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All about Rose essential oil

Origin and nature

The journey of Rose essential oil is as rich and layered as its fragrance. Rosa damascena was first cultivated in Persia (now Iran), before making its way to Bulgaria, Turkey, and beyond. The essential oil is now derived primarily from two types of rose: Rosa damascena, commonly known as Damask Rose, and Rosa alba, known as White Rose.

About the plant

Rosa damascena is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 2.2 meters in height. It has sturdy thorns and lush, pink to light red flowers.  Rosa alba, or White Rose, shares a similar history but has a lighter, more subtle scent compared to its Damask counterpart. Its flowers are predominantly white or pale pink.

From ancient times, roses have been associated with gods and royalty. They are used in countless ceremonies, and celebrated in literature and art. Their cultivation for the purpose of extracting oil dates back to the time of the Romans and ancient Persians.

The distillation of roses to produce oil is an art that has been refined over millennia,. This painstaking process involves harvesting the flowers by hand at dawn, when their fragrance is most potent. They are then steam distilled to capture the essence of the petals in a concentrated form.

Rose essential oil has not only been a staple in perfumery but also played a pivotal role in traditional medicine. It’s a testament to the enduring allure and therapeutic potential of roses – a botanical treasure that continues to fascinate and heal in equal measure.

Cultural Significance

The cultural tapestry of Rose essential oil has woven its way through history. It has marked its presence in rituals, medicine, and even in the corridors of power and prestige. Its journey begins in ancient Persia, where it was first cultivated, to the gardens of the Mughal Empire. It then makes its way to the heart of Europe during the Middle Ages.

In Greek mythology, the rose was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She was often depicted adorned with roses around her head, feet, and neck. This association between roses and the divine would carry on through the ages. The image of a rose embodies secrets, confidentiality, and the sacred.

Spiritual and religious contexts

In Christianity, the rose found its place as a symbol of the Virgin Mary, often referred to as the “Mystical Rose.” The rose’s beauty and thorns have been seen as metaphors for purity and the suffering of Christ, respectively. It is a powerful symbol in Christian art and iconography.

Sufi poets of the Islamic world also celebrated the rose as a spiritual symbol. They used it to denote divine love and the unfolding of spiritual truths. The Damask Rose, in particular, became central to the practice of attar making. This is a tradition of distilling rose oil that speaks to the spiritual quest for beauty and truth.

Roses in social rituals

The Valley of Roses in Bulgaria is renowned for producing the finest rose oil in the world. Every year the rose is celebrated in a festival that encapsulates the cultural and economic significance of this flower. The festival is a vibrant display of tradition, involving rose-picking rituals, folk dances, and the crowning of a Rose Queen. It is a homage to the centrality of the rose in local culture and economy.

In Tudor England, the rose became a political emblem. The War of the Roses saw the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York competing for the throne. The eventual union of these houses, symbolized by the Tudor rose, highlights the rose’s role in heraldry and governance.

The rose in arts and literature

Shakespeare famously mused, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” underscoring the rose’s timeless allure. Throughout the Renaissance and beyond, roses have inspired poets, artists, and musicians. They have served as muses for countless works that explore themes of love, beauty, and the transient nature of life. Moreover, rose is known as part of ‘the language of flowers’. This was a Victorian-era means of communication in which flowers were used to send messages. People often employed the rose to convey love and devotion.

The essence of royalty

One of the most captivating tales of rose essential oil involves Cleopatra VII, the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Legend has it that Cleopatra filled her palace rooms with the fragrance of roses to seduce Mark Antony. She even had the sails of her ship soaked in rose water, creating a fragrant breeze that announced her arrival.

A currency of fragrance

In the ancient world, Rose essential oil was so highly valued that it was often used as currency. During the height of the Roman Empire, roses and their by-products were traded like precious gems and gold. The Romans would lavish their baths, fountains, and banquet halls with rose water and rose petals. They celebrated the flower’s scent as a symbol of opulence and well-being.

The birth of distillation

The distillation process used to extract rose oil is believed to have been refined by Persian scientists in the medieval Islamic world. Avicenna (Ibn Sina), a Persian polymath of the 10th and 11th centuries, is often credited with perfecting process. This method revolutionized the production of rose oil. It became more accessible and established its role in traditional medicine and aromatherapy.

A symbol of secrecy

The phrase “sub rosa” (under the rose) has historical roots in Greco-Roman culture. During this time roses were emblematic of secrecy and confidentiality. A rose hung from the ceiling of a council chamber signalled that matters discussed should remain confidential. Rose had an integral role in diplomacy and governance. Its use extended beyond its sensory appeal to symbolize trust and discretion.

Architectural inspirations

The design of the famous Rose Window in the Notre Dame Cathedral was inspired by the rose’s form. Its symbolism relates to the Virgin Mary in Christian iconography. The intricate stained glass and stone tracery mimic the petals of a rose. This highlights the flower’s influence on art and architecture.

Chemistry

Rose essential oil is one of the most chemically complex of all essential oils. It comprises over 300 different chemical compounds. This diversity is what contributes to its unique scent, as well as its wide range of therapeutic benefits. The primary constituents include citronellol, geraniol, nerol, and phenyl ethyl alcohol. Each component plays a pivotal role in defining the oil’s character and effects.

Citronellol: This terpene alcohol lends rose oil its distinctive floral aroma, which is why it’s also widely used in perfumery. It is particularly beneficial for skin care formulations for difficult skin.

Geraniol: Another monoterpenoid alcohol, geraniol, contributes to the sweet, floral note of rose oil. It’s known for its antioxidant effects.

Nerol: Sharing a similar molecular structure with geraniol, nerol adds to the oil’s sweet floral aroma. It’s valued not just for its scent but also for its calming and soothing properties, which can help soothe daily cares and worries.

Phenyl ethyl alcohol: This compound is responsible for the rose’s honey-like fragrance notes.

Aroma

Rose essential oil is often described as the ultimate floral scent. It embodies the delicate yet complex nature of the bloom from which it is derived. Its fragrance is rich, intensely floral, and sweet, with subtle hints of spice and honey. It is a favourite among perfumers and a cherished scent in aromatherapy and personal care products.

The scent of Rose essential oil is more than just pleasing to the nose; it has profound emotional and psychological effects. It is renowned for its ability to uplift the mood, soothe cares, and promote a sense of well-being. Rose essential oil is often associated with the heart. One of its most popular uses is in encouraging emotional openness, self-love, and compassion.

The enchanting fragrance of Rose essential oil can be attributed to its complex chemical composition. Components such as citronellol, geraniol, nerol, and phenyl ethyl alcohol play key roles. These compounds interact synergistically to produce a scent that is not only beautiful but also capable of influencing the limbic system. This part of the brain is responsible for emotions, memories, and stimulation. The interaction explains the oil’s ability to affect mood and emotional states profoundly.

In perfumery, Rose essential oil is considered a middle to base note. It provides a lasting foundation upon which other scents can be layered. Its versatility and depth make it a staple in both traditional and modern fragrance formulations. Rose blends well with a wide range of other essential oils including Jasmine, Bergamot, and Sandalwood.

Production and sustainability

Cultivation

The cultivation of Rosa damascena is a labour of love, requiring specific climatic conditions and soil quality to flourish. The Valley of Roses in Bulgaria is famed for its optimal growing conditions, including its unique soil and favourable climate. This makes it a premier region for producing the highest quality rose oil. Similarly, regions in Turkey, Iran, and Morocco have also been recognized for their rose oil production. Each has a unique scent profile due to their distinct environmental conditions.

Rose plants are typically grown in well-drained soil with ample sunlight. They are subject to rigorous standards to ensure the purity and quality of the oil. Organic farming practices are increasingly adopted to meet consumer demand for sustainable and chemical-free products. These standards emphasise natural pest control and the use of organic fertilizers.

Harvesting

The harvesting of rose petals is a time-honored tradition that requires considerable skill and labour. The process is carried out early in the morning before sunrise to ensure that the flowers retain their exquisite fragrance. Workers hand-pick the blooms, a method that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. This preserves the integrity and delicate nature of the petals.

Production

The production of Rose essential oil uses steam distillation. This method extracts the oil without compromising its aromatic and therapeutic properties. The freshly picked rose petals are gently steamed, releasing the oil, which is then cooled and separated from the water. This process requires a vast amount of petals for a relatively small yield of oil. Rose essential oil is therefore one of the most valuable and sought-after oils in the world

Quality and composition

It’s important to note that the chemical composition of Rose essential oil can vary significantly depending on the soil, climate, and cultivation practices of the roses from which it’s distilled. This variability can affect the oil’s aroma and therapeutic qualities, underscoring the importance of sourcing high-quality oil from reputable producers.

Sustainability

Sustainability is a critical concern in the cultivation and production of Rose essential oil. The industry faces challenges related to water usage, land management, and the impact of climate change. Producers and organizations are increasingly focusing on sustainable practices. These include water conservation techniques, organic farming methods, and initiatives to reduce carbon footprints.

Efforts to ensure the sustainability of rose oil production also involve fair trade practices, ensuring that the workers involved cultivation and harvesting are compensated fairly.

Properties and application

Historically, rose oil was not just prized for its fragrance but also for its healing properties. In medieval Europe, it was used as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent. Rose water was a staple in apothecaries, used to treat everything from skin complaints to digestive disorders.

Rose essential oil is a powerhouse of therapeutic benefits. These are attributed to its complex chemical composition. Uses for Rose essential oil include:

  • Emotional balance: The uplifting aroma of Rose essential oil makes it a valuable ally in promoting a sense of well-being and emotional balance.
  • Skin healing: The protective properties of rose oil make it effective in skin care formulations. It is especially used to promote skin healing.
  • Antispasmodic: Rose has a calming effect on the muscles which is of benefit when used in a massage blend.
  • Romance and intimacy: Rose essential oil is often used to create an atmosphere of intimacy and love.

Applications in wellness and beauty

Skin care

Rose essential oil is a jewel in the crown of natural skincare. It is suitable for all skin types but particularly beneficial for dry, mature, or sensitive skin. Its hydrating and calming properties help to soothe and rejuvenate the skin. It is often chosen in blends for a smooth complexion.

Emotional well-being

Used in aromatherapy, Rose essential oil promotes a sense of harmony and emotional healing. It’s often used in meditation and yoga practices to enhance mindfulness and emotional release.

Women’s health

The oil has a long history of use in supporting women’s health, particularly in maintaning balance throughout the cycles of life. It provides comfort and relief during times of change

Perfumery

Beyond its therapeutic uses, Rose essential oil is a cherished ingredient in perfumery. It lends its rich, floral scent to countless fragrances. Its depth and complexity make it a favourite among perfumers and enthusiasts alike.

Diffusion

Diffusing Rose essential oil is a popular method for enhancing the ambiance of a space with its comforting and uplifting aroma. When diffused, it can help to promote a sense of tranquility. The soothing scent is ideal for creating a relaxing environment. This can be used to support meditation practices or to enrich any room with a feeling of love and peace.

Topical application

Rose essential oil, when diluted with a carrier oil, is a magnificent addition to skincare routines. Its hydrating properties make it suitable for soothing dry or sensitive skin. Additionally, its antioxidant components are beneficial for mature skin.

Massage

Incorporating Rose essential oil into massage oils can deepen relaxation and enhance the massage experience. The oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help soothe sore muscles and improve circulation.

Bath

Adding Rose essential oil to bathwater can create a luxurious, spa-like experience. Its skin-soothing properties combined with its ability to relax the mind make it perfect for a calming bath before bed.

Personal inhalation

For moments when you need emotional support or a quick calming, personal inhalation of Rose essential oil can be very effective. It can be inhaled directly from the bottle or from a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton pad.

Contraindications & General Safety

  • Dilution: Always dilute Rose essential oil in a carrier oil before topical application to avoid skin irritation.
  • Pregnancy and Nursing: Consult with a practitioner before using during pregnancy or while nursing.
  • Sensitive Skin: Conduct a patch test prior to widespread use, especially for those with sensitive skin.
  • Quality: Ensure the use of high-quality, pure Rose essential oil to avoid adverse reactions from contaminants.

Blending & Recipes

Rose essential oil acts as a heart note in blends. It provides a warm, emotional depth that can soften and enrich the overall aroma. It pairs well with a wide range of essential oils:

Citrus oils: Lemon, Bergamot, and Orange bring out the bright, uplifting side of Rose. They create blends that are refreshing and emotionally uplifting.

Woody oilsSandalwood and Cedarwood complement Rose’s floral notes. Their grounding, earthy scents are ideal for meditative and relaxing blends.

Spicy oilsClove and Cinnamon can add warmth and complexity to Rose. Perfect for creating invigorating and warming blends for cooler months.

Herbal oils: Lavender and Geranium share a floral affinity with Rose. They enhance its soothing and skin-loving properties in blends aimed at healing and relaxation.

Recipe Ideas

Rose serenity diffuser blend

Combine these oils in your diffuser to soothe the mind and uplift the spirit.

Rose radiance facial oil

Blend the essential oils with Jojoba oil and apply a few drops to the face after cleansing. This blend promotes skin rejuvenation and improves overall skin tone.

Luxurious rose bath soak

Dissolve the Epsom salts and essential oils in the carrier oil before adding to warm bathwater for a soothing and rejuvenating soak.

Rose embrace perfume blend

Combine the oils in a roller bottle. Apply to pulse points for a personal, natural perfume that exudes warmth, depth, and sensuality.

Personal inhaler blend

Add these oils to a personal inhaler or onto a cotton pad for moments of personal reflection, emotional balance, or to refresh the senses.

Relaxing massage oil blend

Mix the essential oils with Sweet Almond oil for a calming and soothing massage blend that relaxes the body and uplifts the spirit.

Experiencing Rose essential oil

Find out more about this exquisite oil’s history and uses with Oshadhi founder Malte Hozzel’s delightful plant profile:

Discovering the soul of Rose Essential Oil

The soul of Rose essential oil lies not only in its enchanting fragrance but in its profound ability to touch the hearts, minds, and bodies of those who embrace its essence. Each drop is a distillation of history, culture, and the meticulous care of those who cultivate and produce this liquid gold

We invite you to discover the soul of Rose essential oil for yourself. Let it be a companion on your journey toward holistic health, a touchstone for emotional balance, and a beacon of beauty in your daily rituals. Embrace the essence of Rose, and let its ancient wisdom inspire a life lived in harmony with nature.

Oshadhi’s Rose Essential Oils

Rose absolute (Rosa damascena): The extraction of Rose oil using alcohol yields an ‘absolute’. Absolutes tend to be lower in price than the steam distilled equivalent as the yield from this process is higher. Rose absolute as a robust, long-lasting aroma that encompasses the full range of aromatic components. Deep, broad and rich – a little goes a long way.

Persian Rose essential oil (Rosa damascena): In comparison to Bulgarian rose, the Persian Rose from Iran is slightly gentler and with a sweet note. For reasons that are nothing to do with quality, the price of Persian Rose is somewhat less than its Bulgarian counterpart so it’s an ideal place to start if you want to try a steam distilled rose. Due to a higher content of plant waxes this oil can be solid at room temperature however gentle skin warmth will be enough to make it liquid again.

Bulgarian Rose essential oil (Rosa damascena): The classic rose, deep, rich and sensual. We stock this oil as a conventionally farmed oil and certified organic Bulgarian Rose essential oil is also available.  The organic variant costs more due to the increased costs associated with organic farming. In terms of aroma they are similar however the organic oil is a little more complex.

White Rose essential oil (Rosa alba): This oil is from a different species – Rosa alba. The fragrance is a little more dusky and has a certain air of mystery. Very much a favourite in the Oshadhi office.

Turkish Rose essential oil (Rosa damascena): A little more earthy and grounding than the classic Bulgarian oil. Previously Turkish Rose cost less than its Bulgarian counterpart but more recently it has been the other way round.

Click to see and compare all of Oshadhi’s rose essential oils.