Today we will explore the sublime dimensions of the Gulab or Rose Flower particularly with reference to its existence in India. The subject transcends any one article but I think it will provide some nice insites into how this revered plant is used in India.
Before taking off the top of the bottle that will release the genii of the rose aroma(it would be ideal if you had your perfume blotters beside you dabbed in rose otto before starting) I would like to update you on a few interesting matters.
Visit to Port Angeles, Washington
I have just returned from Washington where I visited with my mom, always one of the high points of the year. As mentioned in earlier newsletters Suzanne and I will move to Port Angeles on the Puguet Sound where my mom lives within a couple of years. We eagerly look forward to it as the small town environment, coupled with the surounding beauty of the pristine lakes, mountains, water front and rivers appeal to our hearts emmensly. There also we will be able to devote our attention full time to the world of essential oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts, etc. which also is something we are eager to do.
On this trip my mom and I, as is our habit, many several hikes in the surrounding area. It was the season of the lower elevation wild flowers. One of our hikes took us to Lake Mills that is in the Elwa River Valley, very close to town. Still it is a spot where people seldom go. The trial we walked upon was in a deep forest of Cedar and Firs that bordered the lake. Shafts of light gently penetrated the high canopy illuminating many tiny colonies of delicate wild flowers that had found their natural homes there. A gentle breeze came off the lake and blew through the trees creating a soft aromatic ambiance that caused one to tingle with life and quiet joy. It was as if we were being caressed at every step with nature's hand.
In this sublime environment we began to explore the aromas of the tiny plants at our feet. Many of them were shades of cream and white and to outer appearance did not possess any dramatic visual virtues but as with the small things of the earth that have come out of nature's own environments they possessed a charm and beauty that was delicate and perfect. And when one brought their nose close to these botanical treasures, their aromatic elixirs entered ones heart causing the doors of wonder and awe to open without any efforts. My mom told me that she hoped that on this day we would encounter the twin flower, Linneaus borealis as it was a great favorite of hers and its season was at hand. Very soon, along the path we found a small colony of this tiny nodding trumpet shaped flower and took our first sniff of the day. As its eloquent and sublime aroma touched the olfactory receptors hold new worlds of beauty were awakened. The tiny flowers were redolent of the most ethereal wild sweet odor which seemed to me the essence of the floral fairy world in which we were walking. Its aroma was so divine that it seemed to wash away all the dross of the world and its dramas and renewed the heart with a childlike wonder through which the eyes can perceive the world anew.
As we continued to walk along we sniffed many other tiny treasures that appealed to our hearts immensely. I do not know if it was the magic of the twin flowers or some other thing but it was as if the world was alive with aromas that I have never enountered before. Foam flowers, tiny roses, salal, fringe cups, geranium, and many other denizens of that forest community gave to us their beauty in the form of their exquisite shapes, colors and odors. I began to wonder at one point if perhaps there were fragrances of such a type that one normally might not perceive them just as their are bands of light not visible to the human eye. But whatever it was that made that afternoon and indeed the whole visit so charged was the presence of the wild aromas that came to us on that gentle afternoon. For subsequent visits to the waterside plant communities also revealed many more wonderful wild scents that were different than what we found in our forest reverie.
Reflecting on this experience it occurred to me that even in times of tremendous outer turbulence, there are many opportunities to renew and refresh our vision of life and often the small flowers of the earth can do much to help us in our quest. To get to know and enjoy them one has to bow their head very low and see the world from a different prespective than when moving through the normal everyday life consumes much of our time.
Sandalwood CO2 Total Extract
In recent weeks I have had many enquiries about the CO2 Sandalwood/Total Extract. I realize that many new people are receiving the newsletters so it is natural that now and again I may repeat certain things that have appeared in other newsletters. But in brief it is very important to distinguish between total extracts and select extracts when purchasing CO2 extracted materials. A CO2 Total extract contains as much of the lipohilic material contained in the botanical raw material as can be extracted. It means that it contains fixed/carrier oil, volatile oil, resins, waxes and whatever also can be extracted with CO2 under higher pressure than one uses to get the volatile oil. The volatile oil generally comes out under lower pressure than the other lipophilic consitutents. The Select Extract is therefore very similar in appearance and consistency to the volatile, ethereal or essential oil whereas the total extract is generally much thicker(sometimes even solid), often not transparent, etc. If one is endeavoring to capture the fullest spectrum of therapeutic virtues in the plant then the Total Extracts are often preferable and if one is looking only to the aromatic virtues in the plant then the Select Extracts maybe preferable. One can say that for the most part the Total Extract is less odiferous than the Select Extract because the volatile oil in the Total Extract is only one part of the extracted material. And not only that but the odor can be different than the Select Extract.The Sandalwood CO2 Total Extract is a good example. It is very thick and honey like in consistency. It possesses the rich sandalwood heartnotes but it also has a distinct smell of maple. What are the factors involved in the maple smell arising I cannot say but it is definitely there.
A Source for High Quality Non-Scented Bases for Cosmetic Preparation(Wholesale)
I am sure that many of you have already interacted with Kim Manley the proprieter of Kim Manley Herbals. If not you may contact her at the phone number of fax number listed in her newsletter which is given below
She has a wonderful range of natural cosmetic bases some of which are standard stock and others which can be created according to your specific needs. More and more of my customers are developing their own product lines based on exquisite perfumes they have created and have been asking about a good source for cosmetic bases and Kim is definitely a good place to begin such explorations.
Two books of interest
"Henna's Secret History: The History Mystery and Folklore of Henna"
Marie Anakee Miczak; Paperback; @ $21.95 each
This book contains a great deal of informaton about Lawsonia inermis/alba the flowers of which are used in making Gulhina attar
Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner. A brilliant new book that has been called "both poetry and medicine," Buhner enchants with extraordinary insights into the profound complexities of plant communication within plant communities, many of them aromatic. He reminds us that plants live for each other, not just for us. In tragic counterpoint to this great curiosity and deep respect for the workings of the natural world, he alerts us to the mounting toll the "Universe as Machine" model is taking on all of Life. Last, he suggests a road back to Biophilia and Biognosis.
"As the soul of a human being can never be understood from its chemistry or grammar, so cannot plant purpose, intelligence, or soul. Plants are much more than the sum of their parts. And they have been talking to us a long time." Stephen Harrod Buhner
This review was in Priscilla Coe's wonderful newsletter
the person who runs this company is said to be very helpful in helping customers with their distillation projects
Robert is deeply into distillation and knows a considerable amount about conifer oils
larger distillation units for the evolving distiller
India is a land redolent with a aromatic plants. In each nook and corner of the country one finds various herbs, spices, woods, flowers, roots and grasses being grown for aromatic or medicinal purposes. Some are of fairly recent introduction like geranium, lavender, and Jasmin grandiflorum whereas others have been grown for countless generations like sandalwood, agarwood, and Jasmin sambac. Many of the plants that have a longer history in India also factor stronly into the cultural and religious lives of the country people. It is certain that this deep inner connection with the plants plays an important role in the emotional and spiritual well-being of the people and this in turn benefits their physical health. One of the flowers that has a relatively long history in the countries rich aromatic traditions is the Rose. Several species are widely cultivated in India; Rosa damascena, Rosa centifolia and Rosa bourbonia. Each has its own unique aromatic profile and uses and we will look at the Rose both in the broad sense and also from the uses of the specific species.
COMMON NAMES AND SYNONYM: Hundred-leaved rose, Cabbage rose-petals; Flores rosarum incarnatarum.
Botanical Source.—This is an erect shrub, 3 to 6 feet in height, having the branches closely covered with nearly straight prickles, scarcely dilated at base, and glandular bristles of various forms and sizes; the large ones are falcate. Shoots erect. Leaves unequally pinnated; leaflets 5 to 7, oblong or ovate, glandular-ciliate on the margin, and subpilose beneath. The flowers are large, usually of a pink color, but varying in hue, form, size, etc., through 100 known varieties, several
together, and, drooping, with leafy bracts; flower-bud short and ovoid. Sepals leafy, compound, viscid, and spreading in flower. Petals 5, and usually pale-red. Fruit ovoid; calyx and peduncles glandular-hispid, viscid, and fragrant (L.—W.).
Personal Experiences with Roses of India
Kullu Valley Organic Roses
Naturally as I have traveled the length and breadth of India with my fragrance mentor Ramakant Harlalka, the Rose has been an important part of our studies. In the state of Himachal Pradesh the beautiful Rosa damascena has graced our path with its simple and elegant flowers and its beautiful, rich and intoxicating aroma..
"Last May a group of us traveled together to the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh to visit the distillation unit of Dr. Vimal Chand just near the banks of the Beas River. He had a simple but beautiful hydrodistillation unit for preparing Rose Otto. Standing at his farm one could look up the steep slopes of the Himalayas and see the morning harvest of fresh roses(Rosa damascena) being brought down from the small plots of land dedicated to the flowers cultivation by the farmers and their families. Dr. Chand had arranged for the farmers living at different elevations to grow the roses for him in those pristine conditions using organic gardening techniques. By growing the roses at different elevations the season for distillation was extended for three months as the higher the elevation the cooler the temperatures thus delaying the bloom of the main crop. The farmers and their families rose before dawn to pluck the delicate blossoms, then with the coming of
light hiked down the mountain(a 2 hour journey) and then back up the mountain again. There are no roads for motor vehicles there so the only way is to journey by foot with roses loaded on the back in wicker baskets. Then the process of immediately distilling the roses began to produce the precious otto which in India fetches a premium price(2.5 times that of Bulgarian rose otto). (More on distillation later.)"
In the far south we have had equally beautiful experiences with Rosa bourbonia and centifolia-
Last year in the month of September, another group of us ventured to South India together and on that journey we visited an area west of Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu where 1000 farmers grow Rosa bourbonia and Rosa centifolia. Here are extracts from journals kept at that time:
The Valley of Roses
"Early on the morning we set out on the next leg of of our journey to Koddikannal.Our schedule is intense as within the course of 10 days we are to be exposed to a series of vignettes which should help us to grasp the totality of India's great aromatic traditions ancient and modern.By having a specific focus for the trip it is much easier to intuit certain things about the totality of the Indian experience. Since fragrance is an intergal part of Indian culture it acts as a key to deeper things.
The road to Koddikannal passes through a rich agricultural district. On our March tour we had been taken to an area where over 1000 farmers were engaged in growing Rosa centifolia and Rosa burbonia for the garland market. One would hardly suspect that just off the main road there existed such a thriving industry surrounding roses. The delightful rich and smooth aroma of these two roses delighted us to such an extent that we initiated a project of rose extraction. In recent months several kilos of concrete have been prepared and will soon be converted to absolute. It was our wish to show some of these nicely tended rose fields to our traveling companions and to enjoy a breakfast amidst the superb scenery of this region.
Once again our kind hosts in Madurai had made all arrangements for us. It should be noted that without the kind guidance of our hosts, Mr. N. Rajendiran and his father we could have never discovered this local rose industry. The father who founded the business, is well loved by the farming community because of his kindness and fairness and through his extensive contacts we were able to penetrate into this hidden world. It is a simple fact that if one wishes to experience
something of the heart of India that one should have a guide. At least one can be sure that their initiation into the mysteries of this ancient land will be much quicker if such a person appears to help one.
A Rural Rose Market
In a small village about 2 hours outside of Madurai the bus halted and we got down where our hosts were waiting for us. We were then escorted into the bustling rose market just behind some of the buildings that lined the road. One would have never known that it was there unless one was guided there. It was another intoxicating site that gave a valuable glimpse into the way a local flower market operated. There was a constant flow of farmers to the market. They were carrying
bundles of roses of various sizes to be sold to the wholesalers. Heaps and heaps of fragrant roses were piled on the ground and were being bought and sold in rapid succession. Once again we managed to happily mingle with the local people.What a delight!!! What a happiness!!! In thi market also a few other bundled herbs were being sold like marjoram, davana and tulsi. The marjarom of this area in particular possesses a delicate sweet aroma comingled with a rich herbacious note. Tulsi or Ocimum sanctum also captured people's imagination. It is a perfume unto itself.
After enjoying the spectacle of the rose market, we took a stroll into the surrounding countryside where we were shown a typical rose garden. Most farmers allott 1/4-1 acre for this crop. It fetches a good income over a long period of time. Roses bloom in this region for at least 9 months of the year as the climate is favorable for thier growth. It is amazing how quickly one can leave the modern world and enter a timeless land. The landscape here was spectacular with tall mountains
jutting out of the fertile plain filled with a great diversity of fruit, vegetable, grain and flower crops.Underneath a canopy of shade trees we bathed our feet in a stream of cool water being pumped up from tube wells. The water, flowing in neat channels was being systematically diverted to crops whose turn it was to be
Breakfast Amongst the Roses
In this quiet setting our hosts arranged to have a catered breakfast served where we could enjoy a traditional south Indian breakfast while enjoying the sites and scenes of rural South India. Even though I have spent years of my life in such surroundings I never feel as if it is enough. This soft and tender type of beauty acts as a healing balm on the senses and produces a serenity and equilibrium which is difficult to find in the finest of therapeutic treatments. One might say that such environments are a comprehensive therapy in themselves. After finishing our breakfast we went for another walk into the surrounding to enjoy another field of roses. While returning to the bus we stopped at the local tea stall where everyone enjoyed the experience of mingling with the Indian folk gathered there. Tea stalls are one of the best places to pick up the essence of the localcommunity. Indians love to gather at these simple roadside stalls to drink their tea, eat savory snacks and discuss local affairs."
A Special Gift of Roses
While visiting the city of Madurai our hosts there made a special arrangement for visiting the Meenakshi Temple. There I had one of the really unique experiences of the life in terms roses. The day time visit to the temple, which I opted to attend, proved more interesting to me than the previous evenings. For one thing, we had a guide who explained many things to us about the areas through which we were moving. Of special significance to me was having a rose garland placed about my neck from the temple elephant. It was more than just receiving a garland. Looking into the tender eyes of this beautiful animal I felt a poignant longing for freedom. She seemed such an excellent example of a being who understood that
there was something much more to life than what was appearing on the surface but was calmly discharging her outer responsiblities till the circumstances were right for her liberation. After enjoying the temple precincts we returned to the hotel to rest a bit, have lunch and prepare for the afternoon and evening events."
Up until recently the majority of rose production has been for the production of attars(traditional Indian perfumes produced by the hydrodistillation of the flowers into sandalwood), garlands, and preparation of Gulkand(a special jam which is renowned for its cooling and digestive qualities) Small amounts of Ruh or Pure Essence of Rose have been prepared each year for many centuries but it has been a very rare item until quite recently. Due to the fact that India uses a lot of rose essence in their own indigeous fragrance industry there has been a concerted effort to produce it on a larger scale. It is being heavily promoted by government research institutions like Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology which I have visited a couple of times. They are engaged in both the cultivation of the plants and developing better and affordable distilling technology for production of the oil.
Summer Rose and Monsoon Rose Attar
The rose or Gulab Attar of North India is mainly distilled from Rosa damascena. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are the main areas where the Rosa damascena is grown for distillation of both attar(bulk of the flowers) and Ruh. Now in the Kangra and Kullu Valleys there are a number of small distillation units set up for preparing the Ruh. I have written extensively in Rose Attar Production and this information can be easily accessed in my web site. The process is fairly simple(at least in writing) The roses which are mainly harvested in the late April and May are placed in larger copper distilling vessels which are connected to the receiving vessel by a bamboo pipe that is wrapped with a special grass rope for insulation. The flowers sit in water which is heated and then the vapors pass over into the copper receiving vessel via the bamboo pipe. The receiving vessel contains sandalwood oil and the rose essence gets absorbed in the sandalwood over a period of 15-20 days with new flowers being distilled each day. The more in dept explanation of attar production can be seen on the Fragrant Harvest Web Site.
A couple of years back we did a special project with the distillation of the smaller crop of Rosa damascena that comes just after the Monsoon rains in September. It was a 20 day distillation. It produced a wonderfully rich attar. The production of traditional attars is something I am deeply involved with sponsoring and will continue to do so if the sandalwood situation improves. As mentioned in one of my last newsletters the sandalwood situation is not good. We do not know when it is going to improve. For now I have a good stock of most attars as I have 5 kilos at a time made for each flower. Just before the shortage in sandalwood became severe I was able to get a small amount of Saffron/Zaffron Attar which is now in stock.
Roses of Rajasthan
On our way to Jaipur we passed through Ajmer and Pushkar. These areas are famous for their rose plantations. Rosa bourbonia or Edward Rose is grown for making gulkand, rose water, temple offerings, and attar. One of our team members, Mr. Avasthi, has visited here and done an excellent photographic documentation of this local industry so it was not necessary for me to duplicate his work, but it was nice to get a feel for this region by actually visiting there. One of the products made here, gulkand, is popular throughout India. It is prepared by pounding together a mixture of rose petals(from which the sepals have been removed) and sugar in equal proportion or in a ration of 1:2. It is popular as a tonic and laxative. In the hot season it is appreciated for it is said to have a cooling effect on the body.
A recipe for Gulkand
125 gms. Rose petals (dark red roses )
2 cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp. commercial pectin
1.Pull out petals of roses.
2.Trim out any spoiled or dried ones.
3.Wash and rinse, drain out excess water.
4.Put lemon juice,water, sugar and petals in a large pan.
5.Use a pan with a wide bottom.
6.Stirring continuously, heat till sugar dissolves.
7.Once boiling starts,simmer covered, for 30 minutes.
8.Dissolve pectin in 2 tbsp, of liquid from pan.
9.Add to mixture.Take off fire.
10.Stir till well dissolved.
11.Return to heat, bring to a boil, simmer one minute.
12.Pour into hot sterilised jar, cool, seal.
13.Refrigerate after opening seal.
Making time: 1 hour
Shelflife: 3 months approx.
Note: Though dark red large variety are appropriate, you can use them even in the bud form. To make gulkand you can use the `gulkand roses',
which are small, light pink, fragrant bunched variety, are ideal.
One of our colleagues makes a very special Gulkand in which he has added pure Saffron.
Flowers; Fruit; Seed; Tea.
Fruit - raw or cooked. A pulpy flesh. It is best after it has been softened and sweetened by frost. There is only a thin layer of flesh surrounding the many seeds[K]. Some care has to be taken when eating this fruit, see the notes above on known hazards. The seed is a good source of vitamin E, it can be ground and mixed with flour or added to other foods as a supplement[102, 183]. Be sure to remove the seed hairs. The blossoms are used for scenting tea[2, 46, 177, 183].
The petals are preserved in sugar and used as a delicacy. They can also be added to fruit pies as a flavouring.
Condiment; Flowers; Fruit; Seed; Stem.
Young shoots - raw or cooked[105, 177]. Best used when they are still red-coloured, they are peeled before being eaten. Petals - cooked. They are the source of 'attar of roses' and 'rose water', and are used as a flavouring for drinks, sweets, baked goods, ice cream etc. The petals are also used to make jam. Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is about 25mm in diameter, but there is only a thin layer of flesh surrounding the many seeds[K]. Some care has to be taken when eating this fruit, see the notes above on known hazards. The leaves are used as a seasoning.
The seed is a good source of vitamin E, it can be ground into a powder and mixed with flour or added to other foods as a supplement[102, 183]. Be sure to remove the seed hairs.
I hope that the following information will be of help to all of you. It bearly scratches the surface of this subject but a lot of it is based on personal experience from which I get the most joy.