Every spring I begin receiving notifications from my artisan distillers reminding me that it’s time to pre-order my hydrosols for the year. This involves carefully calculating how much of each plant distillate we'll need for the upcoming year. Artisan distillers produce mostly according to their wholesale buyers' pre-orders and, while they might have a little left over for retail sale, you can't rely on it being there for you later in the year.
Distillates, not surprisingly, are among the priciest of our ingredients and are by far the most fragile. The quality of the distillation is complex and can vary widely. The variety and purity of the plants being harvested, the method and timing of the harvest, the speed and temperature during the distillation process, and the use of pure water all play their parts in creating a beautiful and therapeutic hydrosol. These precious plant-waters travel to us freshly distilled and make the journey from garden, to copper alembic still, to shipping container, to landing on our doorstep within a few short days. It's a remarkable process.
There is an excitement of anticipation before we receive each new batch of hydrosol. I love opening the new container, pouring off a little of the precious liquid, and spritzing it onto my face, inhaling deeply while doing so. Ahhhh, this is the moment of truth. How is this year’s batch of hydrosol?
This week we received our annual batch of witch hazel hydrosol. Some of you might think that there couldn't possibly be anything too exciting about smelling a batch of scentless witch hazel, but you'd be very wrong. Freshly distilled, wild crafted witch hazel has an amazing herbaceous and slightly woody fragrance that never fails to make my mouth water. This is not your scentless, drugstore-variety witch hazel filled with alcohol. Steam distillation causes the glands of the plant to burst, releasing the essential oils and the plant's phytochemicals into every drop of the hydrosol. The very fluid that was flowing through the plant's cells when the plant was collected just hours before distillation is now captured into the hydrosol.
Although astringent enough to treat oily teenage skin, witch hazel's properties also give it an incredible profile for anti-aging skincare. It is suitable for mature or damaged skin because it promotes good circulation and its antioxidant properties help to repair and regenerate skin tissues. These same actions also help to reduce puffiness under eyes. A friend who is a swimmer likes to spray witch hazel around her eyes after swimming to speed the de-puffing of her goggle eyes.
The alchemy of plant distillation is both an art and a science. I have the greatest respect for the artisan distillers who have mastered this process and provide us with these remarkable nature imbued waters. Next week my batch of calendula will arrive from our distiller in Washington. I can't wait!