Rose Oil vs Rose Absolute
The Rose oil (Rose Otto) is a beautifully fragrant essential oil, extracted from the species Rosa damascena. It holds a very special place in the hearts of all who love aromatherapy and natural perfumery. There simply isn’t any other essential oil like it in terms of fragrance and wealth of therapeutic healing benefits. It may be hard to believe, but of all the places in the world where roses are cultivated, there are just a handful of regions in only 2 countries, that provide just the right conditions to grow this incredible flower in quantities large enough to produce Rose Otto essential oil. One such area is in Bulgaria, and the other is in Turkey, both are connected by history. The Rose oil can be produced by one of two methods – distillation or extraction. The distilled oil (rose otto, often just known as essential rose oil) requires 3kg of rose petals to create just 1 ml (20 drops), while the extracted oil (rose absolute) gives a much higher yield. Pure rose essential oil costs around three times more to produce than the extracted Rose absolute.
The Bulgarian Rose Valley and Rose Festival
The Bulgarian Rose Valley in the Region of Kazanlak and Karlovo is located in the center of Bulgaria, shielded between the Mountain of Stara Planina (a.k.a. Mountain of Balkan) and the mountain of Sredna Gora. It is an important world center for production of Rose Oil. There are over 7000 varieties of roses worldwide, yet only few are known as oil-producing. The Bulgarian oil-bearing rose has been cultivated for more than 300 years thanks to the specific climate – mild winter and a long warm spring, which give the perfect combination of moisture and warmth for the breeding of roses. The oil-bearing rose Rosa damascena was brought to Bulgaria from the Middle East and has established as an independent type of rose, different from other oil-bearing roses cultivated elsewhere. The unique climatic and soil conditions make the Bulgarian Rose Valley a perfect home for rose growing and production of rose oil. The mountain rains and clear air create the perfect environment for the plentiful pure botanicals that grow in the Valley.
The Bulgarian Rose Valley is a stage for the colorful folk Festival of Roses. This old traditional festival is a symbol of the rose industry and its influence on the culture, spirit and lifestyle of the rose region. This festival originates from the celebrations held at the beginning of the rose-harvesting period - the first Sunday in June. Old rose growers used to organize pageantries and paraded dressed up in rose flowers. The first rose festival in Kazanlak took place in 1903. A few years later, a similar festival was organized in the town Karlovo, situated in the same area. Rose festivals have three main events - the electing of Queen Rose, the harvesting ritual in the rose gardens and the parade along the streets of the town. One of the festival’s traditions is the gathering of roses early in the morning by people, dressed in traditional costumes. Folk dancers, singers and musicians perform in the fields. The Queen Rose is chosen in a beauty contest among all Kazanlak girls, graduating high school that year.
The Valley of Roses, Marocco
For several centuries Damascena roses have been cultivated in the Daddes Valley near Ouarzazate in Morocco and were originally used to produce dried rose buds and rose water. When French perfumers built distilleries in the Valley, in the 1940’s, roses were developed to produce rose oil and rose essence. Damascene rose is considered to be the embodiment of femininity and the queen of flowers in high-class perfumery. The Dades Valley has a pre-Saharan bio-climate, with relatively low temperatures suitable to rose growing. Roses are a very important crop booster to the local population. They also offer a major source of income during the rose season, which begins around 10 April and ends around 20 May, depending on climate conditions. Every morning before sunrise, pickers set about harvesting the first rosebuds and rose blooms and placing them into a cotton or jute bag. It is important to pick them early in the morning or late afternoon, as the sun diminishes the olfactory quality of the roses. The crop is then taken to the Kasbahs for initial sorting. After sorting, the rosebuds are dried on the terracotta-colored roofs for 2 days, then continue drying in well-ventilated rooms for a further month. The very dry mountain climate provides good drying conditions, whereas humidity would cause the roses to rot. Once dried, the roses are used to make scented potpourri. Immediate distillation produces authentic rose hydrolat, also called 'floral water' or 'rose water', which is used locally for ablutions or for flavoring in pastries. Damask rose is also extracted for the premium perfume industry and for essential oil. The unrivalled properties of this rose essence care for the body as well as the mind; it is a true beauty queen. The sight of pickers gathering roses at dawn like bees under the orchard canopy, accompanied by the soothing sound of flowing water, is a delightful scene.
The Rose Festival or Moussem of Roses takes place on the second weekend in May and lasts for two days. Rose farmers from far and wide assemble to celebrate the year’s crops and drink to a “rosy” year. Traders from all over the region come to sell their specialties and handicraft products. This festival would be even more beautiful if real roses were used, rather than plastic flowers and artificial rose scents.
Iran. Roses from Lalehzar
Besides Kashan and Shiraz the Kerman district in the east of Iran got an important producer of rose oil and particularly rose water meanwhile. Approximately 25 years ago, recognizing a considerable enhancement of odour in several plants, Homayoun and his wife Shahin started to grow roses in the valley of Lalehzar with an altitude between 2.000 and 3.000 meters - in the middle of numerous poppy fields. And indeed, the roses planted there, showed an important increase of essential oils compared to the source plants. That is why the farmers could be convinced to switch to rose production, a legal way of income. Another very important advantage helps for this decision: the roses need much less water, than poppey - a very valuable matter in a desert region with 360 sunny days a year. Some 1.500 farmers growing roses there today deliver their yield to the still, and make good money. They are committed to cultivate the fields organically, controlled and certified by Soil Association. The farmers are not allowed to use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
The center of Turkish rose oil production lies between Burdur and Isparta, north of Antalya. More than a hundred years ago a Turkish farmer brought rose plants of the scented Rosa Damascena variety from Bulgaria into the "Turkish Lakeland". To the farmers who were eking out a meagre existence from the land at altitudes of between 1200 m and 1800 meters above sea level, this offered an opportunity to earn a living and support their families. To produce rose oil from the strongly scented flowers they formed cooperatives which took over the distillation of rose oil and the marketing of the product – cooperatives that still exist today.
Poppies are the primary agricultural export of Afghanistan. The mountainous nation supplies 85% of Europe’s Opium market, but when democracy comes, many of the Afghanistan’s poppy farmers switched to cultivation of the Bulgarian rose. Natural rose oil production can provide Afghan farmers with an alternative to the opium poppy to generate much needed income because of oil’s high profit, easy transportation and high demand. The Rose Oil seemed promising to displace the Poppy in many of Afghanistan’s best agricultural regions, because the cultivation of roses is up to 50% more profitable than poppy production. Natural essential rose oil is a valuable commodity and 1 kg of the essential oil will sell for between €4,000 and €6,000. Four tons of rose petals are needed to get 1 kg of oil, which is approximately one hectare of rose plants and the dry climate is perfectly suited for the production of high oil-yield roses.
Situated in the Caucasus between Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and the Black Sea, Georgia has experienced two rose growing heydays. In 1898 the Russian Czar Nicholas II wanted to become independent of expensive imports so he called upon the Bulgarian Constantine Uslov and charged him with the job of planting scented roses in Russia. Uslov decided that Georgia, at that time part of the Czar’s Russian Empire, would be a particularly suitable location due to its Mediterranean climate. In 2002 rose culitvation restarted in Eastern Georgia.
Washed by the waters of the Black Sea, and covering an area around 26,000 square kilometers, the Crimea never fails to surprise the visitor with the fascinating variety landscapes. In recent decades the south coast of the Crimea has become an important supplier of rose oil and the rose institute at Simferopol was a real respectable spot for research. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the whole rose production broke down and is still waiting for a new flowering.