No other flower has been praised in literature and mythology or used for so many sacred purposes as the rose. In both ancient art and literature, the rose was the predominant flower symbol. The rose symbolises beauty, love, youth, perfection and immortality.1
Sufi scholar, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) compares the rose with the soul:
The soul can be likened to the rose; as a rosebud blooms, so the soul unfolds itself, for the rosebud to bloom five conditions are required – fertile soil, bright sun, water, air and space; and the same five conditions are required for the unfoldment of the soul.2
In aromatherapy, we use the scent and the botanical features of a plant to interpret the subtle qualities of essential oils. Khan beautifully describes the subtle qualities of rose by describing it as an embodiment of a spiritual enlightenment:
… the soul becomes like a rose, and begins to show the rose quality. Just as the rose consists of many petals held together, so the person who attains to the unfoldment of the soul begins to show many different qualities. These qualities emit fragrance in the form of a spiritual personality. The rose has a beautiful structure and the personality which proves the unfoldment of the soul has a fine structure: in manner, in dealing with others, in speech, in action.2
It is no wonder that Worwood describes the scent of rose otto as one of gentleness and apparent perfection.3
Fischer-Rizzi also describes the rose has a symbol of completeness stating all parts of the rose are formed to perfection.4
Botany and Origins
While there are thousands of rose varieties, the two major species of rose used for essential oil production are Rosa x damascena Mill. and Rosa x centifolia L.
- Rosa damascena is commonly known as Damask rose, Bulgarian rose, Turkish rose or otto of rose.
- Rosa centifolia is commonly known as rose Maroc, cabbage rose, rose de mai, French rose, attar of rose or rose absolute.
The birthplace of the cultivated rose, R. damascena, was probably Northern Persia or Faristan on the Gulf of Persia. It then spread across Mesopotamia, Palestine and across to Asia Minor and Greece.5
The European name for the Damascus rose dates from the Crusades, but it is now incorporated in its botanical name. Cultivation of R. damascena and production of rose oil was introduced to Bulgaria, then part of the Turkish Empire in the fifteenth century.6
Commercial rose growing to produce rose oil was well established in the Kazanlik region of Bulgaria by the end of the seventeenth century. It is the Bulgarian rose oil which today is still considered the most prized of all rose oils. The Bulgarian rose industry is confined to one mountain district, with the town of Kazanlik at its centre.7
The major rose oil producing countries are France, Bulgaria, Morocco, Turkey, Italy and China.8,9
Method of extraction
Three main products are obtained from roses: an essential oil, a concrete and an absolute. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the whole flowers, the concrete by solvent extraction of the leaves and flowers and an absolute by further extracting the concrete.6
The three products vary from different cultivars or species and also vary from the same cultivar or species grown in geographically separate areas. The term ‘rose otto’ is generally accepted to apply to the oil distilled from Rosa damascena and it should be prefixed by the country of origin.6
Rose otto from R. damascena that is produced in India, China, Morocco differs from Bulgarian and Turkish otto and should be sold as rose oil followed by the country of origin, i.e. rose oil Morocco. However, rose oil produced in Morocco and France from R. centifolia, in Egypt from R. gallica and in China from R. rugosa is also incorrectly often sold as rose otto. Weiss explains that experienced perfumers can readily identify them.6
The flowers are generally picked manually. In order to minimise loss of oil, harvesting needs to be done between 5 and 10 am as this is the period that the flowers are open and the oil content is highest.6
Flowers must be promptly transported to the distillery before being distilled. Weiss explains that storing bagged flowers in clean cold water retains the oil content and quality for up to 3 days. Temperature above 25°C during storage can decrease flower content by half and also increase citronellol and stearoptene but decrease the nerol and geraniol content. The oil in the petals actually increases after picking due to enzymatic activity.6
Unfortunately, both rose otto and rose absolute are so expensive; however, the price of rose otto is far more than that of rose absolute. This is because the yield of rose absolute is more than six times that of rose otto.7
A mature rose field can yield 5 to 8 tons of fresh roses per hectare. A rose field can be productive for as long as 20 to 30 years.10
Rose otto can be produced by village-style or large factory style distillation. The village-type distillation involves using stills that have a 300 litre capacity. On the other hand, larger factory style distillation involves 3,000 litre or larger copper or stainless steel stills. This results in two distinct rose oils with unique characteristics; however, most of the commercially available Turkish rose oil is the factory produced oil.11
Rose otto is produced by a two-stage distillation process. It is a common practice to redistill the distilled water, a process known as cohobation. The yield of cohobation oil is several times higher than that from the first distillation of the flowering material. The oils from the two distillations are then blended. The phenylethyl alcohol in otto of rose is derived almost exclusively from cohobation water.9
According to Grieve, 4,000 kg of flowers yield 1 kg of rose oil, of which one-third comes from the first distillation, and the remaining two-thirds are a result of redistilling the waters.7
Generally, 1 kg rose oil can be obtained from 3,000 – 4,000 kg of rose petals. The rose oil yield from rose petals is therefore very low (0.03 – 0.04%).12
The essential oil content of the rose petals collected in cooler season is higher than that of the petals collected in warmer season. In one study, rose oil content was 0.04% in May and 0.03% in June. It is also necessary to pick the roses in the earlier hours of the morning in order to ensure a higher yield. For example, roses picked at 5.00am contained essential oil as high as 0.06%, whereas roses picked at 3.00pm contained only 0.014%.12
While the yield of rose oil varies considerably it has been reported that anywhere from 30 to 60 roses are required to make one drop of rose oil.
Rosewater is the aqueous portion of the steam distillation after rose oil has been removed.
Rose absolute is obtained by solvent extraction. Holmes refers to the solvent extraction process as ‘dry-cleaning’ the plant. While solvent extraction produces a more complete plant extract, Holmes believes that contact with the solvent, which is usually petroleum ether, may result in minute traces of solvent in the final absolute. From an energetic perspective this may devitalise the essential oil through contact with a ‘dead chemical substance’.13
However, Wabner suggests rose absolute produced by solvent extraction is superior to the distilled rose otto because rose otto actually contains synthetic constituents that are not found in nature. He proved this by doing a headspace analysis of a live rose and comparing the constituents with that of rose absolute of the same flower and rose otto of the same flower. While the chemical constituents of the rose absolute and live rose were the same, rose otto oil contained several constituents such as rose oxide and damascenone that are by-products of distillation.14
Rose absolute from R. damascena is an orange-yellow to brown-orange viscous liquid with a rich, warm, spicy-floral and very deep rose odour with a pronounced honey undertone.6 It is very diffusive when it is diluted or used at very low concentration of a few percent or even less in a perfume base.9
Bulgarian rose otto is a pale yellow to yellowish green oil. Fresh oil is often green due to the presence of azulenes which gradually decompose over time. When cooled to a temperature below 20°C, rose otto separates into white or colourless blades of crystals, stearoptene. Stearoptene is odourless and constitutes 15-25% of the oil. When cooled below 16°C the oil further congeals to a translucent soft mass.1 When it is heated with the warmth of the hands the oil will liquefy.6
The odour of Bulgarian rose otto is warm, deep-floral, slightly spicy and immensely rich, reminiscent of red roses.9
Rose otto obtained from R. centifolia is colourless to pale yellow, sometimes with a greenish tinge when fresh. It has a deep, sweet, warm, rich, but less spicy odour than Bulgarian or Turkish rose otto oils.6
The chemistry of rose oil is fascinating. It is one of the most complex essential oils known. It contains more than 300 chemical compounds, of which the greater part is still unidentified.
Citronellol is the main constituent of Turkish rose oil. it determines the basic rosy characteristics of rose oil. Higher citronellol leads to increased sweetness. On the other hand, geraniol contributes to strength and fortification of the body note. Nerol not only adds to the rosy note but also to its freshness. When the geraniol content is low, the freshness of nerol manifests itself as slightly citrusy. When the geraniol content is high, the combination of citronellol, geraniol, farnesol and nerol result in a strong, sweet, floral, fresh, rosy characteristics.10
The overall strength, sweetness and typical rosy character of rose oil is also determined by the content of nonanal, linalool, citronellyl formate and citronellyl acetate.11
Baser also states the eugenol content in village produced oil is higher (1.17-2.25%) whereas factory oils are (0.35-1.27%). On the other hand, the methyl eugenol content in factory oil is higher (2.27-3.10%) in proportion to village oils (1.4-2.65%).11
Ethanol is also a natural ingredient of rose oil. Baser states the village oils typically have a lower content of ethanol (0.00-1.67%), whereas it can range from 0.5-5.2% for factory oils. It is explained that while it is a genuine constituent, higher ethanol content is suggestive of using an appreciable quantity of fermented roses. He explains in peak season the influx of roses into the factories is unmanageable and the roses are often left to stand in bags for more than 24 hours before distillation. On the other hand, village style distillation the roses are processed immediately; hence, their ethanol content is lower.11
Other typical constituents found in rose otto oil include geranyl acetate, nonanal, citronellyl formate, citronellyl acetate, eugenol, methyl eugenol, cis-rose oxide, a-terpineol, phenylethyl acetate, and linalool. Damescenones and some sulphur compounds are among the minor constituents. Stearoptenes (paraffins) are also natural constituents of rose otto (primarily nonadecane). Stearoptenes are responsible for rose otto solidifying when it is cooled or refrigerated.10
Rose absolute typically contains phenylethyl alcohol, citronellol, geraniol, nerol, eugenol, methyl eugenol, geranyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, nonadecane, nonadecene and farnesol.15
The oil composition varies according to the stage of flower development and rose flower parts. For example, the citronellol content in the petals from the centre of the flower is 18.9%, whereas from the outer petals it is 10.1%. The phenylethyl alcohol content is highest in the outer petals. It was also found that the chemical composition of the oil differed over the harvesting period.6
Being so expensive rose oils are commonly adulterated. Lis-Balchin states that many rose oils sold may be completely synthetic.16
Rose de mai absolute is frequently adulterated with phenylethyl alcohol. Rhodinol from geranium oil, costus oil, clove bud absolute, palmarosa fractions, Peru balsam oil and synthetic laevo-citronellol are also used as an adulterant.9
Bulgarian rose absolute is often blended with R. centifolia absolute and other adulterants such as phenylethyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, rhodinol from geranium oil and diethyl phthalate.9
Rose otto is often adulterated with ethyl alcohol, diethyl phthalate, rhodinol from geranium and phenylethyl alcohol.9
Pharmacology and clinical studies
Many pharmacological studies involving rose oil have been published. A systemic review of these studies will not be attempted. Rather, I have chosen a selection of studies that support the traditional and clinical uses.
There appears to be a growing number of studies confirming that rose oil possesses sedative and anxiolytic properties. What I found most interesting is that the evidence suggests that the most effective way to use rose oil for its sedative and anxiolytic activity is by inhalation.
You can read all about the pharmacological and clinical studies examining the properties of Rose in my book The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy – Volume I, third edition.
In aromatherapy, rose oil is often associated with the following properties - antidepressant, antiphlogistic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, aphrodisiac, astringent, bactericidal, choleretic, cicatrisant, depurative, emmenagogue, haemostatic, hepatic, laxative, sedative (nervous system), stomachic 17,18,19
Rose oil may be used as a sedative for the nerves; it is useful for the treatment of palpitations, irritability and insomnia. It helps to release anger, despair and frustration.13
It comforts the heart and soothes feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety. Rose comforts the psyche in times of sorrow, dissolves psychological pain, refreshes a sad heart, and opens doors to love, friendship, and empathy.4
Maury states that rose oil has an astonishing effect on the female sexual organs as a purifying and regulating agent.20
Rose regulates menstruation and relieves menstrual cramps and excessive menstrual bleeding.17,19,21,22
Holmes recommends rose for functional infertility.13 It is beneficial when it is difficult to predict ovulation dates because of an irregular cycle.22
Rose oil has excellent emollient, softening and hydrating properties, which accompanied by its stimulating and antiseptic qualities makes it ideal for all skin care, especially for mature, dry or sensitive skin.4,17,18,22Rose oil has a tonic and astringent effect on the capillaries and can be used for the treatment of broken capillaries, redness and inflammation of the skin.17,22
Rosewater is also used in skin care for its soothing and mildly astringent properties.
Worwood states the spirit of Rosa damascena epitomises the gentleness of the female spirit. She suggests rose otto is perfection personified. She explains rose otto personalities have the wisdom to know there are far greater things in the universe than them and that humans do make mistakes. They love cooperation and cannot understand why everyone does not operate on the same level as they do.3
Mailhebiau refers to rose as a miracle of nature:
... to simply smell it will refine our sensitivity, take us into an unknown world and disperses the shadows of our worries, anxieties and sorrows. It shows us love, not only human love which is a gift as it is - possibly the finest- from existence, but spiritual love, and we would even say divine, were this term not over-used.23
According to Worwood, the character of rose absolute represents passion of the spirit with a deep, hypnotic personality - vivacious and alive. She explains rose absolute personalities are very charming people who tend to be very emotional and expressive people. They are very creative. They are very erotic and fully aware of their sexuality – and the influence it can have on others. They prefer to work in professions which allows them free rein of their creative expression.3
According to Myers-Briggs personality types, the rose otto personality is likely to be an ENFP. ENFPs are outgoing, lively and spontaneous. They are very enthusiastic and their joy for life can be contagious. They have a rich imagination and active mind. Their thoughts are always wandering and their mood constantly changing. They can be inspiring and charismatic leaders. They are always involved or in love, with someone or something new. They know how to establish instant rapport and make people feel comfortable. They love emotional intensity and enjoy expressing their feelings. They can be charming and flirtatious. They relate with warmth to many people and can appear overly enthusiastic, positive and optimistic.
On the other hand, the rose absolute personality is likely to be an ESFP. ESFPs are friendly, witty, charming and talkative. They value and nurture their relationships, give generously, without expecting anything in return. They are spontaneous, playful and enjoy everything they do and see. People who share their sense of fun and adventure are their favourite companions. They turn everything into a fun-filled event. They enjoy good things in life – music, dance, food, drink and entertainment. They avoid being alone. They like working in a lively and stimulating atmosphere with friendly, energetic people. They can be good at dealing with the public. They like variety and frequent change of tasks or jobs. They are enthusiastic, high-spirited and have lots of energy.
Rose has always been assigned to the heart and soul.
The rose, queen of flowers! Her fragrance, captured in the essential oil, is the most precious of all heavenly scents. It refreshes the soul; its fragrant poetry brings joy to the heart.4
It is not surprising that many aromatherapists agree that rose oil is effective in all levels of life, for the mind, soul, and body. Rose otto heals the heart, it comforts in times of sorrow, dissolves psychological pain, refreshes a sad heart, and opens doors to love, friendship, and empathy.4
Fischer-Rizzi also describes the rose has a symbol of completeness stating that all parts of the rose are formed to perfection.4
Rose is also the symbol of love, the compassion of rose is revealed in its ability to heal emotional wounds. Mojay explains when rejection or loss has injured one’s capacity for self-love and nurturing, rose oil brings a sweet, gentle comfort, restoring the trust that makes love possible again.19
It is not surprising that many people associate rose oil to the heart chakra - the centre of love, whether that be love for one person or universal love.
Rose will help the heart chakra to open when grief has caused it to close down. Davis also associates rose with the sacral chakra which is the centre of creativity and sex. She describes rose as a gentle aphrodisiac, which helps to spiritualise sexual relationships.24
Keim Loughran & Bull state rose is the oil that teaches us the lessons of love. They explain the extraordinary energy of rose assists us in healing our emotional wounds so we can better give and receive love unconditionally. It is said to help us heal the pain of grief and teaches us how to forgive others when they hurt us. Rose also gently seals and protects our energy field so that we are not affected by negativity.25
According to Holmes, it is not surprising that rose has been a symbol for the feminine and feminine qualities, namely love, sexuality and compassion. He explains that rose supports self-esteem, sexuality and nurturing.13
The subtle qualities of rose otto and rose absolute are quite different. Worwood best describes the difference between the two oils. She explains that the etheric realms associate rose absolute with the desires of the human heart while rose otto is likened to the realm of angels.26
Rose otto vibrates with the energy of universal love, operating in the light of unconditional love and giving. Rose otto is the quintessential fragrance of love, the love that touches every soul, and it is for the love that touches our very soul, and it is for the awakening of love in us that offers itself.26
To alleviate anxiety, nervous tension and stress consider blending rose absolute or rose otto with essential oils such as bergamot, clary sage, Roman chamomile, clary sage, fragonia, geranium, lavender, mandarin, neroli, sweet orange, palmarosa, patchouli, petitgrain, sandalwood, vetiver or ylang ylang.
To alleviate symptoms associated with PMS consider blending rose absolute or rose otto with essential oils such as Roman chamomile, clary sage, geranium, lavender, sweet marjoram or ylang ylang.
To alleviate symptoms associated with menopause consider blending rose otto with essential oils such as cypress, geranium or lavender.
To soothe sensitive skin associated with inflammation consider blending rose otto with essential oils such as German chamomile, everlasting, lavender, neroli or sandalwood.
In skin care preparations for mature dry skin conditions, consider blending rose otto or rose absolute with essential oils such as everlasting, frankincense, lavender, myrrh, patchouli or sandalwood.
Rose absolute and rose otto are extensively used in expensive perfumes, especially in floral bases, chypres and oriental bases. The absolute blends very well with jasmine, neroli and other floral oils. It blends well with essential oils such as bergamot, clary sage, geranium, sandalwood, guaiacwood and patchouli.9
How to use
Full body bath, foot bath
Compress, massage, ointment, skin care
Direct inhalation, diffuser, oil vaporiser
Rose absolute and rose otto are non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. No contraindications known.
Discover the Perfect Potion Products Which Highlight Rose
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- Dziubany R. The rose. Retrieved Sep 17, 2017, from http://www.rahmana.de/download/the_rose.pdf
- Worwood VA. The fragrant mind. Transworld Publishers, London, 1995.
- Fischer-Rizzi S. Complete aromatherapy handbook. Sterling Publishing, New York, 1990.
- Weiss EA. Essential oil crops. CAB International, Wallingford, 1997.
- Grieve M. A modern herbal – Vol. II. Dover Publications, New York, 1971.
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- Baser KHC et al. Turkish rose. www.herbalgram.org, 2012;96:40-53.
- Baser KHC. Turkish rose oil. Perfumer & Flavorist. 1992;17:4552.
- Baydar H. Oil-bearing rose (rosa damascena Mill.) cultivation and rose oil industry in Turkey. Euro Cosmetics. 2006;14(6):13-17.
- Holmes P. Rose – the water goddess. The International Journal of Aromatherapy, 1994; 6(2): 8-11.
- Wabner D. A rose is a rose is a rose oil. 2nd Australasian Aromatherapy Conference, Sydney, 1998.
- Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). Assessment report on Rosa gallica L., Rosa centifolia L., Rosa damascene Mill., flos. European Medicines Agency, London, 2014. Doc ref. EMA/HMPC/137298/2013
- Lis-Balchin M. Aromatherapy science – a guide for healthcare professionals. Pharmaceutical Press, London, 2006.
- Lawless J. The encyclopaedia of essential oils. Element Books, Shaftesbury, 1992.
- Lavabre M. Aromatherapy workbook. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, 1997.
- Mojay G. Aromatherapy for healing the spirit. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, 1999.
- Maury M. Marguerite Maury’s guide to aromatherapy. The CW Daniel Company, Saffron Walden, 1964.
- Mizuno D et al. An in vitro system comprising immortalized hypothalamic neuronal cells (GT1-7 cells) for evaluation of the neuroendocrine effects of essential oils. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015; 2015: 343942. doi: 10.1155/2015/343942
- Davis P. Aromatherapy an A-Z. 2nd edn. The CW Daniel Company, Saffron Walden, 1999.
- Mailhebiau P. Portraits in oils. The CW Daniel Company, England, 1995.
- Davis P. Subtle aromatherapy. The CW Daniel Company, Saffron Walden, 1991.
- Keim Loughran J, Bull R. Aromatherapy anointing oils. Frog, Berkeley, 2001.
- Worwood VA. The fragrant heavens. Transworld Publishers, London, 1999.