Harvest to Hydrosol by Ann Harman is a detailed introduction to this product of distillation, once simply called the “water of distillation” and now called the Hydrosol. She has done the research, looked into the ancient texts, unearthed the secrets that have been kept and often long forgotten. She has developed an incredible warehouse of information that includes her own personally learned knowledge. And this is what we get in this book—a truly personalized accounting of how to distill, when to distill, what to distill, what are the tools, how to test, and the time- honored techniques for this most wondrous of arts.

Ah, when was it that I met Ann Harman? Only sixteen years ago? I had been invited to speak to the Sequim Lavender Grower’s Association about the distillation of Lavender and Ann was the Education Committee chair as well as my tour guide and caretaker. She was so enthusiastic and so incredibly helpful. A few years later I was invited back to the Sequim Lavender Festival to speak again. We have pictures together where her exuberance for the material discussed just shines through and she was an exciting student to have in the classes as she listened carefully and asked great questions. She soon purchased a copper still from me and began to distill on the alembic stills. To say that she has taken this art, this act of distillation, to a new level, is an understatement. Ann says that “each distillation is a living thing, an act of alchemy” and she is one of the best alchemists at this exciting creative endeavor.

Hundreds of years have passed since the first “waters of distillation” were produced and many years since my own time with a master distiller and introduction to the “art of distillation” by Hubert Germain-Robin. He is from a family of cognac makers and a truly masterful brandy distiller himself. I had known how to distill but he gave me the mysterious long-hidden detailed knowledge and the tools to do it better and correctly. He taught me to think about all aspects of the distillation and more about terroir, how the land influences the distilled product, how important it was to consider the water and the marc (the plant waste left after the distillation – we fed it to the lambs and used the waste water as a dog flea repellent and compost water); he showed me why it was important to be more thoughtful towards the art of distillation, while thinking also about the craft. He was a master of both as I see that Ann Harman has become as well. She too has become master of the land, of the importance of the freshness of the plant used, the necessity for the intrinsic or cellular water of the plant to be captured intact, the mystery of alchemy and its transformation of water through steam to hydrosol and thus the capturing of this cellular water to make the magical product called “the hydrosol.”

What are hydrosols? Hydrosols, or plant distillates, are the exciting new branch of aromatherapy for the 21st century, with many applications for cosmetics and body care. Hydrosols are produced along with essential oils, being steam-distilled from fresh organic plants, but with an important difference: distillation for essential oils starts with air-dried plants, whereas distillation for the hydrosol starts with freshly picked plants with their moisture intact; Ann calls this the cellular water.

After reading the ancient texts and using the words “waters of distillation,” I thought a better name would be hydrosols or “hydro,” meaning water, and “sol” from the word “solution,” and referring to the water resulting from the distillation process; from the steam percolating through the plant material in the pot that contains the micro drops of essential oils as well as the water-soluble plant components from the distilled plant. The essential oil micro-drops give the distillates their scent and aromatic therapy, and the plant components give the hydrosol its herbal/therapeutic effect. Like essential oils, hydrosols (aromatic plant distillates) have powerful therapeutic properties. [In 1864 the word hydrosol was used in gold production.]

As Ann says in her book, “Cellular water makes the hydrosol remarkable, it is the life force of the plant in its liquid form. You can’t capture this life force with dried desiccated plant material. When dried they lose their mystical cellular water and . . . their lightest volatile notes.” I was also thrilled to read her magical words on distillation timing, “When a distillation is not rushed, and the plant is given time to release its treasures we are rewarded with beautiful, complex waters.” How wonderful to know that she appreciates the delicate balance of timing and quality of the hydrosol.

And the song of the copper alembic still, I am glad that Ann wrote about this as it is one of the sweetest songs to hear, to listen to the still sing and burble as the steam wends its way from the pot through the head to the gooseneck and through the condenser to the drip, drip, drip into the receiver. Yes, the still sings and Ann tells us it is the “song of alchemy.”

Alchemy is the ancient and secret knowledge of the combination of the five ancient elements of earth, metal, fire, water, and air. It has an intimate and historic relationship with distillation. Ann discusses this relationship. Earth representing the plants that are grown and distilled; metal representing the copper alembic still that holds the plants; the fire used to heat the still with its plants that are the source of the cellular water; water that is added to make the steam, and the water that is the source of the cellular water in the plants to the waters that come from the distillation and are called the hydrosol, and air which represents the vapor that turns to the essential oil, that is, “The act of Distillation is the process or art whereby the invisible is made visible”—Jeanne Rose, 1996.

And the five senses are represented in the distillation by the sight of the plants, the water, and the essential oil; the sound of the sweet song of the still doing its job; the smell of the essential oil and the waters; the taste of the hydrosol; the feel of the still as it works, and the touch of plants and still together to make the transformation.

Distillation is Magical, transformative, and producing this wonder water that will help you in skin care and healing is a journey of exploration. This book will help you to understand the elixir that is the end product of distillation, that is this water from the cells of the plant extracted by the “art of distillation.”

Ann sets the stage for a collaboration between you and your still, an intimate reality for the practitioners and researchers of plant- based medicine and skin care—to improve your wellbeing, your health, and the quality of life through the magic of this alchemy of plant to water through steam.

Well done, Ann—we needed this book.

Jeanne Rose
Executive Director, Aromatic Plant Project
Educator of Aromatherapy & Herbal Studies Courses San Francisco, California
Summer, 2014