert the thermometer and heat on medium-high heat. I prefer to use a gas stove, but you could use an induction stove too if your still will allow it.
When heating I aim for around 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the distillation process and do not let it get much warmer than that as it can change the quality of the hydrosol. More delicate plants may benefit from a lower temperature.
Setup Your Cooling System
The still needs fresh cold water cycling through the cooling chamber constantly in order to condense the steam and create the hydrosol and essential oils. Sometimes people will hook their column up to running water, but living in California I try to be mindful of my water usage so I use a cooler with ice, water, and a fish tank pump to move the water through the column. To do this I fill a cooler halfway with cool water and add 1 bag of ice. Then I put a fish tank pump in the water, and hook one of the tubes that filter through the top of the cooling chamber to the pump. I then put the other tube that brings water away from the still into the cooler so that the water recycles. You will need to add more ice as the water warms.
I set the tubing and cooler up as the still is warming. Once the temperature gets to 90 degrees on the thermometer I turn the fish tank pump on and begin cycling water through the still.
Collecting Your Hydrosol + Essential Oil
In order to collect the hydrosol from the still you'll want to set up a jar with a funnel in it positioned close underneath the spigot that the hydrosol comes out of on the cooling chamber. I prefer a wide-mouth funnel, as the hydrosol can come out in bursts and splash all over. You'll want to make sure that everything is sterlized that you'll be using to collect the hydrosol, as you don't want to contaminate it at all.
If you want to collect the essential oil off of the hydrosol, they make special separators to do so with. I keep my essential oils in my hydrosols and collect them all in one jar.
Once the jar is full, I remove and seal it with a lid and let it cool on the counter until it's room temp, and then I store it in the fridge.
When Is The Hydrosol Done
This is where the real art of distillation comes in and every person has their own method for how to do this. I find that a fully packed column will produce around 1 pint of hydrosol. At that point, I notice that the scent of the hydrosol starts to change and it is usually time to turn the still off, let it cool, and swap out the plant matter in the column. Different scent notes will distill at different temperatures and you can actually smell the quality of the hydrosol change throughout the process. Advanced hydrosol making will be much more refined when it comes to what temperature you distill at, and how much plant matter you use for what amount of final product that you are going for.
The art of distillation is an ancient craft and learning the ins and outs and your own personal style takes time. Fret not though, it's a fun learning process that's hard to truly mess up. Just make sure the base always has enough water, don't heat it too high, and keep your plant matter fresh and your ice water cold, and you'll be pumping out garden fresh hydrosols in no time.
Storing The Hydrosol
I prefer to store my hydrosols in amber bottles in the fridge, as I find they last longest like this. Hydrosols stored properly can last 2-3 years at least.
Don't Have A Copper But Still Want To Make Hydrosols?
For those who don't have an herbal still at home (which is most people), try this fun stove top hydrosol
making method from Herbal Academy. I use a water bath canner for this version and it works great!
Advanced Medicine Making In The Herbal Path
Did you love learning about this special and unique herbal medicine-making skill? I teach this and much more in The Herbal Path Apprenticeship, offered at the start of fall. To learn more about this unique hands-on herbal medicine and medicinal-making program, click the link below.
Please Note: That the information presented is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, illness, or medical condition and Anna Marie Beauchemin is not a licensed healthcare provider The practice of herbalism is complementary in nature and does not replace the advice of a licensed medical provider. Please remember to consult with a licensed physician before adding any herbal supplements into your diet, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on medication. By viewing this video you agree to take responsibility for your decisions, health, and wellbeing.