Essential Oil Profile: Rose
A rich history
THE ROSE reigns supreme amongst the flowers of the world and has been used throughout history for its exquisite scent and visual beauty.
Homer and Pliny, Ovid and Virgil refer especially to the rose being esteemed more for its perfume than for its beauty.
The first distillation of rose oil was probably by the Arabs in 500 CE; although ancient drawings show primitive stills as far back as 10,000 BC. References abound of rose oil being used by the ancient Egyptians and their royalty.
Rose was used in one of the first commercial perfumes called “Hungary water” and the oil is still one of the most important in perfumery, being a constituent of some of the most expensive perfumes together with other floral fragrances. Rose essential oil was also an ingredient in the earliest cold cream, a recipe recorded by the Greek physician, Galen, in the second century.
Only three species produce oil
Originating from Asia, the rose has been valued over many centuries in many cultures and has been extensively cultivated and hybridised.
There are 250 different species and over 10,000 hybrids; the latter usually lose their scent in exchange for more exotic colours.
Only three species of species of rose are typically used in aromatherapy; they are rosa damascena, rosa centifolia and rosa gallica.
Rosa centifolia, which originated in Persia and is often known as ‘Provence rose’ or ‘Rose of Ispahan’: itself descended from R. gallica, is the parent to moss and cabbage roses.
Rosa damascena, known as the damask rose, originated in Syria and is highly perfumed and the most cultivated for its perfumed oils.
Rosa gallica, which is the possibly the most prolific, originated in the Caucasus and is often called ‘French rose’ or ‘Rose of Anatolia’.
An elaborate process
The French have been distilling roses from before the French Revolution not only for oil but for also for rosewater, its production by-product. Much rose oil is also produced in Morocco, Egypt, India and China, where an absolute is produced that smells very like the rose itself.
This absolute has a different chemical composition to the more expensive Bulgarian (a big producer) and Turkish rose oil that is steam distilled and often called “otto”.
This essential oil takes about 4500kg of fresh hand-picked rose petals to make 1kg of Rose Otto.
In Grasse in the south of France a typical plantation of R. centifolia consists of about 1,000 rose bushes per acre, planted 90cm apart in rows of the same distance.
A rose plantation lasts about ten years, and each season will produce 2,000kg of flowers from which only 400g of rose essential oil can be obtained by steam distillation.
Extraction by solvents, however, would produce 2.5 kg of rose absolute of rose from the same quantity of flowers.
Timing is critical
Temperature and humidity are the most important factors that influence flowering.
A long spring season with a mean temperature of 5-15 ̊C is critical for a high flower yield with a high oil content.
In early May when the rose blossoms, at the appropriate time, sometimes the middle of the night, the workers pick all the flowers into big baskets which are then taken to the distillery at the heart of the plantation.
They work quickly as the flowers lose moisture, needing to be sprayed occasionally with water.
Because of this necessity for speed, there are many more pickers than there are workers in the distillery.
The blooms are spread on five trays layered inside each ‘pressure cooker’ and when the lid is closed, the solvent and water are added by opening a valve.
The process begins and the temperature will reach a maximum of 45 – 50°C. The solvent and the water run continuously through the flowers, saturating and lifting off with them the volatile molecules.
The high cost is justified
A stiff and waxy concrete gathers at the bottom of the cylinder in a small bowl.
Each set of trays is processed for about an hour, then the solvent-saturated flowers, now a dull grey, are discarded and replaced by fresh ones until the operation is complete and the bowls are full.
The distillery workers labour for as long as it takes to fill the bowls to utilize all the flowers and extract as much essence as possible and at huge cost.
To obtain a single drop of Rose oil, approximately thirty roses must be used and accordingly, rose absolute is one the most precious essential oils in the world and is thus quite costly.
Fortunately, it is so potent and concentrated that a very low dilution has significant effect.
Rose absolutes and essential oils are chemically complex with as many 300 different chemical constituents, some in trace amounts that contribute to the sublime and nuanced fragrance we know as rose.
Some oil experts claim that rose absolute is a superior oil to rose otto because certain constituents in rose otto result as a by-product of the high temperature distillation process, such as rose oxide and damascenone that are not naturally found in the rose.
Certainly we can perceive that rose absolute is far more complex and tenacious than rose otto.
Variety of applications
Rose oil’s applications are many; it not only fights depression, grief, anger and fear, but looks after your heart and digestive system, while being the most wonderful remedy for female problems and one of the best oils to use on the skin.
In terms of oriental medicine, rose is cool and moist in nature and thus clears heat and inflammation and helps to restore yin energy. Accordingly it is indicated for inflamed, toxic and infectious conditions. Rose cools the liver, improves the flow of bile to shift hot stagnant conditions that result in tension, irritability, headache and constipation. Rose has a subtle but deeply calming effect on the respiratory system especially to soothe anxious emotional states that trigger asthmatic episodes, combine with other pulmonary oils such as cypress or niaouli to open up the air ways and relax the tight mechanisms of breath.
The digestive system likes rose to ease digestive issues such as heartburn, nausea, upset stomach, food poisoning and constipation. It is said to decongest the liver, however there are probably better, less expensive hepatic oils to choose.
Ruler of the heart
Rose oil is most helpful for poor circulation and heart problems, which would include heart palpitations, arrhythmia as well as high blood pressure. Use in baths, massage and diffusers as a cardiac tonic in more ways than one as energetically, rose also opens up the heart chakra.
Rose oil offers excellent aromatic service to comfort and counter the physically and emotionally debilitating effects of autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and lupus.
The oil has a cleansing, regulating and purifying effect on the female sex organs and can be used to regulate and balance hormones, irregular menstruation, functional infertility, leucorrhoea, menorrhagia, uterine bleeding and other uterine disorders, while having a general toning effect on the uterus.
Queen of skin care
Rose oil offers exceptional help in skin care for moisturising, firming, smoothing and repairing the skin, renewing and regenerating cells. In so doing, it produces no irritation, being cooling, calming and soothing.
It is most effective for its stimulating and antiseptic action, which is good for all skin types, but especially so for dry, mature and irritated skin.
Rose also has a positive effect on broken superficial capillaries, and has marked anti-inflammatory action reducing skin redness and is a useful addition in blends that treat eczema and even herpes.
Overall, rose is a pertinent, exquisitely scented addition to skin creams and preparations that will increase the pleasure of those who use them.
What better way to wear this gorgeous scent than in the hair, an absorbent vehicle to carry the scent of rose and enhance its psychological benefits being so close to the nose?
Add rose to hair oil treatments and shampoos for shiny, healthy hair. It is interesting the way that rose treats dandruff by balancing the oil production and causing the epidermis to shed its old layers at an appropriate rate without drying out too soon.
Tender and caring
Rose oil brings a feeling of well being and happiness; it soothes and harmonises a nervous mind, alleviating sadness and sorrow.
Overall rose is a tender and caring ingredient to use in massage and bath blends for its beneficial effect on emotional shock, grief, nervous tension, irritability, emotional coldness and depression.
Assigned to the heart, rose enhances the natural flow of compassion that manifests in how it heals our emotional wounds. It brings warmth and succour to an isolated soul that has grown cold through abuse and hurt; restoring trust in the possibility to love again and allow new relationships to develop.
Rose helps women express their femininity and sexuality. Men also can benefit from the emotional strength and reassurance that rose can give, encouraging them to express their feelings honestly.
It is appropriate to use rose oil for relationship issues because its energy surfaces awareness of clinging neediness and jealousy patterns.
In mood perfumes rose admirably deals with our emotional problems and lifts our consciousness out of its stuck dark patterns, to nurture us and restore our self-esteem.
It opens the heart centre encouraging self-love and loving others.
Rose is a major rescuer for all of us as it awakens our awareness to Divine love and fills us with the grace of gratitude and forgiveness.