Hydrosols, also known as floral waters or herbal distillates, are a product of steam distillation. Through the process of hydrodistillation, the biomass (in our case rosemary leaves) is in the boiling water. As the water boils around the herbs or flowers, steam will rise up, hit the ice-filled lid and then condense back into water and drip down to be captured.
While rosewater is probably the most common hydrosol, lavender and rosemary are my favorite things to distill.
I’m doing rosemary today and the resulting liquid can be used as a refreshing body spray, for making your hair soft and silky while reducing frizz, added to cleansers and even used to make delicious drinks (add 1 tablespoon per quart of liquid) and in marinades. Rosemary is a memory enhancer so consider adding it to a pot of green tea or fruit punch for your favorite student. I’ve also been known to put it in a spitzer bottle to mist lower fat meats like lamb and chicken as they grill to keep them moist and flavorful. Rosemary hydrosol are also great as an air freshener and as added to a hot, relaxing bath.
Large stockpot with glass lid
Mason jar or pyrex measuring cup
Bowl to catch the distilled water
Filtered or distilled water
You will need anywhere from a cup to a pound of fresh herbs. If you’re like me and have a huge rosemary bush that needed cutting back, use as much as you can stuff in your stockpot. Dried herbs and flowers also work and require less biomass for the same result.
With this amount of rosemary, I’ll be doing three batches and working until I run out of ice.
Make sure that there is something on the bottom of your pot, as otherwise the glass jar could break. Sometimes I’ll take the woody parts of the rosemary shrub and use them to line the bottom but a ramekin works nicely, too.
Place the jar in the pot (on the heatproof item) and fill around it with your herb. I can afford to be generous, as I’ve got more rosemary than I can use but you can use a cup or less and still get a lovely scented hydrosol.
Pour filtered water until it comes up about a 1/3 of the way up the jar. Don’t come up too far as you don’t want to get the boiling water into your condensed water. Also, you will want to use filtered water as chlorine or other things that are in tap water will not be good in your finished product.
Depending on the depth of your stockpot and the width of the mouth of the jar, put a small bowl over the jar to catch the condensation. If using a Pyrex measuring cup, you should be able to skip adding the bowl.
Place the lid upside down on the stockpot and bring the water to a boil. I usually make sure the lid is super clean and will even pour boiling water over it before starting the process.
Once at a boil, reduce heat to low in order to just simmer the water. Put a couple handfuls of ice on the lid. You will need to regularly drain off the water (I sucked it off with a turkey baster) and add more ice.
Let the rosemary simmer for about 2 hours. Try not to lift the lid as that lets the lovely steam evaporate without condensing. The below picture is what I was able to capture from my first batch.
You’ll want to store this a cool place. Remember, there is no alcohol or anything to keep it shelf stable, so put it in the refrigerator to make it last longer.