As a Bulgarian born nature-lover, it is a real honour to explore here with you the origin but also the virtues of
the oil-bearing rose.
In the middle of my home country, beautifully tucked between two large and majestic mountain chains (the Balkans and the Sredna Gora), is located the famous Rose valley. The place got its name because as far as your sight reaches, you see rose and/or lavender fields around you.
For over 300 years the people inhabiting the Valley of Roses
have grown roses (mostly the oil-bearing rose: rosa damascena) and processed them into rose oil, celebrated all over the world for its superb quality and unique aroma. Even with their high price, rose oils are still perhaps the most widely used essential oil in perfumery.
With an yearly production of 18.000-20.000 tonnes of rose petals Bulgaria has been for years in the top of worldwide countries producing rose oil. In the past years Bulgaria together with Turkey account for 90% of the worldwide rose production. Most of the Bulgarian oil is exported to France for the perfume industry and to Germany where it is used predominantly in the pharmaceutical industry, for example in the production of anti-allergy medications.
The Bulgarian rose oil contains over 280 different components – a distinctive feature, prompted by the specific microclimate, which distinguishes it from the oils distilled in other parts of the globe. Highly valued and sought-after, the unique Bulgarian rose oil is a key ingredient of the products of many perfumery giants, such as Kenzo, Chanel and Dior.
Every year, the first rose blossoms begin to bloom around the second week of May.
For the next 6 weeks, the pickers carefully hand-pick each and every rose flower in the fields. The working hours are very important: collection begins at 4am when the oil yield is at its highest, and is completed by 10am, while the dew is still on the flowers.
The Rose Festival is held annually since the early 20th century, as it is one of the most anticipated events in the region, attracting tens of thousands of Bulgarian and foreign tourists.
Two major species of rose
Worldwide two major species of rose are cultivated for the production of rose oil:
- Rosa damascena, the damask rose, which is widely grown in Syria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Iran and China.
- Rosa centifolia, the cabbage rose, which is more commonly grown in Morocco, France and Egypt.
There are three main methods of extracting the oil from the plant material
- Steam distillation, which produces an essential oil called Rose Otto or attar of roses. This is according
to Nadine Artemis (owner of Living Libations) “the only type of rose essence one wants to use in skincare”. A byproduct of the distillation process is the rose water, which is both used in food and cosmetic industry.
- Solvent extraction, in which a chemical hydrocarbon solvent is used to extract the essential oil from the rose which results in an oil similar to the essential oil and called Rose Absolute. This one is the ingredient mostly used in perfumery.
- Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, in which carbon dioxide is used as a solvent and yielding a semisolid mass that may be marketed as a concrete or CO2 extract, and can be further processed in an rose absolute (oil).
I Love Roses
But why is the rose so beloved, and what are the known and unknown virtues of the rose and rose oil? Some of the traditional uses of rose products (oil, water, petals) are summarised below:
- as a skin-beauty booster with its reviving and hydrating powers: rose oil is added to creams and serums;
- as a skin-cleanser & toner: rose water is a wonderfully smelling and soothing easy to use face product;
- as a skin-repairer: with its smoothing properties to the appearance of fine lines, scars and skin tone;
- calming and supporting the nervous system: both as perfume or as a tea of petals;
- antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties;
- anti-diabetic powers: the alcohol-based extract of the Rosa damascena reduces the absorption of carbs in the gut and reduces the level of the blood insulin measured after meals.
To make just 1 milligram of pure rose essential oil you need 50.000 individual petals (around 1500 rose flowers) which is the equivalent of around 3.5 kilograms (7-8 pounds) of rose petals. Rose essential oil production is one of the most labor intensive processes due to the very small amount produced. That is why it is so precious and is called ‘liquid gold’. So next time you use any product with rose oil inside, remember how lucky you are, because you are actually diving in a huge bucket of rose petals.
And of course last but not least the Damask roses are also used in the cuisine of different cultures like in Persian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Rose water is often sprinkled on meat dishes, while rose powder is added to sauces. Whole flowers, or petals, are also used in the herbal tea “zuhurat”. In Bulgaria and Turkey one may find rose petals in jam and brandy creations too.
The Dutch Health store offers several products with rose oil:
- Living Libations uses the Bulgarian rose otto in its products like Rose glow face cream,
Best Skin Ever Rose and Poetic Pits Rose.
The brand also offer the pure oil itself.
- Delizioso even has a product line called Bulgarian rose, which is containing rose oil from the Rose valley. Check out their facial cleaner, toner and cream with rose oil.
Author: Jana Teneva,
- Carole Minker: Book “200 medicinal plants in Europe” (original name: 200 plantes qui vous veulent du bien);
- Nadine Artemis: Book “Renegade beauty”;
- 34 ideas on how to use rose-oil and rose petals: https://theherbalacademy.com/34-ways-to-use-roses/