As far back as antiquity, people have been adding rose petals to water to harness the rose’s fragrance.
“Since ancient times, roses have been used medicinally, nutritionally, and as a source of perfume.
Rose perfumes are made from rose oil, also called attar of roses, which is a mixture of volatile essential oils obtained by steam-distilling the crushed petals of roses. Rose water is a by-product of this process. The cultivation of various fragrant flowers for obtaining perfumes, including rose water, may have originated in Persia, where it was known as gulāb (گلاب), from gul (گل rose) and ab (آب water). The term was adopted into Medieval Greek as zoulápin. The process of creating rose water through steam distillation was refined by Persian and Arab chemists in the medieval Islamic world which led to more efficient and economic uses for perfumery industries.”
The Wikipedia article goes on to explain that rose water has been used medicinally and as a flavoring for centuries. Because I personally love the fragrance of roses, I decided to look for some specifics about how roses petals have been prepared throughout time.
I began my research by looing at the evolution of perfumes and scented oils, and the Bible says that at least 2,000 years ago, 2 of the 3 Kings brought scented oils to the Baby Jesus:
“…Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume…” Wikipedia
Clarence Meyer, in his The Herbalist Anthology says the following about the history of the creation of perfumes and scented waters:
Perfumes and Scented Waters
“With the advent of advent of civilization and the beginning of culture, the ancient art of alchemy sprang up from learning to manipulate various substances. The religious rituals, the art of healing and the art of compounding were closely related in those days. [Compounding is the art and science of creating personalized medicine.]
“The various odoriferous substances, domestic and from far off countries, commanded the attention of the ancient compounders, the Egyptian priests and sorcerers, masters of the secret art. These materials consisted, according to the Papyrii of Old Egypt, of various aromatic substances, such as balsams, gums, frankincense, barks, seeds, leaves, flowers, and were used in making of Temple Incense, Perfumes for baths and ointments.
“Perfumes existed in Pharaoh’s time. The earliest records of Perfumery art were found in Egypt, dating back to King Menes, about 5000 B.C. and the formula for an Egyptian perfume name ‘Kyphi’ consisting of various gums, olibanum, mastic, aromatic woods, etc., was preserved and occasionally used for diverse purposes: as offerings to Deities, for esthetic purposes, for a positive stimulating effect on the nervous system and as agents for embalming.
Greeks, Romans, and Arabs
` ”The Greeks, Romans, and Arabs excelled in the art of Perfumery. Avicenna, an Arab Pysician, in the tenth century was preparing fragrant waters from leaves and flowers of various plants.
The Orient, the Crusaders, Europe, and the Mediterranean
“Later on this art was rediscovered in the Orient by the invading Crusaders, who brought it back to Europe, where it flourishes namely in the Mediterranean regions since. The credit for actual invention of perfumes as we know them today is given to Mauritius Frangipanni who discovered the process of extracting the odeur from aromatic substances with alcohol. Pg.205
[Taken from a scrapbook that would be over 100 years old now]
Recipe for Rose Water
“Put roses into water, add to them a few drops of adid: the vitriolic seems to be preferable to any. [Sulphuric] Soon the water will assumbe both the color and perfume of the roses.
How to extract the essential oil
“Roses and all flowers containing perfumed oils, may be made to yield their aromatic properties by steeping the petals or flower leaves in a sauces steeping the petals or flower leaves in a sauces or a flat dish of water and setting it in the sun. The petals should be entirely covered with water, which, by the way, should be soft or rain water. A sufficient quantity should be left allowed for evaporation, and the vessel should be left undisturbed for a few days. At the end of this time a film will be found floating on the top. This is the essential oil of the flower. It should be taken up carefully and put in tiny vials, which should be allowed to remain open until all watery particles are evaporated. A very small portion of this will perfume glove boxes, apparel, etc., and will last a long time. Pg. 206
How to Make Rose & Lavebder Scented Powder:
“A charming recipe for scented powder, to be used for wardrobes, boxes, etc., far finer than any mixture sold at the shops, is the following: Coriander
- 1 oz. Oris Root
- 1 oz. Rose Petals,
- 1 oz. Calamus
- 2 oz. Lavender Flowers
- 1/4 Drachm of Rhodium Wood – ¼ of 1/8 ounce fluid 1 drachm = 1.77 grams
- 5 grains of musk
These are to be mixed and reduced to a coarse powder. This scent on clothes is as of all fragrant flowers had been pressed in their folds. pg. 206
WhAT OTHER NAMES IS CALAMUS KNOWN BY?
Acore Odorant, Acore Olorant, Acore Roseau, Acorus americanus, Acorus calamus, Acorus gramineus, Acorus Roseau, Bach, Belle-Angélique, Cálamo, Cinnamon Sedge, Flagroot, Gladdon, Grass-Leaf Sweetflag, Grass Myrtle, Kalmus, Myrtle Flag, Myrtle Sedge, Sadgrantha, Sweet Calamus, Sweet Cane, Sweet Cinnamon, Sweet Flag, Sweet Grass, Sweet Myrtle, Sweet Root, Sweet Rush, Sweet Sedge, Ugragandha, Vach, Vacha, Vachha, Vaj, Vayambur.
Recipe for Rose Water from the Anthology
15 drops Oil of Rose
1 tsp. Carbonate of Magnesia
1 pint distilled water
“Rub the oil first with the magnesia, then with the water gradually added. Then filter.” page 197
In his book Old Ways Rediscovered, Clarence Meyer added a few more rose recipes, Invariably, he advises that Damask roses be used in the recipes.
The Website Heirloom Roses says the following about Damask Roses:
“Damask Roses have graced the world since ancient times. As one of the oldest rose varieties, the Damask has given birth to thousands of new varieties while maintaining its own unique heritage. The Damask is a shrub rose, typically known for its sprawling growth habits. It can reach up to 7 feet in height. Damask blooms are held on open airy branches and are almost always clear pink in color. The elongated and pointed foliage are greyish-green and downy on the underside. World renowned for its fine fragrance and perfume production, Damask roses make a beautiful and fragrant showing.”
A List of Damask Roses from Heirloom Roses Website:
- Autumn Damask – Rosa Damascena Semperflorens
- Blush Damas
- Hebe’s Lip
- La Ville de Bruxelles
- Quatre Saisons
Madame Hardy is another Damask rose.
Recipe for Rose Drops
1 pound powdered sugar
1 ounce dried rose petals – Damask rose petals are considered the best
Mix the powdered sugar with the dried rose petals and moisten the mixture with as much lemon juice as needed. to make a stiff paste. “…set it on a slow fire, and keep stirring it til the whole be quite scalding hot: then, dropping it on paper…the next day, the drops will come freely off. Keep them dry, in neatly prepared boxes. Old Ways Rediscovered, Clarence Meyer, page 20.
Recipe for Rose Vinegar
1 ounce Damask Rose petals
1/2 pint white vinegar
1/2 pint rose water
Steep the rose petals in the white vinegar for 1 week. Strain off the petals and add the rose water.to the vinegar. “This makes an excellent astringent wash for the complexion.”
Old Ways Rediscovered, Clarence Meyer, page 21.
Recipe for Rose Jar [Potpourri]
When the Damask roses are at their peak of bloom, gather the petals and pack them in a jar that has a tight lid. To every 2 inches of petals, add 2 teaspoons of salt. When the jar is full, keep it in a dark, dry, and cool place. Afterward, spread the petals apart on a paper towel.
- Mix the following ingredients in a bowl:
1 ounce violet scented talcum powder
- 1 ounce Orris root
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 4 drops oil of Rose Geranium
- 20 drops Eucalyptus oil
- 10 drops Bergamot
- 9 teaspoons alcohol
Add the blossoms to the bowl of the previous ingredients and mix thoroughly. Repack the mixture back into the covered jar and “set aside two wees to ripen.”
Old Ways Rediscovered, Clarence Meyer, page 21
Recipe for King Edward VI’s Incense from 1662
“Take 12 teaspoons of bright red Rose water, the weight of six pence of fine powder of sugar, and boil it on hot Embers and Coals softly, and the house will smell as if it is full of Roses, but you must burn the sweet Cypress wood before, to take away the gross air.” – The Queen’s Closet Opened, 1662
Old Ways Rediscovered, Clarence Meyer, page 21