Teaching Tuesdays -A Rose is a Rose, but an Absolute is Only Scent

Here we are back at Tuesday and I am going to fulfill my promise of completing the Rose posting. If you get too bored to read it all, at least skip to the bottom and read the last paragraph of information. You may be surprised!

Aside from being beautiful to look at and fragrant to smell, Roses are used in many pharmacological applications and have been for many, many years. Syrup of Red Rose and Syrup of Honey of Roses are both listed in the official United States Pharmacopoeia. The syrup of red rose is used to provide flavor and odor to other syrups and mixtures. It is red in color and has an agreeable, if somewhat astringent taste. The honey of roses  is prepared from clarified honey and a (fluid) extract of roses. It is considered more tasty than ordinary honey, but is still somewhat astringent. Back in the old days, honey of roses was routinely used for sore throats and mouth ulcerations. Then it was made by pounding some fresh petals into a small quantity of boiling water, then filtering the solids and boiling the liquid with the honey.

The British Pharmacopoeia offers more detailed applications for otto of rose, which is what the essential oil of roses is called. It states that Rose Water shall be made by mixing the distilled rose-water of commerce (obtained mostly from R. damascena, but also from R. centifolia and other species) with twice its volume of distilled water immediately before use. They, then use the diluted rose water as a vehicle for other medicines and as an eye lotion. Triple rose-water is water saturated with volatile oil of Rose petals, obtained as a by-product in the distillation of oil of Roses. The finest rose-water is obtained by distillation of the fresh petals. It is clear and colorless, and to be of value medicinally, must be free from all metallic impurities. The British Pharmacopoeia lists directives for other products made with rose water, such as Ointment of Rose-Water, commonly known as Cold Cream. This popular product is a soothing and cooling application for chapped hands, face, abrasions and other superficial lesions of the skin. For its preparation, the pharmacopoeia states that 1 1/2 oz of  spermaceti  and  1 1/2 oz. of white wax be melted with 9 oz. of  Sweet Almond oil. Then the mixture is to be poured into a warmed mortar, where 7 fluid oz. of rose-water and 8 minims of oil of Rose is then incorporated in it.

The essential oil (what creates the perfume) of the Rose can be found in both the flowers and leaves, but can be it can be in just one, both, or neither, as there are scentless roses. In the flower, the petals are the chief secreting part of the blossom, even though some essential oil can be found in the epidermal layers of cells. 

Even though there are more than 10,000 roses known in cultivation, most authorities agree that there are only five distinct types or species; R. canina, the Dog Rose; R. arvensis, the Field Rose; R. rubiginosa, Sweet Briar; R. spinosissima, the Burnet Rose; and R. villosa, the Downy Rose, and there are only three types of odours/scents that are recognized. Those are; the Cabbage Rose (R. centifolia), the Damask Rose (R. damascena) and the Tea Rose (R. indica). This doesn't mean that there are not other fragrant roses, just that all of the other roses, in regards to perfume, have a gradation of one of the three recognized scents, therefore there are no precise classifications for them to be labeled. 

The varieties that are generally cultivated on a large scale for perfumery purposes are; R. damascena and R.
centifolia. The Rose Damascena is cultivated chiefly in Bulgaria, Persia and India and was a native of the Orient. It was introduced into Europe during the Crusades. R. centifolia is cultivated in Provence, Turkey and Tunis and has been found growing wild in the forests of the Caucasus. Roses are now found in both hemispheres, but the birthplace of the cultivated Rose is generally recognized as Northern  Persia. They spread across Mesopotamia to Palestine and across Asia Minor to Greece, where the Greek colonists took them to Southern Italy. From Southern Italy they then spread all over Europe. 

In ancient days the Romans were known to have red Provins Roses at all of their events. Roses were scattered at feasts, in the paths of victors, beneath chariot-wheels, and even adorned their war-vessels. Brides and Bridegrooms were crowned with roses, as was the images of Cupid, Venus and Bacchus. Roses were not only used for decorations, but they covered the floors, and (even in winter) the upper-class Romans 
expected to have rose petals floating in their wine. While the Rose was largely a sign of pleasure and merriment, they also used them at their funerals, a tradition that has carried through to today. 

The word "rosa" came from the Greek word "rodon", meaning red, which makes sense since the ancient roses were a deep crimson  color. Although the Rose was highly esteemed in the dawn of history, it wasn't distilled then, the method of preserving the aroma by steeping the petals in oil, or extracting it in the form of a pomade. Their "Oleum Rosarum" was not a volatile oil, but a fatty oil which was perfumed with rose petals. The first preparation of rosewater, by Avicenna, was in the tenth century. Then, between 1582 and 1612 (different writings offer different dates) the oil, "OTTO OF ROSES was discovered. According to two separate historians, this occurred at the wedding feast of the princess Nour-Djihan. A canal, circling the entire gardens, was dug, then filled with rose-water. The heat of the sun then separated the water from the essential oil of the
Rose and this was seen by the bridal pair when they were rowing on the water. They had it skimmed off, and found that it was an exquisite perfume. In 1612 they began manufacturing Otto of Roses in Persia, and long before the end of the seventeenth century, the distilleries of Shiraz were working on a large scale. They were noted to be exporting "Persian Otto" or "Attar of Roses" to India by 1863, but Persia no longer exports Attar of Roses to any extent, producing mainly for local consumption only.

The Turks introduced Otto of Roses into Europe, by way of Asia Minor, where it has long since been produced. The first European otto was distilled in Bulgaria, which was then part of the Turkish Empire, about 1690. Its sale, at a high cost, was first alluded to in 1694. Although a small amount of Otto of Roses has been produced in the South of France for at least 150 years, the earlier French ottos, a by-product in rose-water distillation, were consumed in the country itself. The French roses were almost exclusively used for the manufacture of rose pomade and rose-water. In fact, the French rosewater had the reputation of being superior (in scent) to any other produced in England. However, in spite of their unrivaled delicacy of 
fragrance, until recent years, the high price and lack of body of the French ottos prevented them from being able to compete, in general purposes, with the Balkan rose oil. However, when Bulgaria joined the Central Empires, the French seized their opportunity, and modernized their methods of distillation,  improving and erecting new stills. They began using many other blooms of roses, while the French chemists, botanists and horticulturists studied the scientific aspect of the Rose, the chief object being to improve the scent rather than the appearance of the flower. The experimenting was successful and the French otto has since made itself a place in perfumery.  In fact, several years ago, the output of otto was estimated to be between ten and twenty thousand ounces annually. 

The plantings at the large plantations (of roses)  in France last from eight to ten years, with five thousand rose-trees occupying about 1/2 acre of land, and producing about 2,200 lb. of flowers during the season. It is necessary to distill about 10,000 lb. of roses to obtain just one pound of oil. By the volatile solvents process, a similar quantity will give anything up to 10 pounds of concrete.Their entire industry, a few years ago, reported an annual production of approximately 20,000 ounces of oil. 

Apart from French Otto of Roses, the world's supply is mainly drawn from Bulgaria, where most of the rose oil is distilled by small, peasant growers. The Bulgarian rose industry is actually confined to one mountain district. The rose district itself, is about 80 miles long and only approx. 30 miles wide, with an average elevation of about 1,300 feet above sea-level. All attempts over the years to extend the rose culture to  neighboring districts have failed because there, the rose bushes have adapted to the conditions, and now  thrive in the sandy soil, with great drainage, well exposed to the sun, and  protected from cold, winter winds by the mountains.  

Only two varieties of roses are cultivated in Bulgaria; the Damask Rose (R. damascena),which is a light red  color, has 36 petals,  and is very fragrant, with 36 petals, and the Musk Rose (R. muscatta), which is a snow-white rose, and is far less fragrant. It yields an oil that is of poorer quality than the R. damascena, but it grows more vigorously and it is primarily grown as hedges between the plantations, to indicate the divisions of the rose fields. 

The rose bushes only yield one crop a year, the harvest beginning in the end of May and lasting from two to five weeks, depending upon the weather. The weather during the rose harvest greatly influences the quality, as well as the quantity, of the crop. If it is exceptionally dry and hot, the crop may only last two weeks and be poor, but if it is cool, with a little rainfall, there would likely be a rich yield, one that would last over four weeks, maybe even extending to six weeks. Of course a lot depends upon the weather during the budding season too. With dry, hot weather the bushes tend to throw out only small clusters of buds, but in good  weather 13, 21, or even 18 buds can be found in the clusters. 

The Bulgarian rose district encompasses about 180 villages, with about 20,000 (small) proprietors of rose gardens, each one owning about 1 acre of rose plantation. When well tended that acre is calculated to yield an average 100 pounds of flowers, every day, for about three weeks. The flowers are gathered in the early morning, just before sunrise, and the picking ends by ten or eleven am., unless it's a cloudy day, then it continues all day. The flowers are then distilled on the same day. The small stills that have been by the farmers, for most of history, are very simple and primitive. They are only capable of distilling 24 lbs. of  flowers at a time, but these are gradually being replaced by improved, more modern, large, steam stills, which obtain much better results. 

The Bulgarian rose distillers do not get all of their otto (Otto is a Bulgarian word for "oil".and it’s used to differentiate the steam distilled from the absolute) directly from the rose petals, but rather draw the larger part of the otto by treating the water. They charge the still  with about 25 lbs. of flowers and about 14 gallons of water. They draw from this, a little more than 2 1/2 gallons of  distilled water, from which they gather a very small quantity of green concrete essence. When they have made four distillations, they carefully collect the 10 1/2 gallons of water, redistil, and obtain 2 1/2 to almost 4 gallons of liquid. It is estimated that 8818.5 pounds of flowers yield 1 about 2 pounds of otto, of which only one-third ( the green essence) comes from the first distillation, and the other two-thirds (yellow essence) are the result of re-distilling the waters. This is the reason why in France, over 22 thousand pounds of flowers are required for about 2 pounds of oil. The French distillers do not re-distill the waters, the Bulgarians sell these distillations separately, the product of the first operation being of a markedly superior quality. 

Knowing the history of the rose, the cultivation background, and the process of obtaining the essential oils, lends understanding and insight into the high cost of this essential oil. But, you also need to know that a satisfactory artificial Otto of Rose cannot be obtained just by combining aromatic chemicals (as with most oils). Some of the natural rose oil must always be used to make any artificial rose oil, or they can take a purely synthetic oil and distill it over a quantity of rose petals, but either way, true rose oil or true roses must be used. (An interesting side note; The synthetic oil is almost entirely deodorized by iodine, but the true rose oil is unaffected in this respect.) 

The main reason that the cost is so high is the shear quantity of roses that it takes to make a small amount of the oil. it takes 30 roses to make 1 mere drop of essential oil. It takes 60,000 roses, about 180 lbs. of flowers, to make 1 ounce of the otto, or the essential oil. Aside from the quantity, the labor involved is also a factor. Remember how the Bulgarian oil is made? All that labor in getting to the steam distillation, makes the cost of the natural essences of the rose high, but their method only produces the natural essential oil so it is worth it. Today, the Bulgarian otto (aka the precious essential oil) currently costs from $450 to over $700.00 an ounce (depending where purchased), while the Chinese rose essential oil is running about $350 to $640 an ounce. 

On the other hand, when producers use a solvent to extract the oil, small, some say minute, amounts of hexane enter the oil. This is called Absolute oil and can be purchased for around  $155 an ounce. However, due to the solvent extraction process, most claim that it does not have the therapeutic value that the essential oil has. In fact, many go so far as to say that it is not good for anything other than scent for diffusers or perfumes. Of course the sellers of the absolutes do not generally agree with this viewpoint. The absolute is a cost-effective alternative for those desiring the rose scent without the cost, however, the Otto is, by far, more potent than the absolute, only needing a fraction of a percent to work its wonders!

On Wednesday, along with what's happening, I will be posting some interesting recipes that utilize roses. Some use the petals and others use rose water, but all are do-able in your home and all are quite interesting!  

*see the reference page for bibliography information

No comments: