Perhaps no flower is more recognizable and no aroma more evocative than that of the rose. Its rich fragrance has perfumed human history for generations, from ancient Persian gardens, where the rose was probably first cultivated to extravagant Roman banquets whose revelers feasted amongst soft piles of rose petals. The rose is common and unassuming, blooming carefree in a grandmother's rambling, overgrown garden. But the rose can also personify black tie elegance, its velvety blossoms lavish enough to keep company with champagne and caviar. The rose symbolizes innocence, love, passion, sympathy, desire, luxury and the ideal aesthetic.
The healing tradition associated with the rose is no less remarkable than its fragrance and beauty. The 17th-century English physician Culpeper wrote that red roses strengthen the heart. He may have been referring to a physical action, but anyone who has inhaled fresh roses or their essential oil knows the aroma strengthens the heart spiritually and emotionally as well. Culpeper attributed other properties to the rose that foreshadowed its current use in aromatherapy and cosmetics. He recommended extract of rose for its cooling and astringent benefits, useful for headache and tired eyes. He also suggested an ointment of roses . . . to cool and heal pushes, wheals and other red pimples rising on the face . . .
Rose oil is used in creams, lotions and soaps for its mild anti-viral and bactericidal properties, as well as for its fragrance. Rose water, recovered from the distillation of rose oil, is mildly astringent and beneficial for cleansing and refreshing dry, sensitive skin.
Besides being used as a medicine in history, the rose has a long history as a costly perfume. Fresh roses were macerated in hot fat to produce fragrant pomades in ancient India, Greece and Egypt. In Egypt these pomades were shaped into cones and placed on the top of the head. As body heat melted the fat, fragrant, rose-scented oil would trickle down the face and neck.
With the advent of distillation in the 10th century, Persians began extracting rose flower water from fresh roses. Because these early stills were crude and inefficient the amount of essential oil obtained was probably negligible and may have been entirely overlooked. An early reference to rose essential oil is mentioned in a legendary Mogul account of the betrothal of a princess named Nour-Djihan to the Emperor Dhihanguyr. The wedding feast was held in a garden surrounded by a canal filled with rose water. As Nour-Djihan and her lover plied the waters in a small boat she noticed a thin film of rose oil on the surface. It was carefully skimmed off and rose essential oil was born.
The difficulty of extracting rose oil from the plant has always caused it to be a very expensive substance. A rose blossom contains only about 0.02% essential oil. It takes about 60,000 roses to produce just 1 ounce of oil, and ten thousand pounds of rose blossoms to produce 1 pound of oil. The extraction of rose absolute with chemical solvents is more efficient than the steam distillation of the essential oil. Ten pounds of a substance known as concrete can be extracted from 10,000 pounds of roses using this method. The concrete is further refined to produce rose absolute, the yield of which is about 67% from the concrete.
Regardless of its price, the potency and incredible fragrancing power of even tiny amounts of rose otto or absolute makes it a sound investment -- especially considering that a dozen fresh roses costs around $60.00 and it takes about 2 and 1/2 dozen roses to produce a single drop of oil.
Most rose otto is produced in southern Bulgaria from roses grown in the valleys of the Stryama and Tundzha rivers near Plovdiv. The best oil is distilled from newly opened flowers, picked in the cool morning hours before the sun has warmed away the aroma. In order to extract every trace of the precious oil, the distillation is done in two phases. An initial distillation yields a small quantity of concentrated green essential oil and a large amount of rose flower water. The flower water is then redistilled to produce an additional amount of pale yellow colored oil that is combined with the green oil from the first distillation.
Most rose absolute is produced in Morocco in the valleys between the High Atlas and Jbel Sarhro mountains east of Marrakech.
Rose absolute is a refined, liquid extraction of fragrant compounds from the fresh blossom. Although absolutes contain essential oil compounds they differ from distilled essential oils. An absolute is a refinement of a concrete, which is a thick, fragrant material extracted from the plant using a hydrocarbon solvent. The concrete contains essential oils, fatty acids and waxes. Absolutes are extracted from concretes with pure alcohol. The alcohol dissolves and absorbs the fragrant material from the concrete. Waxes, fats and other non-aromatic contents precipitate out and are removed by filtering. The alcohol is removed through evaporation. What's left behind is the pure, fragrant absolute -- a concentration of aromatic compounds including essential oil constituents.
Some aromatherapists prefer to use only essential oils because they feel that the chemical solvents used in the extraction of an absolute have a negative affect on the properties of the oil. Others believe that the intensity and radiance of botanicals like rose are able to withstand the extensive processing and still yield positive benefits in the absolute.
Rose and Lavender Facial Cream
In aromatherapy, rose oil inspires emotional calm and stability without sedative effects. The aroma is powerful and comforting. Its physical actions are mildly astringent and balancing. Rose and lavender facial cream is excellent for sensitive combination skin. Dabbed onto a freshly washed face this cream is a fragrant, toning emollient.
In perfumery rose absolute adds incredible richness, warmth and depth to just about any personal essence. Even in tiny amounts, rose otto will contribute a sweet, natural radiance and balance to floral blends.
Making an essential oil-based personal essence is easy. Such hand-crafted blends of natural essential oils with their familiar botanical aromas are a refreshing alternative to expensive commercial perfumes and colognes (most of which contain a complex chemical array of synthesized, unrecognizable fragrance ingredients).
A basic perfume blend contains 95% pharmaceutical grade alcohol and 5% essential oil. A cologne or toilet water contains less alcohol and essential oil plus some water: 85% alcohol, 11% water and 4% essential oil, for instance. A less harsh alternative to ethyl alcohol is a high proof vodka such as 90-proof. Using vodka instead of pharmaceutical grade alcohol will produce a cologne-like blend that can be used as a mild perfume.
This a simple recipe for a rose perfume. Although it calls for rose oil only, some of the drops can be replaced with other essential oils to create a distinctive personal essence.
Rose is unique among most aromatherapy oils. It's fragrance is perhaps more recognized than its relaxing, soothing and balancing applications in aromatherapy. One whiff and a vision of the flower itself, or perhaps an experience associated with the flower and its aroma will readily come to mind. The evocative nature of rose delivers tangible benefits in aromatherapy, cosmetic and aesthetic applications. It is an aroma that has endured for centuries and will never go out of style.