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Harvest to Hydrosol: Distill Your Own Exquisite Hydrosols at Home

Harvest to Hydrosol: Distill Your Own Exquisite Hydrosols at Home by Ann Harman. Fruitland, WA: BotANNicals; 2015. Paperback, 243 pages. ISBN: 978-0-0013859-0-4. $44.95.

The subtitle of Harvest to Hydrosol, “Distill Your Own Exquisite Hydrosols at Home,” explains what the bulk of this book is about. Ann Harman has created a do-it-yourself guide for making hydrosols, which are plant distillates generally known as the by-products of essential oil production. A student of botany and ethnobotany in college, her love of plants is evident throughout the book, in which she teaches the act and art of distillation for the specific purpose of creating hydrosols. Harman’s teachings on this subject at various conferences throughout the United States over many years has helped create a burgeoning business in hydrosol production for the personal care and aromatherapy industries.

This book is the culmination of 20 years of experience in this unusual trade that has been largely overlooked in the realm of aromatherapy and herbalism, as far as education and training are concerned. The author has delved into early texts, has unearthed historical secrets, has applied her personal research and experience selling hydrosols, and now shares her knowledge with everyone interested in this obscure realm of botanical medicine. Referring to hydrosols as the new aromatherapy for the 21st century, Harman writes, “Cellular water makes the hydrosol remarkable, it is the life force of the plant in its liquid form…. When a distillation is not rushed and the plant is given time to release its treasures we are rewarded with beautiful, complex waters.” She calls this process the “song of alchemy.”

The book has two main sections: the first is called “The Act of Distilling” and includes Chapters 1-4, and the second is called “The Art of Distilling” and includes Chapters 5-10. Harman has also included valuable resources: an appendix, source list, bibliography, and index.

In the first section, Harman delves into the basics, such as the history of distillation, and discusses the many varieties of stills used over the centuries. She devotes a whole chapter to the type of still that will best serve the reader’s needs, but makes evident her enthusiasm for copper stills. She discusses using dried versus fresh plants, packing the still, troubleshooting typical problems, tracking yields, and testing pH, as well as care and storage, research, sanitation, and much more.

The second section covers the art and nuances of creating these special waters. Interspersed with many personal experiences, Harman weaves science and the senses into her love of this creative craft, which is evident throughout her writings. She speaks of “petting” her still and listening to it sing, and encourages the reader to use their intuition. She delves into the anomalies of water and identifies with the theory that hydrosols are the “homeopathy” of aromatherapy. Her knowledge of gardening comes through in her insistence on knowing the exact botanical species when distilling a plant.

The materia medica is categorized by botanical families. Headings include common/botanical names and their synonyms, cultivation, harvest time, part used, best type of distillation, the likely components distillation will yield, and the hydrosol’s activities. Harman discusses chemotypes, plant parts, and best harvest times for 21 plants belonging to seven botanical families, and includes the results of gas chromatography/mass-spectrometry (GC/MS) analyses of 30 hydrosols. Especially helpful are well-thought-out checklists and meticulous step-by-step instructions for the entire process, which is clearly a much-refined and vital learning tool developed over years of experience.

Though this book is mainly a detailed guide on the distillation process specifically for the production of hydrosols, it also adds suggestions for their use. For instance, Harman suggests using them in hand and foot baths, after-shower sprays, laundry, in a neti pot and inhalations, for various topical uses, such as compresses, and in a wide range of facial care applications. She even touches on the often-avoided subject of internal uses and kitchen applications.

This book reflects the author’s talent and proficiency with her own distillation and plants that grow in her region of eastern Washington state. It may lack what some consider common fragrant plants, but the plants that are covered are done so thoroughly, with great detail and invaluable personal experience.

Beautifully photographed and illustrated, this book would be of interest to aromatherapists, herbalists who are fascinated by other methods of extraction beyond tincturing, gardeners who have access to fresh-grown plant materials, and ambitious massage therapists and estheticians interested in expanding their botanical horizons. Whether the reader is a complete novice or has dabbled in any type of plant extraction, this book has unique educational value. It is a comprehensive training guide to the complex and intricate distillation process, and it explains in detail the most effective and efficient way to create fragrant distillate waters for personal use or retail sale.

—Mindy Green, MS, RH (AHG), RA
Boulder, Colorado