Lemon Balm Hydrosol

LemonBalmLemon Balm Hydrosol by Carla Berg

I’ve been enjoying essential oils for only a few years, mostly to make homemade products like soap and toothpaste. My husband, Todd, went shopping for supplies and noticed the price tag on essential oils. He was not very pleased and knowing my interest in herbs was growing, he decided to plant some herbs and make a distiller with an extra pressure cooker that we had. Todd drilled a whole in the pressure cooker lid and installed a fitting in order to attach a copper tube to the condenser, which was a separate copper tube that was coiled and glued to an old tin can. The last step was to drill a hole in the bottom of the can for the copper tube to deliver the final product into the receiver. Todd used copper because it is known for having toxic effects on microorganisms. Since I planned to consume or use the hydrosols externally, I did wash them in a watered down bleach solution, then thoroughly rinsed afterwards. 

berg-SG31Ingredients: Lemon Balm leaves (6 cups), reverse osmosis water (3 cups)       
Still (homemade with a Pressure Cooker, Condenser, & Receiver (two jars and a cup), and an Infrared Thermometer

Harvest & Distillation Process: Lemon Balm leaves were harvested at noon on a warm day, 83 degrees and partly cloudy, September 25, 2015. An hour later the fresh herbs were tripl washed and placed in the still covered with three cups water, just enough to ensure leaves were floating. Although leaves were not at their prime with volatile oils because flowers have bloomed, and they were harvested after the morning dew, I decided, “Let’s see what happens”! My herb garden is new and fairly small, so I was only able to harvest six cups of the youngest and healthiest whole leaves.

berg2-SG31After macerating for just over an hour, the water temperature was brought up to approximately 180 degrees, then dropped to maintain enough pressure to for a constant vaporization of liquids, which was about 120 degrees. The infrared thermometer worked great, I just had to remember to target the same exact spot on the still to obtain an accurate reading. Once the temperature stabilized, the room was filled with an aromatic scent of lemony flowers…so delightful!

I stayed in the room with the pressure cooker, enjoying the aromatherapy. Once the herb fluid essences filled two ounces in the first receiver, the jar was changed out, then again after three ounces. The process was complete after the third receiver filled three ounces, totaling eight ounces after 1.5 distillation hours. The hydrosol receiving process was slowing down. When the lid was removed, there was less than a cup of water remaining, so it was a good and conservative stop time.

Findings: The picture was taken shortly after refrigeration, so unfortunately the condensation combined with a yellow countertop makes it difficult to see with clarity… I was in such a hurry to keep them preserved! The picture is the second and third batches, as I had to crop out the first batch due to the picture not revealing the true, clear sample that it was.

berg3-SG31The scent was amazing… very flowery and citrusy. The first sample was very clear. The second sample was mildly cloudy, very minimal. The last ounce was moderately cloudy; however it still smelt good, yet not quite as stimulating as the first two.

I expected to see some, just a little bit, essential oils separated and floating on the water, however there wasn’t any. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green stated that “an extraordinary amount of plant material is needed to have enough oils”. He used 200 Gm with 3 liters of water in his example, and stated “if there is any appreciable volatile oil present”. I someday hope to find “that extraordinary amount” once I have a larger herb garden and perhaps a larger still. I am quite happy with just “the hydrosol” in its milder form over oil.

Usage of Lemon Balm & Hydrosols: According to the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, 2014, Foster and Duke, Lemon Balm preparations are approved for treatment of sleeplessness caused by nervous conditions and digestive tract spasms. It slows the breakdown of acetylcholine, a messenger compound deficient in brain-cell cultures of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Lemon Balm contains at least eight antiviral compounds (against herpes), eight sedative compounds, and 12 anti-inflammatory components. The leaves have anti-bacterial, antihistaminic, antispasmodic, and antioxidant activity.

Hydrosols can be applied directly to the skin in a lotion, poultice, or fomentation. They can also be taken internally by diluting in water or used as a base in syrups. Hydrosols are safer than volatile oils since they don’t contain the bitter substances, so there is less concern if not diluted properly. With that said, I plan to drink the third sample!

Results: I added one teaspoon of lemon balm hydrosol in black tea- and it was delicious, and I had a great night’s sleep! The first and second samples were labeled and placed in the freezer for future experiments.

Update on November 7, 2015. I had stored the remaining third sample in the refrigerator and have been consuming it in water from time to time. With three ounces, I had 18 teaspoons or 6 tablespoons. A little bit does go a long ways, using less than a tablespoon for 20 oz of water. It is just as clear and tasty today, about six weeks later.

I did find this statement on aromaweb.com that quotes from a book…”Generally hydrosols with a pH of 5.0 or less last longer than hydrosols with a pH over 5.0. As a very broad rule of thumb, I rate those under 5.0 pH at two years and over 5.0 pH at twelve to eighteen months.” [Suzanne Catty, Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2001), 147.]

Since I have pH strips (from making kombucha), I was able to test the lemon balm hydrosol, which reads 6 on the pH scale. I am sure it will be consumed well within a year!

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