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Distilling plants for their essence.

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Arabic culture invented the art of distilling even before the Irish invented whiskey. (Souther Germany claim the title to distilled drink too – but who cares what the Germans boast about). In fact it was monks trying to convert ‘the heathens’ (how times have changed – now the Irish could do with a bit of conversion) to Christianity that found that by distilling flower-petals one could garner and keep the ‘essence’ of the flower. Apparently this fact is important in religion – a kind of transubstantiation.

There are many ways and methods to distil – anything. Whiskey is distilled beer. Brandy is distilled fruit-juice and gin is for pouring down drains to keep ’em clear.

Here’s a DIY for distilling something simple like flower petals – remember in Ireland ANY form of distillation is ILLEGAL without express permission of the court/Garda. If yo really want to do it right get a glass ‘still’ from the internet/pharmacy – water runs in – and – out and in a separate chamber steam goes in and alcohol/perfume comes out. Litres of hooche/perfume can be made in the simplest kitchen – or garden even.

Be sure you have a brick and heat-safe stainless steel or glass quart bowl ready before you begin.

1/1.5lt  fresh roses or rose petals or any other flower.
Ice cubes or crushed ice

1. In the center of a large pot (the speckled blue canning pots are ideal) with an inverted lid (a rounded lid), place a stone – no matter what type it must lie flat and be able to hole/balance a cup steadily. It must be heavy enough that it doesn’t ‘bounce’ when the water boils. On top of the brick place the bowl. Put the petals in the pot; add enough flowers to reach the top of the brick. Pour in just enough water to cover the flowers. The water should be just above the top of the brick.

2. Place the lid upside down on the pot. Turn on the stove and bring the water to a rolling boil, then lower heat to a slow steady simmer. As soon as the water begins to boil, toss two or three trays of ice cubes (or a bag of ice) on top of the lid.

3. You’ve now created a home still! As the water boils the steam rises, hits the top of the cold lid, and condenses. As it condenses it flows to the center of the lid and drops into the bowl. Every 20 minutes, quickly lift the lid and take out a tablespoon or two of the rose water or replace the cup with another. It’s time to stop when you have about a litre of water that smells and tastes strongly like the flower you’ve used.


Rose water is used in cosmetics for its lovely scent, but also because it has light astringent 
properties. As the gentlest of all astringents, rose water is often used as toner for fair and dry 

You must be careful when purchasing rose water to buy only the 100 percent pure form. Often what is 
available in pharmacies and even some natural food stores is synthetic rose oil and water with preservatives 
added. Pure rose water is the distilled water of roses. It is usually made by stream distillation, and it smells heavenly and tastes delicious.

Availability: Besides health food stores and herb stores, you can often find rose water in delicatessens; 
it is used as a flavoring in fancy Greek pastries, puddings, and cakes

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About pfiddle

Fiddle teacher - mostly Irish trad. Fiddle, mandolin and concertina. Eco-warrior, won E.U. Green Flower Award for Eco Accommodation. Also Irish (Gold) GHA. Green Hospitality Award. Mad keen on self-build - especially straw-bale and cob. 55 with a full head of (slightly) graying hair. No tattoos or piercings. Fond of animals - but legally so. Fond of food - I eat nothing else. Vegetarian by choice, Irish by the grace of birth, Munster by force of (rugby) arms.

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