The Magic of Water
By Catherine Bird

I really enjoy meeting visitors from overseas and I was not disappointed when Suzanne Catty, aromatherapist and author from Canada, met with me during her visit to Sydney. The ideas outlined in her brand new book, "Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy" are really worth reading and open up a whole new dimension to aromatherapy. The book also has a small section on cats and dogs for the safe use of aromatherapy with pets. After our lunch I came away excited and knowing this was a safe therapy that was not going to drain my bank balance, and would help with my work with horses. Rather than prattling on about how inspired I was with Suzanne's material, I asked her to answer these questions for me.

What are hydrosols?

Hydrosols are the co-product of the distillation of essential oils. They are sometimes called floral waters, such as rose water, or herbal waters like chamomile water or dill water. When plant material is distilled, low-pressure steam is used to extract the essential oil molecules from the plant. This steam carries these droplets of oil out of the still and into the condenser where it is cooled back into water and the essential oil can separate. The water that has passed through the plants not only carries the drops of essential oil but also water soluble therapeutics from the plants and micro-drops of oil that are 'in solution' in the water and will not separate. The essential oil content of most hydrosols is in the range of 0.2 - 0.4% by volume. Hydrosols are almost like a super concentrated herbal tea - herbal espresso, you might say.

Why hasn't anyone suggested their use until recently?

Many people have suggested the use of hydrosols before now; in fact hydrosols are one of the main reasons that the art of distillation was pursued and perfected by the Arabs. However, essential oils have more monetary value than hydrosols and simple economics means that outside of the families and communities where distillation takes place, few people bother with hydrosols. Also they are much bulkier and heavier than oils; each litre (32oz.) of hydrosols weighs 1kg (2.25 lbs.) So to store and ship the large volumes of hydrosols produced each year is a bit of a chore! In countries like Turkey (rose, oregano, bay), Bulgaria (rose), Morocco and North Africa (neroli/orange blossom, rosemary), and France (lavender, and many others), hydrosols have always been used for everything from a digestive aid to a wound wash, to an eye compress, for skin care, and as a linen spray!!! And these uses can be traced back continuously to Egypt around 2500BC.

Do I have to follow the same safety guidelines with hydrosols as I would with essential oils?

No, though there are some guidelines, of course. First, hydrosols are much less concentrated than essential oils. As mentioned the oil content is roughly, less than 1/2 of 1 percent. This means that the dose is dramatically different than with oils. On humans and larger animals (anything over 25kg/60 pounds) it is totally fine to use hydrosols in their undiluted form frequently and without problem both topically and internally as appropriate. With essential oils we measure the dose in drops, with hydrosols we measure the dose in millilitres or teaspoons (full guidelines are in my book). Also with hydrosols the issue of internal use becomes basically non-problematic. While I am an advocate of the appropriate and sensible use of small amounts of essential oils internally for specific conditions, many people and books will warn you off this approach, which is a different subject. However because hydrosols are, in effect, water they are easily diluted in water even in infinitesimal amounts. In fact for internal therapeutic use in humans, I would normally recommend 30ml (2 tablespoons) of hydrosols diluted in 1 litre (32oz) of water per day. With an animal as large as a horse where body weight is several hundreds of kilos/pounds, then the dose could be raised accordingly, if physical therapeutic action is the desired effect. For energetic healing I normally use hydrosols (and essential oils) in very small amounts. So instead of 30ml in one litre I might use 1 drop in a glass of water or 3ml in a litre of water. The variables on dilution are infinite but the major point is that hydrosols are completely water-soluble since they are water themselves.

Second they are non-volatile; they don't evaporate as they are in fact aromatic water and not oil at all. This lack of volatility means that they have much less odour, and what odour there is does not rise up of its own accord but must be atomized in some way to spread the odour. So with anyone who is odour sensitive which includes most animals, the hydrosols are much less likely to impinge on the senses. In fact if the hydrosols are not atomized and are diluted in water they will have only the slightest of odours.

Then there is the chemistry of the hydrosols, which is markedly different from that of the essential oils. Hydrosols contain only the most water-soluble chemicals found in the plant material and even the essential oil in solution in the hydrosol has a different chemical profile than the essential oil that separates. The chemical functional groups that one finds in hydrosols are primarily the gentle acids, the monoterpene alcohols, and occasionally some low percentiles of aldehydes, sesquiterpene alcohols, and phenols, although the last is very rare according to the studies by Dr. H.C. Baser in Turkey. Ron Guba in Australia suggests that any functional group chemical with an "O" bond is hydrophilic enough to show up in the hydrosols. The rules of science don't always hold and GCMS analysis of hydrosols is now being undertaken by 4 separate companies in 4 separate countries, so we shall see what information comes out of this new research. The initial results are that the dermocaustic phenols are present only in very low amounts and only in a very few types of hydrosols, and never in a percentage high enough to cause severe problems.

I want to use hydrosols with my horse. Is there anytime it would be wise to avoid doing so?

Difficult question! I can't really tell you what is appropriate for any individual animal or human or condition at any given time. That is the role of the practitioner, and it would be wise to take training and find good people to work with. However, if you have a bond of trust and understanding with your clients, equine or otherwise, they will certainly help you decide what is appropriate. Hydrosols are more likely to be useable at any time than essential oils, however. They have fewer concerns from a safety point of view, as mentioned already, and their gentle nature and ability to work on multi-levels and realms means that you have a huge variety of potential applications at your fingertips. With hydrosols I have almost completely replaced my homoeopathic and flower remedy treatments and even my tinctures are now made with hydrosols to access all the subtle levels.

So talk to your horse (he will usually give you the clearest answer), do your homework, look at all your options and then make an educated choice, and if all else fails the simplest approach is, "if in doubt... Don't".

Can I give a hydrosol to my horse as an internal "medicine"? How would I do this?

Hydrosols can be given internally either diluted in water or undiluted. In both cases they may be offered in a separate dish, always providing untreated water in case the horse doesn't like the hydrosol, or given as a drench.
The easiest way is to offer the hydrosols in a separate dish and I would always start with a diluted blend - for a horse say 10% hydrosol in water as a starting point. Let the horse try it to see the response... in fact you can even let the horse sniff the hydrosols in advance to see how they respond, just like people!

If the horse likes the hydrosol, just make it available along with the untreated water daily for as long as the treatment requires. Really the dose will have to be adjusted on a per case / per animal basis, but 10% is a good starting point and you can consider going up to 50% or more in acute conditions and staying at 10% or less for long term chronic conditions.

To give hydrosols as a drench, again, adjust the dilution accordingly and drench your horse in the usual manner. I would probably not exceed 30% hydrosol in a drench on the first go but for an animal that has been treated regularly with herbal treatments and who is used to aromatics you could use whatever is the most appropriate dose for the condition.

Is there only a "physical" action or do they work on more than the physical body?

As mentioned earlier, hydrosols work both physically and energetically. They work on mind, body and spirit, just as many herbal treatments do. Aromatics bring about emotional responses for animals just as they do for people, and the increased sensitivity of the sense of smell in animals could mean that they have a higher emotional and energetic response to odour than even humans. Animals are so aware of scent that dogs and monkeys are being trained to detect the smell of seizures and heart attacks, and horses have long been trained to work with children with physical and mental handicaps. For me this is a clear indication that the animals are communing on all levels, emotionally, physically and energetically, and when you see the bonds that can develop between animal and human it is easy to appreciate the complexity of an animal's response range.

Can I apply hydrosols to the skin? How would you recommend I do this and what conditions would suggest the use of hydrosols?

Hydrosols are wonderfully healing for the skin and can be used on almost any condition from wounds to atopic dermatitis, to urticaria, to mucky eyes and conjunctivitis, to boils and abscesses. Any place you would use water you can use a hydrosol, and they can be diluted with water, or saline solution or salt water, or hydrogen peroxide or calamine lotion or aloe gel or any other aqueous substance. They can also be used undiluted, as they are very gentle even at full strength, particularly when you are talking about local applications and not full body treatments. (I have actually bathed in undiluted hydrosol and found it fantastic.)

Can I combine hydrosols or do I use one at a time?

Hydrosols can be blended and mixed just like essential oils; in fact, they can create powerful synergies when combined. This is important, as it is rare that we treat only one single condition at a time and often it is imperative that several plant products be combined to get just the right fit to the application.
They can also be used both internally and topically on the same client during the same period.

What, for you, makes hydrosols special?

Hydrosols offer us the synthesis of so many aspects of the plants that I find it difficult to remember life without them. Hydrosols have the aromatic component that drew me so profoundly to aromatherapy in the beginning, and this odiferous element is more subtle allowing a greater range of variation in response. They also are water, one of the key elements of life, a necessity, a joy, the primordial soup from which we crawled, the emotional sea in which we swim. Hydrosols are virtually without contraindication and problem. Not so completely that you can abandon common sense, but they are so gentle and so safe that they have almost limitless applications. Hydrosols are highly subtle and metaphysical, and can be used in energetic healing as easily and effectively as flower remedies or homoeopathic remedies. They can also be combined beautifully with these remedies, and / or other elements like crystals, Tellington Touch and hands on energy healing. Safe for children and the elderly or very ill, never overpowering to the immune system, delicious, fragrant and fun, hydrosols bring joy and beauty to the healing process. For me, that makes them very special indeed.

Suzanne Catty lives in Toronto and for more information on hydrosols she has set up a webpage for information exchange at If you want to explore the use of hydrosols with your horse, her company, Acqua Vita,, stocks all the hydrosols listed in her book, "Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy".

About the author:
Catherine Bird is a Sydney-based qualified Aromatherapist, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist specializing in treating animals. Her clients have included the NSW Mounted Police, Olympic level competitors, and horses in all disciplines as well as backyard pets. She is the author of "Horse Scents, Making Sense with Your Horse Using Aromatherapy", which is one of a series being developed and she offers the Equine Aromatherapy Correspondence Course worldwide. For more information see, and, or email Catherine directly at