How To: Hydrosol + Cabin Spray
In Australia we have many unique plants that lend a distinctive smell to the natural landscape. Whether near the ocean or far from it, plants such as eucalyptus and tea tree, which carry high levels of volatile oils, literally blanket the air with droplets of fresh, camphor scents that invigorate and uplift the soul. Because we can’t all be traipsing around the bush all day (at least I can’t, are you? What’s your job? Can I have it?) another way to bring the outside elements into our homes is by way of what some would call “fragrance layering” and others would call “smelly things”. Items such as candles, incense, smudging sticks and sprays all work wonderfully in conjuring up the feel of being somewhere on the coast or deep in the bush, even if you’re square in the middle of a concrete jungle.
In the spirit of keeping things au naturale, it’s important to look at the labels of such items as you don’t want to be introducing harmful and unnecessary chemicals into your home. Those little plug-in air freshners freak me out as they are loaded with toxins which loftily spritz your comfort zone every 15 minutes. When selecting products, look for ones made from natural oils and bases. Or you can always try your hand at making your own, as then you can customise to suit your particular taste.
The below recipe is an adaptation of Rosemary Gladstar's Homemade Hydrosol. We’ve decided to use a base of tea tree hydrosol as it has added medicinal benefits, but you can use whichever plant you like, as long as it has essential oil (fragrant) constituents.
Tea trees are a prolific plant in Australian natural medicine. It is one of the few plants that has survived a transfer across from traditional Indigenous use into the modern day.
Traditionally, it was used to treat wounds and other skin ailments and the leaves were crushed and inhaled to alleviate colds and coughs. Today, tea tree oil is most commonly used as a natural antiseptic. It has proven powerful anti-bacterial properties which means it is perfect for applying on cuts and scrapes. Not only does it fight the infection but it promotes fast healing of wounds. It also has anti-fungal properties which help fight athlete's foot and nail infections, as well as candida overgrowth, however it should never be taken orally.
Hydrosols are generally seen as a by-product of the essential oil making process, but are useful in their own right. Also known as floral waters or distillates, they are the water product of steam distilling plant material. They work in a similar way to essential oils, however are far less concentrated. Hydrosols contain all of the essence of the plant, just like essential oils, but because of the milder concentration they can be used in applications where essential oils would be too strong.
Rose water is a good example of a popular hydrosol, used to moisturise and tone skin. The process used below can also be used to create rose water if you prefer; just substitue the tea tree leaves for fresh, chemical-free rose petals.
This is essentially a home-user distillation process; commercial hyrdosols are generally made in copper stills, similar to how gin is made. The plant matter is boiled and the condensation (hydrosol) is collected. What you are left with is water infused with tiny amounts of essential oils which provide fragrance and diluted medicinal properties.
Homemade Tea Tree Hydrosol
- Fresh Tea Tree leaves
- Essential oils of choice
- Clean brick (you can pick one up from Bunnings for around $2)
- A large pot
- A bowl which fits snugly into the pot
- Place the brick into your pot. Place the bowl onto the brick, ensuring there is ample room for the leaves.
- Fill the pot up with water till just below the bowl. Place leaves in the water ensuring they are covered. Leave the bowl empty as this is where the hydrosol will get collected.
- Place the lid on the pot and bring to a gentle, rolling boil. Once you have that underway and can see steam starting to slowly rise, invert the lid and place ice cubes on top. A good idea if you are doing this inside is to place the ice inside a plastic bag so it doesn’t spill as it melts. The ice speeds up the condensation process by creating more steam inside the pot. As the steam hits the cold lid, it turns into water and drips down into the bowl.
- Let this process continue for a while, checking occasionally, until all the water has evaporated and you have collected your hydrosol in the bowl inside the pot. The hydrosol is the condensation which has collected in the bowl, not the water that the plant matter has been simmering in!
- Let everything cool down, remove the bowl, and decant your hydrosol into amber glass bottles for storage. The antimicrobial properties of the tea tree oil will be present in a small amount, helping to preserve the hydrosol, but it’s a good idea to keep it in the fridge if you are not using it all right away.
- Transfer some of the hydrosol into spray bottles and either use as is, or combine with one or two drops of essential oils from other plants to create a custom scent (you could try lemon myrtle, cedar, eucalyptus or pine).
- Spray, inhale, breathe deeply, exhale. Repeat.