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Compare and Contrast: Aromatic Waters vs Hydrosols and Hydrolats vs Floral Waters

Aromatic Waters

aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats compare contrast
Chamomile – a gentle aromatic water

First of all an understanding of aromatic waters. These are produced by water distillation. Therefore they are the primary product of the process.

Plant material, immersed in spring water, is gently brought to the boil. This releases a steam, the water soluble volatile components of the plant material. This cooled steam/volatile component mix produces the aromatic water.

Water distillation is a prolonged, gentle distillation. Hence in this process the essential oil is the by-product.

Hydrosols or Hydrolats

Hydrosols are similar to aromatic waters. However, they are produced without submitting plant material to water. These are basically a by-product from steam distillation of the essential oil. This process is usually large scale. As a result, producing the essential oil is the primary objective.

Consequently this hydrosol, or ‘by-product’, was previously discarded on completion of the distillation process. Such a waste. A vast amount of plant material is necessary to produce many essential oils.

Hydrosols may not have a floral aroma depending on the plant.

Floral Waters

Some beauty cosmetic stores sell what they often term floral or flower waters. Usually made by adding an essential oil to distilled water. Occasionally alcohol is added. The alcohol helps preserve the product and floral waters will usually have a longer shelf life. Often recommended as facial toners. Lavender water, rose water or orange flower waters are the most commonly available using this method.

They may also be sold as room sprays or linen sprays. Sometimes the floral component is synthetic rather than natural i.e. from an essential oil. Floral waters have a floral aroma.

Note: these are nothing like aromatic waters and/or hydrosols and are not suitable for internal or therapeutic use.

Internal Use
aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats
ancient rose water bottle

Aromatic waters are extremely gentle. As a result internally they are utilised to treat a wide range of ailments safely and effectively.

Used very effectively for many centuries particularly in Mediterranean countries.

This photograph is from a visit to an ancient pharmacy in the Ariège. The Ariège is a department in the south of France bordering the Pyrénées.

The pharmacy has array of antique aromatic water bottles on display. Sadly empty. However, it highlights the popular bygone use of these waters. This particular example is, of course, rose water. One of my personal favourites.

The featured image above ‘eau de suréau’ is elderflower water from the same former pharmacy.

External Use

Aromatic waters are also ideal for external applications. Use for cuts, grazes and rashes. Many aromatic waters are particularly gentle for use on children. Add to base creams (usually up to 20% of the cream). Use in sprays, inhalations, mouthwashes and gargles or add to therapeutic baths.

I include use of aromatic waters in some posts. For example, I mention using lavender, rose or peppermint as a refreshing sprays for menopausal flushes. I also discuss using lavender or chamomile as linen sprays on the bed or in a bedtime bath for trouble sleeping.


For internal use a usual adult dose* of aromatic waters is 10ml three times a day. Often diluted in a little water. Alternatively add the full daily dose of 30ml to 500ml of water and sip throughout the day. There are exceptions to this regime. This dosage range is variable depending on the plant used. Naturally dosage for children is lower.


Often, though not always, the pH is a good indicator of stability. Those with a pH of 5.0 or less usually last longer. Most waters have a shelf life of 18 months. Some waters will keep for much longer than this i.e. Rosa spp. (rose). Others have a shorter life i.e. Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile).

Keeping aromatic waters in glass is a must. Store in a cool, dark place. There are conflicting views on the use of plastic containers. Plastics will generally break down with contact. There are phenol-resistant rigid plastics available which are apparently non-hazardous to the waters. Personally I prefer dark glass bottles. Certainly judging by those ancient bottles our ancestors choose dark green!

*Please note: doses listed are general guideline only. Some aromatic waters i.e. Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) may be taken at a higher adult dose in some cases. For others, i.e. Calendula officinalis (marigold), dosage should not exceed 15mls a day. Please consult with your local medical herbalist or supplier for correct dosage for individual products.

My Personal Preference – aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats …

My personal preference is naturally for aromatic waters particularly for internal use. However, I like that there is no waste with essential oil distillation and the hydrosol is an extremely useful ‘by-product’!

Floral waters are fine for the cosmetic industry. They certainly tend to have a longer shelf life. However, I would strongly recommend using aromatic waters or hydrosols for those with problem skin. The alcohol in the floral waters could be damaging and drying to more sensitive skins. Better quality products will always prevail.

Further Reading – aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats …

The above summary provides a basic understanding of aromatic waters, hydrosols, hydrolats and floral waters. Finally, if interested in learning more about Aromatic Waters or Hydrosols try one of the Thyme to Learn courses. Alternatively, the following publications might be of interest.

  • CATTY, Suzanne, 2001. Hydrosols – The Next Aromatherapy. Vermont: Healing Arts Press
  • COATEN, Daniel, 2006. Make Your Own Essential Oils & Skin Care Products. Bucks: LILI
  • NASR, Joe., 2004. Avicenna’s Aromatic Waters – Capturing the Healing Essence. Wales: Avicenna


BSc (Hons) Herbal Medicine /
Diploma in Aromatherapy & Essential Oil Science