A hydrosol is a steam-distilled essence of a plant. If you do not have a still, you can create your own hydrosols by piling fragrant, fresh plants (rosemary, lavender, fennel, elderflower, rose petal, calendula…) into a stainless steel or enamel pot with a domed lid. Set a brick at the bottom of the pot and a heatproof bowl atop the brick, arranging your leaves or flowers so that they surround the brick and bowl. Add some pure water and bring just to the boil, then lower to a simmer. Invert the lid and place it on the pot such that the base of the dome is centered over the bowl, and fill the inverted lid with ice.
As steam rises from the plants, it hits the cold lid and condenses. The condensation (distilled plant vapor) drips down the sides of the lid and falls into the bowl. Keep gently simmering until your bowl is full or until your hydrosol (the clear liquid that drips into your bowl) stops smelling incredible.
Last night we made lavender, cucumber, elderflower, and fennel hydrosols. We set them out into pitchers (lavender to detoxify the air, calm the mind, and heal the skin; cucumber to cool and refresh the skin and eyes; elderflower to soften and cleanse the skin, fennel to stimulate digestion) and filled a small spray bottle with our chosen combination. Then each of us chose a unique combination of essential oils: sandalwood for clarity of mind and complexion, patchouli to ground and sensualize, ylang ylang for euphoria and self-confidence, rose to soften the skin and open the heart, lavender as an antimicrobial and skin healer, rosemary for circulation and beautiful hair. We added 10 drops of these to our bottles, then chose whether we wanted to add a little vodka to preserve the spray and help kill germs, or pure blended aloe vera gel from the garden to soothe sunburn and inflammation.
These herbal mists can be used as facial moisturizing sprays, as air purification spritzes, as hair treatments, as fragrance, to cool the body or refresh the sheets.
We also talked about the joys of fruit facials. Enzymes in strawberry and banana and many other fruits help dissolve old skin cells–simply mash the fresh fruit or lay the peel over your face. (check for sensitivities first–many people are allergic to citrus, and most to mango.) Follow with an exfoliant: two of my favorites are a handful of oats lightly powedered in the blender and mixed with water, or chia seeds hydrated in lavender or calendula tea (as a bonus, chia gel protects your face all day long). Sometimes I will follow this with a mashed avocado moisturizing treatment, or simply a layer of rosehip seed oil or a combination of fresh aloe and jojoba.
Either way, this routine makes your face glow. (Sometimes too much. I can’t tell you how many family photos feature my rosy-red, gleaming face set among a sea of more sedately-complexioned relatives. Give yourself a day between a facial and a photo shoot!)
And here, finally, are a few recipes from our herbal feast:
The night before a gathering, fill a pitcher with any or a combination of fresh lemon verbena, pineapple sage, bee balm, or elderflowers. Pour over them a full bottle of Riesling. Let sit in a cool place—preferably moonlit, but a refrigerator will do—removing them to the refrigerator when the day heats up. You can either serve the Riesling as is, or strain just before serving, adding a dollop of elderflower or bee balm hydrosol if you have it!
Basil-infused Cream and Apricots
Gently warm a cup of whipping cream in a double boiler or a bowl set over a pan of boiling water. When it steams (but doesn’t boil!) remove it from the heat and add 1/2 cup of crushed fresh basil or thai basil leaves. Let steep until the cream cools to room temperature. Then strain, squeezing the leaves gently to remove all of the cream, and refrigerate the cream until cool. Whip, adding maple syrup or honey to taste.
While the cream is cooling, slice ten fresh, organic apricots. Place them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of brandy and a few tablespoons of orange-flower hydrosol. Macerate them with a fork until the juices combine.
Layer the apricots and basil-whipped cream into a glass bowl or parfait glasses. Decorate with springs of basil and orange flowers.
Or, if you’re in California…come taste them all firsthand at Salon of the Senses on Wednesday!