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The Best and Most Fragrant Roses for Making Rose Water and Potpourris

Updated on January 7, 2017
Damask rose, Madame Hardy. My favorite!
Damask rose, Madame Hardy. My favorite! | Source
A bud of the crested moss rose, Chapeau de Napoleon, with its frilly mossed sepals
A bud of the crested moss rose, Chapeau de Napoleon, with its frilly mossed sepals | Source
Centifolia rose (Cabbage Rose)
Centifolia rose (Cabbage Rose) | Source

Rose lovers have long lamented that modern roses, while big and gorgeous, cannot match the fragrance of the old-fashioned roses.

Unless you take special care in selecting modern roses for their perfume, you may be in for a disappointment. Also, while most modern roses may provide continuous bloom and unusual colors, are not large extravagant shrubs lavishly covered with blooms.

The old-fashioned roses usually produce only one spectacular spring bloom, most often on a large shrub. It is not unusual for an old shrub rose to reach five feet in height and five feet in diameter, and produce literally hundreds of flowers at bloom time. That way you can collect basketsful of flowers for rosewater or potpourri all at once.


More importantly, the old roses are often noted for their fine perfume. Historically, the roses that have been most used for the production of rosewater have been the centifolia roses and the damask roses. The Damask Rose (Rosa damascena) was cultivated in Bulgaria, Persia, and India, for making otto of roses, because it is highly fragrant. The variety of rose cultivated in Provence for this purpose is the centifolia rose (Rosa centifolia).

Centifolia roses (sometimes called “cabbage roses”) and damascena or damask roses—of which there are many varieties—would be fine choices for richly perfumed garden roses, as would the moss roses, which are a kind of centifolia. And many of the old garden roses have a damask or centifolia heritage.

The Rosa damascena grown for the production of attar of roses is often given the name Kazanlik, when offered for sale by rose growers.

But all the damasks and centifolias—as well as many other types of old garden roses—are known for their fine fragrance.


Some excellent damask roses include: Leda, La Ville des Bruxelles, Jaques Cartier, Celsiana, Hebe’s Lip, and Madame Hardy. Of these, I think my favorite is Madame Hardy, the white rose shown above, for its rich fragrance and heavy-textured petals, and the perfect form of every blossom.


Some fine centifolias include the Rosa cenifolia herself, and centifolia varieties, such as Tour de Malakoff, Fantin Latour, and The Bishop.

Since the moss roses are merely a centifolia “sport” (kind of like a mutant) with beautiful mossy-looking sepals, they too are richly fragrant. Some may remember Grandma’s “Moss Rose” china pattern, with its representation of “moss” covered buds.

Favorite moss roses include

Alfred de Dalmas (Mousseline)

Chapeau de Napoleon (Crested Moss)

Henri Martin (the nearest to red of the moss roses)

William Lobb (Old Velvet Moss).

I am partial to Chapeau de Napoleon, pictured above, with its unusual mossy sepals, and Alfred de Dalmas, for it’s daintiness.


But there is no need to limit yourself entirely to the damask and centifolia roses. Some other old roses know for their sweet perfume are:

Madame Isaac Pereire, a raspberry-purple rose said to be one of the most fragrant of all roses,

Souvenir de la Malmaison, a sweet-scented continuous bloomer,

Comte de Chambord, a continuous bloomer with a rich scent,

Reine des Violettes, the so-called “blue” rose


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    • JaneanOverman profile image

      Janean Overman 7 weeks ago from Virginia

      Great information. Well written and in depth hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 8 months ago from Odessa, MO

      I have never looked into roses from the angle of skin benefits, so I did a bit of searching. The key thing for choosing rosewater for skin benefits seems to be how a particular product is produced.

      That is, some rosewaters are produced by the distillation of the petals, so that they contain water-soluble plant compounds. Some other rosewaters are simply rose essential oil mixed with water.

      I had a look at the offerings of some of the online suppliers of ingredients for soap, body care, and cosmetics (New Directions Aromatics, Essential Wholesale, Brambleberry, Bulk Apothecary, and Mountain Rose). The only company offering rosewater claimed to be made by steam distillation is Mountain Rose Herbs.

      But I notice that their R. damascena hydrosol is not claimed to be produced through steam distillation.

    • profile image

      Cecilia 8 months ago

      Hello, I have a question, in terms of skin benefits, are there any specific roses with the most benefit beside fragrance?

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Lovely information on this hub!