Rose Petals, Oil, and Water: Fragrant and Useful
The Value of Roses
The rose has been a loved and valued flower since ancient times. Its beautiful appearance and scent have been admired by many people for many years. Roses are useful as well as ornamental, however. Their petals make fragrant and attractive decorations. The petals are also used to make a scented oil and water. These products are added to perfumes, cosmetics, foods, and drinks. In addition, rose oil and water play an important role in some religious ceremonies.
Gardeners and flower enthusiasts can choose from a huge variety of cultivated roses which have a wide range of colors and bloom appearances. The oil and water are traditionally made from the distillation of Damask rose petals, but they can also be made from other roses that have a strong fragrance. Rose oil and water can be bought in some stores. They can also be made at home, although homemade products may not be as strongly scented as commercial products.
The Damask Rose
The Damask rose is a very old rose and is famous for its beautiful fragrance. The petals are edible and are used to decorate or flavor food. They are also used to create an infusion or tea. The petals are sometimes crystallized with sugar to preserve them and are eaten later.
The scientific name of the Damask rose is written as Rosa damascena or Rosa X damascena. The X between the genus (the first word of the scientific name) and the species (the second word in the name) indicates that the plant is a hybrid created by crossing other roses. The plant is thought to have originated in the Middle East, although another theory suggests that it was created in Ancient Rome. It's named after the city of Damascus, the capital of Syria.
The Damask rose grows as a shrub. The flowers are pink or light red. Two types of Damask roses exist today—the Summer Damasks and the Autumn Damasks. Each of these types contains a variety of different but related flowers, all with the same scientific name. This is why the term "Damask Rose" is often used in the plural. The flowering period of the Autumn Damasks extends through the summer into the fall while the Summer Damasks bloom only in summer.
Damask Rose Production
The main producers of oil from the Damask rose are Bulgaria and Turkey. The oil is also made in India and France. Bulgaria has an annual rose festival to celebrate the flower and its meaning to the country. The variety of Damask rose grown commercially in Bulgaria is called the Kazanlak rose after the town with the same name. Rose oil production plays an important role in Kazanlak's economy.
Rose oil is also called attar of rose, attar of roses, rose otto, or rose absolute. The first three names refer to the extract obtained by the steam distillation of rose petals. Rose absolute is obtained by solvent extraction.
In steam distillation, rose petals are added to water in a still, which is usually made of copper. The water-rose petal mixture is heated by steam flowing around the outside of the copper container. The heat causes the water and the volatile rose oil to evaporate. The vapor is then passed through a cooling apparatus, which causes it to condense (change from a gas to a liquid).
The rose oil floats on top of the water in the condensed liquid, so the two materials can be separated easily. The oil has a light green color. The water component of the condensed liquid is called a rose hydrosol or rose water. It may be redistilled to extract aromatic compounds, which are added to the oil, or it may be used as a product in its own right. Sometimes the water condensed in the second distillation is sold as rose water instead of the water produced in the first distillation.
Producing Rose Oil in Bulgaria by Steam Distillation
Solvent extraction removes more of the aromatic compounds from rose petals than the steam distillation method. In addition, the extract contains a stronger fragrance because the chemicals that cause the rose aroma aren't damaged by heat. There is a drawback to the solvent extraction method, however. Hexane is often used as the solvent. A very small amount of hexane may remain in the final product. This may be a concern, since hexane is toxic. Rose oil manufacturers claim that the amount of solvent residue is insignificant, though.
Hexane extracts waxes and pigments from rose petals in addition to the aromatic oil. Once the hexane is removed, a soft, waxy solid known as rose concrete is produced. Alcohol is added to the concrete to dissolve the aromatic compounds without dissolving the waxes. Much of the alcohol is then evaporated, producing rose absolute. Rose absolute is red-brown in color.
Other Methods of Extracting Rose Oil
Extraction by Supercritical Carbon Dioxide
A third method of rose oil extraction is sometimes used. It combines the benefits of both the steam distillation method and the solvent extraction one while removing some of their disadvantages. The extraction method removes many of the chemicals that contribute to the rose fragrance and also uses a safe chemical. The chemical is carbon dioxide, which is used at a pressure and temperature which enable it to reach a supercritical state. In this state carbon dioxide is a fluid (a substance that is able to flow) but is neither a gas nor a liquid. It has some properties of each state, however. Supercritical carbon dioxide removes aromatic compounds from rose petals without damaging the compounds.
A rose oil with a much milder fragrance than that produced by commercial methods can be made at home by the oil infusion method. Dried and crushed rose petals can be added to a carrier oil and left to soak in the oil for four weeks. It's important to watch out for mold and other contamination in the infused oil.
How to Make a Rose Oil Infusion
Uses of the Oil
Rose oil is a complex substance and contains many different chemicals. It's in high demand in the perfume industry and is used to flavor chocolate, jam, and liqueurs. It's also used in cosmetics, in massage oils, and in aromatherapy.
The oil is popular in alternative medicine and is said to have many health benefits. Most of these claims haven't been tested scientifically. There is evidence that rose oil may have anti-inflammatory properties, however. There is also evidence that it may be antibacterial.
The oil is said to relieve stress and anxiety when it's added to a hot bath or massaged on the skin. The beautiful scent would certainly add to the enjoyment of these activities, even if the oil itself isn't responsible for the stress relief.
How to Make Rose Water at Home
Rose water is a by-product of the steam distillation of rose petals. It consists of water and water-soluble chemicals which contribute to the fragrance of roses. It's easy to make rose water at home by boiling the petals in water.
Rose water is a popular additive to foods, especially in some countries and cultures. It's often used to flavor sweets and candies, such as marshmallows and Turkish delight. Turkish delight is a gelatinous candy covered with powdered sugar. Rose water may also be added to baked goods, such as cookies and scones, desserts, such as rice pudding, yogurt, and ice cream, and beverages such as milk and tea. It's also used as a perfume in religious ceremonies and is sometimes added to cosmetics. Glycerin and rose water is a popular moisturizer, for example.
It's wonderful that roses are not only beautiful but also useful. Nature and plant breeding techniques have created lovely single petaled and double petaled roses with a wide variety of colors. Some of these flowers have a delightful scent. Producing rose oil and water allows us to capture the fragrance of the flowers for use in many different products.
- Yackley, Ayla Jean. "Turkish rose farmers struggle to keep tradition alive." Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-roses/turkish-rose-farmers-struggle-to-keep-tradition-alive-idUSL5N0ZF35L20150702 (accessed September 8, 2017).
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "Thyme oil can inhibit COX2 and suppress inflammation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113122306.htm (accessed September 8, 2017). (This article refers to rose oil as well as thyme oil.)
- "Anti-inflammatory properties of rose oxide." National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23122727 (accessed September 8, 2017).
- "Tocopherol, carotene, phenolic contents and antibacterial properties of rose essential oil, hydrosol and absolute." National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19688375 (accessed September 8, 2017).
© 2013 Linda Crampton