Interview with Petra Ratajc 

1 Do you remember the very first essential oil you bought?

It was rose oil that I bought when visiting Bulgarian research colleagues in the Rose Valley of Kazanlak, back in 2010. Although I didn't like it at the time, it's still my most precious oil, and even today remains bright and fresh. After I renewed my interest in aromatherapy a few years ago, pelargonium essential oil was the first in my growing collection of essential oils and extracts. It's one of my favourite essential oils.

2 What does your "aroma first aid kit" look like now?

My aroma collection has grown quite considerably over the years. Besides essential oils I also have many absolutes, CO2s and other extracts, from most common to rare and exotic samples. I'm fascinated by the smells and their hedonic value as much as their therapeutic potential. I believe that smells themselves can have therapeutic value independently of pharmacological mechanisms.

3 When do you use aromatherapy in your life? Also, what application do you like the most? Massage, inhalation, bath...?

I mostly use essential oils to influence my mood, improve concentration and beat the everyday stressful situations. My preferred mode of use is inhalation, either directly from the bottle or the piece of cotton pad. I'm a fan of steam inhalation, especially when dealing with respiratory issues. Not only it is efficient with congested respiratory paths but it also wakes me up in the morning and refreshes facial skin at the same time.

4 Can you share some of your favourite aroma recipes with our readers?

Mostly I don't make specific blends; I like to use single oils that I choose according to my moods. My top essential oils for everyday use are clary sage, pelargonium, lemon, rosemary, laurel, eucalyptus and black spruce.

5 Can you introduce your scientific work with essential oils at the University of Ljubljana?

My work at the university was focused on assessing the pharmaceutical quality and antioxidative potential of the local populations of aromatic plants, such as sage, winter savoury, lemon balm and thyme.

The determination of essential oil content is just one of the quality control tests prescribed by the European Pharmacopoeia; therefore I distilled and analysed many samples of herbal drugs. During that time I was exposed to strong smells and not really interested in additional exposure to essential oils. A few years later I became involved in aromatherapy, and now my goal is to connect both fields by lecturing, cooperating with experts and the general public.

6 Your talk at the Aromakonference Brno will be about hydrolats. What is your favourite one and why?

Orange flower hydrolat is my favourite due to its complex bittersweet and uplifting smell which is truly enchanting and always brings feelings of cheerful summer days. Besides, it has many beneficial effects on my skin. I also love rose, myrtle, savoury, helichrysum and sage hydrolats.

7 In your opinion, how can customers recognise a quality hydrolate? What is important?

For someone who's new to hydrolats, I recommend getting them from reputable producers. You need to make sure you're buying a true hydrolat not just aromatised water. If the first ingredient on the label is water, followed by other ingredients, or there's more than one ingredient on the label, this is not a true hydrolat. The INCI name should only state "X water" (for example Rosa damascena flower water). Make sure they are micro-filtered and microbiologically tested, especially if you intend to use them internally. Check for any signs of whitish cotton-like formations, as those are a sign of microbiological contamination.

Among the small artisan distillers, the quality of hydrolats can vary significantly. When you're more experienced, you'll be able to recognise quality distillation. A common sign of low-quality hydrolats is an over-cooked note in their smell which means that distillation was too intense.

Don't be disappointed if the smell is nothing like the smell of a plant or essential oil you know very well. Hydrolats are specific products with a composition that is or isn't similar to the plant or its essential oil.

8 Some people say that we don't have enough scientific information about hydrolats. Is it true − are they really so mystical?

It's true that hydrolats are far less researched than essential oils, and this is also one of the main reasons for their mysterious appeal. The biggest mystic that surrounds them is connected with their composition as for many we don't know what exactly they contain. Sometimes people expect that they will contain all sorts of beneficial constituents such as vitamins, flavonoids and so on. But many hydrolats, especially those of high economic value are well researched, mostly concerning their microbiological stability, their antioxidative and antimicrobial potential for use in the food and cosmetic industry.

9 In the summer, many people make their own hydrolat in a kitchen pot. Is it safe? Which plants can we use and how should we use this kind of hydrolats?

This is one of the easiest methods for obtaining aromatic waters without a proper still. You can use any material you like, but the yield and efficiency of this method are significantly lower than with a proper distillation. Aromatic waters obtained with this method are also less stable and more prone to microbial contamination because more non-volatile compounds (which may act as nutrients) may end up in the product. They can be used in the same way as true hydrolats, but due to their unstable nature should be used in a few days.

10 Are there contraindications to the use of hydrolats? In children, pregnant women, old people...?

High-quality hydrolats are generally safe to use and appropriate even for children and pregnant women. You need to keep them refrigerated, take care to prevent their contamination and use them quickly after you open the bottle.

11 Can you share a favourite hydrolate recipe of yours with the readers of our website, Kouzlo vůní?

While I use hydrolats for my skin and occasionally for aromatising drinking water, I would like to share a cocktail recipe with the rose hydrolat created by my partner. You will need:

  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 shot (30 ml) sparkling wine (preferably from Muscat grapes)
  • 1 shot plum wine
  • 1 shot gin
  • ½ shot elderberry syrup (you can substitute with plain sugar)
  • Spritz of rose hydrolat
  • Crushed ice

Mix the ingredients in a shaker and top with sparkling mineral water. Enjoy!