Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bay Laurel Hydrosol

If you read my last newsletter

you know I’m taking a herbal preparations class at my local natural pharmacy, Rainbow Natural Remedies. The class combines all the pleasures of crafting, cooking and working with plants. The fabulous teacher, Crystal Stelzer, makes something every week and shows us how to do it, then gives us the opportunity to taste it, test it and bring samples home. I’ve set myself the task—I love homework—of making each of the things we’ve learned about every week. I’m about two weeks behind, still working on the assignments from Week 2 when we learned to make hydrosols, spritzers and flower essences.

Yesterday I made my first hydrosol. I love that word. It sounds so official. So scientific. Hydrosol is the term for the water that is left over after the distilling process by which essential oils are extracted. Rose water is a hydrosol; so is orange (blossom) water. Those two have always been saved and used for centuries, but most other hydrosols were thrown away after the distillation process. Now people are recognizing that they can be used. For one thing, because they contain only tiny amounts of the essential oils, so they can be taken internally or used in cooking. I’ve used rosewater for years on my Christmas kourabiedes cookies. Hydrosols can also be used as mouthwash (think mint hydrosol), antiseptic sprays (rosemary and thyme hydrosols), air fresheners (for instance, lavender hydrosol).

I wanted to try making a hydrosol from my bay tree. I have a lovely tree, about seven years old, that I’m shaping into a topiary. Because of that I trim it frequently and end up with many more bay leaves than I can use in cooking. So I covered the bottom of a stainless steel saucepan with a one to two inch layer of fresh bay leaves, added water to cover it, and put a stainless steel strainer with no center pole on top. I set a porcelain collection dish in the middle of the strainer, then got the water boiling with a lid on top to help capture the essential oils.

Once the water was boiling, I turned it down to a simmer, turned the lid of the pot upside down, and put a plastic bag full of ice on top of the inverted lid. The steam condensed on the inside of the lid and ran down to the lowest point of the lid from which point it dripped down into the collection dish. The most wonderful aroma filled the house. It was spicy. Shaw, my daughter, thought it smelled like Christmas trees. I thought it smelled like eucalyptus.

After about ten minutes, I turned off the pot and let it cool. After a long time, and working very carefully, since everything was still hot, I removed the bag of ice, the lid and finally the collection dish. I poured the liquid I had collected into a sterilized glass jar which I labeled and placed in the refrigerator.

Then I had to figure out what to do with bay hydrosol. It smelled great. I can imagine it would make a great aftershave. It has that woodsy, spicy scent to it. I wasn’t sure what else it could be used for. The article at Wikipedia

informs me that bay laurel has antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It might also be good for rubbing on sore muscles (though then I would probably rather infuse it in an oil) since it has analgesic qualities.

The fragrance come from the essential oils which include 45% eucalyptol (that was what I was smelling) and also eugenol (one of the main ingredients in clove cigarettes, an old vice of mine), pinenes (that's what my daughter was smelling--the scent of pine trees), linalool, geraniol and terpineol.

I wish I could spray some your way. It’s a marvelous scent. Next I’m going to try to make rose hydrosol from the roses in the abandoned lot across the street. They’re almost gone for the year so I have to make this in the next few days. I'll let you know how it works in my next post.


Clean & Bright Soaps and Candles said...

That sounds like a wonderful way to spend some time - trimming the leaves, steaming them, collecting the essence, and enjoying the scent throughout the whole process :)

Karen said...

I can't wait to try this with my Lavender! I knew making hydrosol was possible but didn't have a clue how to go about it. Thank you very much for such a great explanation.

Anonymous said...

Bay will be the 2009 Herb of the Year.

GreenDigitalist said...

Hi...ever since I read this, I have thought about trying it, and while googling further about "how to make hydrosol" I found out that there is a high possibility of microbial contamination with some purchased ones, so one should not ingest them internally, just fyi: http://www.aromamedical.com/articles/hydrosols.htm