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There is never a daughter of the earth but once, ere the tale of her days is done,
She will know the scent of the Eden Rose, jus once beneath the sun.
And whatever else she may win or lost, enduring or do, or dare,
She will never forget the enchantment it gave to the common air;
For the world may give here content or joy, fame, sorrow, or sacrafice,
But the hour that brought the scent of the rose, she lived it in Paradise.

         Rose of Eden
             ---Rudyard Kipling

The subject of the rose and her sublime fragrance is one that has no end. Volumes have been written on this subject and what is more, a person who has had the opportunity to explore this precious essence as it radiates from the living flower or in the carefully captured rose otto, absolute or attar has written the celestial memory of this odor on their heart. The thoughts and emotions evoked by the divine aroma of this flower cannot be confined to words. Its radiant fragrance has the capacity to remind one of the most precious aspirations of the heart and soul.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to work on a magnicent estate south of San Francisco called Filoli. One of the sections of the garden that I was responsible for was the "old rose garden". It was not an area frequented by the many people who toured the estate but was tucked away in a less known part of the garden. Indeed the main rose garden with over 500 fine specimens of modern hybrid teas and floribundas was the centerpiece but for the true essence of rose one would have to retire to the old rose gardens. The form of modern roses is often considered superior to the centifolias, gallicas, damascenas, etc but they seldom distill in themselves the rich and varied aroma that the old roses possess. On a warm May day, the full collective bouquet of these gentle queens of the plant world drifted on the air to be imbibed as an aromatic nectar by those lucky enough to be in the vicinity.

"The scent of the summer flowers are rich and joyous, and the sweetest of all scents are the scents of the old roses. The scent of the Rosa centifolia is the beauty of life itself."
---From The Scented Garden by Elizabeth Sinclair Rhode
Also see the wonderful article entitled, "A Passion for Old Roses" at:

In recent years, the old fashioned roses, Rosa damacena, Rosa centifolia and Rosa bourbonia have resurfaced as an important part of the work I am engaged in. These three roses play an important role in India's past and present rose industry and the opportunity to be near these plants and enjoy the blessings of their ethereal scents has been a great joy. The flowers are used in the creation of rose garlands, rose jam, rose otto, rose attar and rose water all of which play an important role in the economic, social, cultural and ecomoic life of India's people. They are cultivated in many parts of India including Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu.

Indian Rose Project

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.)


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:

"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.

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.

For those who wish to know a bit more about the different roses represented in the market the following web sites are suggested:

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 irrigated.

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.

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 local community. Indians love to gather at these simple roadside stalls to drink their tea, eat savory snacks and discuss local affairs."

At the time we visited this area the only product being produced from the locally grown roses were garlands for the fresh flower market. Indeed the previous evening our host at the Jasmin sambac extraction facility had graciously placed around our necks huge garlands composed of these roses, an incredibly intoxicating event. One can see why the Indian people are so fond of garlands. One is literally enveloped in the smell of the flowers which compose the garlands. In the famous Meenakshi Temple, our hosts had graciously arranged to have Rose Garlands placed about our neck by one of the Temple elephants. This was a touching and memorable experience in the life.

On the subject of garlands much can be said. In different parts of India flowers are selected for garlands which are locally available. Roses, Jasmin sambac, Bakul(Mimusops elengi), Marigolds(Tagetes spp.), and Tuberose are the most commonly grown ones, all of which possess their own unique fragrances. But whatever the flower selected the ancient traditions associated with wearing garlands are very special. Here is a selection taken from and earlier journal which casts a bit of light on this intriguing subject.

"Once again I took up the subject of the role of garlands in Indian culture with Ramakant as this is one of the most ancient uses for fresh flowers in India and has a deep spiritual significance. In several different Vedas reference is given to the making of garlands and the profession of garland makers. Garlands were used to adorn the images of the gods and goddesses, in marriage ceremonies, for placing about the necks of religious and political leaders, to honor guests in the home, etc. These ancient traditions continue to this day and they possess rich symbolic significance.

First the sages taught that flowers in their delicate beauty were like unto the precious human body that had been given to the soul to do the devotion of the Supreme Power. The flower with its sublime fragrance was seen as the perfect symbol of what a persons life should be like, that is simple and pure giving off the fragrance of spirituality. Garlands of these lovely flowers were therefore offered in temples and religious places to signify that a person was offering their life in service to a higher power. The images around which these garlands were placed were representative of some divine attribute which they were hoping to inculcate in their lives and by placing the garland about their necks or at their feet they were invoking the grace and mercy of the Power which they represented to awaken that virtue or quality in their lives. Second, the sages recognized that the fragrance emitting from flowers had a beneficial effect on the human mind. Fragrance acted upon the higher intuitive centers in the brain and its refining influence helped put one in touch with that Hidden Power which was the fountainhead of inspiration and creativity. A garland composed of fragrant flowers was seen as one of the finest methods of conveying the subtle head space aromatic molecules into the brain via the nostrils as it encircled the head and rested on the chest. Garlands were presented to religious leaders so that their discourses would be filled with divine inspiration. Third, garlands were seen as one of the finest symbols of the relationship between the lives of the common people and the people entrusted with their welfare. Individual flowers were strung on a simple cotton thread to form the garland. The thread was likened to the daily lives of the people and the fragrant flowers symbolized the beauty radiating from the simplicity of their lives. A person in a high religious or civic post when receiving a garland about their neck had to bend their head which indicated that they understood their responsibility to the people and would act in a spirit of humility for their welfare. Fourth, flowers woven into garlands were seen as a reminder to the people that human life was intertwined with nature and the nature was a witness to all his/her deeds. The sages were deeply aware that humans were only one part of life on the planet and that they(humans) had a responsibility to respect and venerate all life. Garlands were exchanged during marriage ceremonies in part because it was felt that the sacred vows being exchanged were being made before the great power of nature represented by the flowers. The meaning was that people were making a promise to the universe to maintain their marriage not just for their own sake but for all life. This promise made in the presence of nature as represented by the flowers was considered much deeper than a promise made before a human magistrate or priest alone."

It was quite amazing to think that a whole industry was thriving in this South Indian Rose Valley that catered entirely to a market for rose garlands but the connection between the fragrance of flowers and religious devotion and mysticism is deeply rooted in the Indian heart and so such things can exist. Since that time we have sponsored a trail extraction of Rosa bourbonia and Rosa centifolia. The amount of material produced so far is quite small and so it has been made into a South Indian Rose Attar(Contemporary) It posesses a softer rosacious odor with warm honey like notes very much in evidence. The power of the oil grows after the first couple of minutes of application.

In North India in the city of Ajmer, there is a famous shrine to a Muslim Saint, Munindan Chisti. That same area is quite famous for growing Rosa bourbonia for making gulkand(rose jam) and Rose water. The roses of this type bloom for 8 months of the year and many farmers derive a good income from the roses. Of equal importance are the roses grown to be offered at the shrine of this famous Sufi Saint. On the street entering the shrine one can find many vendors of roses who artistically arrange them on platters to be taken into the shrine to be offered at his tomb. The symbolism of the rose in the Sufi Path is renowned being a symbol of divine perfection.

There is a wonderful poem in th Gulistan of Sadi which depicts the reverence of the Sufi's for the Rose and the symbolism it plays in their faith--

Twas in the bath, a piece of perfumed clay
Came from my loved one's hand to mid, one day.
Art thou, then musk or ambergris, I said;
That by thy scent my soul is ravished?
Not so, in answered, worthless on earth was I,
Not liing I kept the roses company;
Thus near, its perfect fragrance to me came,
Else I'm but earth, the worthless and the same.

Perhaps from a personal standpoint, the most important work we are engaged in right now regarding roses concerns the making of traditional attars. I have written a lot on this subject on my web site so I will not go into great detail here but it is worth mentioning that a well made rose attar adds an important dimension to rose essences be they hydrodistilled, steam distilled, or solvent extracted. Each method of distillation captures a particular range of the rose essence complex and there are many shared characteristics among them as well as subtle differences. One may not be able to say that one is better than another. The rose attar captures a certain fulness in the bouquet which is seldom encountered in any other rose product. The heart notes are very strong in the attar.

The process of capturing those notes is a long and slow one requiring a minimum of 15 days of distilling fresh roses into sandalwood. This process can go on for up to 25 days giving the sandalwood a richer and richer ethereal rose odor. Such lengthy distillations are seldom done these days but we are slowly bringing this practice back. Just recently we sponsored the preparation of a very unique rose attar. Generally Rose Attar is prepared in the month of May in Uttar Pradesh. It is the hottest time of the year and the season when the Rosa damascena crop is at its height of production. There is a smaller Rosa damascena crop that comes just at the end of the monsoon rains and it is appropriately called Monsoon Rose. It appears in th month of September. This year we had our distiller do a 20 day distillation. It produced a wonderful attar that has just now arrived here from India.


Bulgarian Rose Project

This summer I began an earnest search for a direct contact with a distiller of Bulgarian Rose oil. Twenty five ago I had read a book called Perfume Album by Jill Jesse and in that book she described the Valley of the Roses in Bulgaria. The memory of her description of this beautiful spot on the earth never left me and with my developing essential oil enterprise, I felt the time had come to see if I could locate some company who would be interested in exporting their rose oil to the USA. I had found a number of reliable indircet sources for Rose oil but my nature is such that I love to interact with people at the production level whenever possible so that the subject becomes alive to me which allows me to share the joy of that experience with others. Bulgaria has been going through many changes in recent years and the possiblility of interacting directly with companies there has become possible through the advent of the internet. Still one has to proceed with caution in developing any new source of materials. I could only hope that by good fortune I would be guided to the right people.

As it turned out I started corresponding with a well established distillery that was just begin to expand its market into the West. As I was one of their first customers, they were happy to share a lot of knowledge of their operation with me. The relationship with them continues to mature month by month and if all goes well I will be able to visit their facility during the harvest and distillation/extraction of roses in the coming year. So in this section of the newsletter we will explore a number of important things about the Valley of the Roses and the wonderful essential oil bearing flowers grown there.

"How beautiful this valley is! As far as eyes can see, glistening green meads and tender velvety swards, rose gardens in blossoms spelling fragrance, clear mountain springs murmuring through fresh meadows, tufts of chestnuts, walnuts, plum-trees, cherries, cornel-trees and apples in flowers and across this wonderful green panorama, among copses of willows and whispering elms, the young Toundzha meanders in wonderful curves. At the background one can see Stara Planina: a range of giant peaks, basking in the blue sky... And fifteen days later, some enchantress will sprinkle dewy roses upon these tender greens and the air will be flooded by this fragrance and by the songs of the dark-eyed women rose-harvesters with freshly-picked rose flowers on their heads..." ---Ivan Vazov, famous Bulgarian writer

There are two types of essential oil producing roses cultivated in the Valley of the Roses. The Rosa damascena forma triginipetala(the pink/light red Damask Rose) and the Rosa damascena var. alba sometimes called Rosa alba(White Rose) The Damask rose is by the far the most important as it yields a higher quantity of oil and many people consider its quality superior(This is one of those things that is open to debate. The White Rose also produces a wonderful oil in both the essential oil and absolute form but it has its own unique qualities) The White Rose is a sturdier crop and is sometimes planted as hedgerows around the Damask Roses. They are also planted at higher elevations where the pink rose does not survive. For an article on the Kazanlik or Bulgarian Rose see the website at:
Historically it is believed that Rosa damascena was brought to the Kazanlik area(located in the Valley of the Roses) from Tunisia in 1420 by a Turkish judge. At that time that part of Bulgaria was part of the Turkish Empire and the love of the rose had been well established in the hearts of the people of that region over several centuries. When the roses where planted in this particular valley, they grew extremely well and the emperor of that time Sultan Murad 111 requested the judge to establish more rose gardens for then needs of the palace. For an excellent paper on history of Bulgarian Rose Products see:

It is well known that plants have their own likes and dislikes in terms of soil, water, temperature, etc and it sometimes happens that a perfect situation arise where a particular plant can achieve its greatest glory on a commercial scale. Such is the case with the Rosa damascena of the Valley of the roses.

The climatic conditions of the Valley suited the flowers very well. Growing Rosa damascena for essential oil and rose water production a "mild climate with no extremes of temperature, long periods of warm, sunny weather and a regular well-distributed rainfall is preferred...." ---Weiss. Essential Oil Crops

"The roses flourish at the foot of the hills or on the southern slopes of the Balkan mountains, which protect the plantings form cold north and northeast winds. The altitude here ranges from 900-1500(or even 2500) ft. The section lies between the grain fields in the valleys and the mountain forests of the Central Balkan range. The soil consists of fertile gravel, limestone, sand and loam, mostly free of acides, well drained and easily permeable to water."----Guenther, Essential Oil, Volume V

Some very specific conditions particular to the season of bloom have proved critical factors in producing superior rose oils. During the months of May and June, when the flowers are in full bloom and the harvest is taking place the air is humid, with a judicious amount of cloudy weather, and timely rains. This helps to preserve the oil content within the flowers.

So far we have discussed the environmental conditions that assist in growing high quality roses for essential oil distillation but this only serves as an entry point to the human effort that must also be used to plant, cultivate and harvest the roses. It is a huge subject in itself and only a few highlights will be given here, in hopes that each one of you will devote some time toward understanding the labor intensive nature of this type of industry. Establishing a new rose garden or maintaining an old one, requires a dedicated year round effort on the part of the farmer and his family. There work falls into several categories.

In the case of establishing a new rose garden these things need to be done:
1. Deep ploughing-this is necessary for breaking up any compacted or hard pan layer beneath the soil surface. A well tilled soil allows for good root growth. This work is generally done in late summer. Once the land is ploughed, deep parallel trenches are dug, 3.5 feet deep, 1.5 -1.75 feet wide and 7-8 feet apart.(Have you ever dug a trench 3.5 feet deep? It is truly back breaking work) The earth is piled in equal proportions on each side of the trench. This needs to be done in the Fall so that the organic matter in the deep layers of the soil has a chance to decompose during the winter months.
2. In February or March some of the soil is shoveled back in the trenches so that the new level is just 1.5-2 feet below the surface. Then cuttings from an old rose field are procured. The roses from which the cuttings are taken need to be a minium of 6 years old. These cuttings need to be healthy and 1-2 feet long. They are taken from the base of the plant.The cuttings are placed in horizontally in 2-4 uninteruppted rows 3 inches apart. A 2 inch layer of soil from the piles along the ditches is placed on top of the cuttings and then and additional 2 inch layer of compost is shoveled on top of that.
3. As the shoots begin to grow, more soil is shoveled in at appropriate intervals continuing on into the autumn until the trenches became filled up. The preferable time to weed, cultivate and add more soil is after a good rain and this operation needs to be performed 8 times to complete the job. 4. During first one or two years while the rose hedge is being established new buds are plucked off so the entire energy of the plant can go into making a healthy shrub.
4. This particular method of starting a new rose garden is particular to Bulgaria and is called, 'kesme'. It has sveral advantages-

a. The old gardens supply the new gardens with propagation material. 1 hectare of an old garden supplies enough material for 3 hectares of a new one.
b. The new garden comes up as a hedge with a large number of stalks per linear meter. If one stalk dies the whole plant is not harmed. The longivity of such hedges is over 30 years.
c. The qualities of the rose and its oil are past on from generation to generation thereby maintaining a high an consistent standard of final product in the form or rose water, rose otto and rose absolute.
d. By planting the new cuttings deeply, it allows the development of an excellent root system that assists the plant is surviving if there should be times of drought.

Subsequent care of the rose garden:
1. Shallow lowing and cultivation must be done several times a year.
2. Pruning is done just after flowering to insure vigorous bushy growth. In the winter further pruning is done to remove dead or diseased canes.
3. Before the advent of winter soil is mounded against the base of the hedge to prevent frost damage. This is considered of great importance in newer hedges
4. Every ten years, if the hedge is showing a decline in vigor, it is cut to the ground. This can extend the life of the hedge up to 30 years.
5. Proper attention must be given to fertilization. With the availability of petrochemical fertilizers some farmers opted for their use as it was easier and faster then applying organic fertilizers or growing green manure crops but now there is a return to the older ways as some consumers are prepared to pay the higher price for rose otto distilled from organically grown flowers.

I think in this summary report the reader can begin to see that there is a lot more that goes into producing an oil than just the harvest and distillation. The whole life of the farming community is tied up with nurturing the plants so they produce the harvest of roses that is the source of their liveliehood. They have to contend with many variables which nature presents them. Early warming trends, late frosts, to much rain, to little rain, the appearance of various disease and insect problems, etc are also part of their program which cannot always be planned for. These vagaries of nature can greatly effect the yield of flowers, the quanitity of oil produced and perhaps its quality. I bring this up again and again because it would be ideal if our appreciation for the plants and the people who care for them would go on increasing. Indeed how can we give proper thanks to all the many factors involved in bringing the precious oils like rose into our hands.

The Harvest
The season for harvest of Bulgarian rose usually commences around the middle of May but in certain years it has begun at the beginning of the month and in others at the beginning of June. It depends a lot on the weather conditions exisiting in a particular year. Mild and humid weather prolong the harvest season as well as giving a fine yield of oil. During hot and dry weather the harvest season may only last a couple of weeks with a pour yield of oil due to loss in evaporation. The distilleries also become overworked at such times as they do not have the capacity to process the larger quantity of rose coming in a 2 week period(as compared to the normal 4-5 week period) If the roses lie on the floors of the distillery for two long they begin to ferment or turn stale which has a tremendous impact on their olfactory characteristics.

A newly planted rose garden only begins to yield roses in harvestible quantities after 3 years when one can expect to obtain 1500 kilos per hectare. The yield goes on increasing until it can reach 5000 kilos per hectare in the prime of a particular rose garden. A well kept rose garden is capable of yielding 4000 kilos of fresh flowers per year.

The plucking of flowers begins at 5:00 AM(2:00 AM is the time when the oil content is highest but no one is willing to rise that early to pick roses) and continues up until 9 sometimes 10 AM. The idea is that the harvest should end while the dew is still fresh on the petals. When the harvest is at peak the picking can continue into the afternoon but there is a considerable loss of volatile oil content in the flowers due to evaporation by the suns rays.

Thus for 5 hours a person has to nimbly pick the newly opened buds by nipping them just below the calyx. They drop their fragrant wares into baskets or sacks which hold up to 25 kilos of flowers. These are then taken to the edge of the field where they are loaded onto carts or tractors to be immediately conveyed to the distillery. Let us now examine some figures to see how the work of these good people translates into Rose Otto. It is estimated 1000 kilos of flowers(1 metric ton) consists of 400,000 individual flowers. It takes 3500 kilos of flowers to produce 1 kilo of oil. Hence it takes 1,400,000 handpicked blossoms to produce 35 ounces of oil. It takes 40,0000 blossoms to make 1 ounce of oil. It takes 67 blossoms to make 1 drop of oil if we calculate that there are 600 drops in an ounce.(These are just representative numbers. Many factors contribute to the amount of oil produced from the flowers and it can be higher or lower than the above mentioned numbers.)

A well managed Rose garden produces from 1250-1650 kilos of flowers per acre. It requires an average of 3500 kilos(this is an average. Figures can vary from 3000-4000 kilos of flowers per kg of oil) of flowers to make 1 kilo(35 ounces of otto). Thus it requires 2.2-2.8 acres of land to produce 1 kilo of oil. It is rather a startling set of figures, yes!!! We are just talking numbers here and it means very little if one does not go back and figure out how much time and effort goes into carrying for those crops. Numbers divorced from the reality of what it requires to bring those numbers into being are not very inspiring. But when one takes a little time to imagine the complete story behind them, one comes to the conclusion that the farming community does a huge amount of work for very little recompense by our standards. It is all the more reason to send waves of gratitude to the folks who till the soil to bring us oils of unparralled beauty. It is in fact their lives, the lives of the plants and the environments that they dwell in, that are being distilled.

"And a merchant said, 'Speak to us of Buying and Selling.' And he answered and said: 'To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands. It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied. Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger. When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards meet the weavers and the potters and the gatherers of spices, - Invoke then the master spirit of the earth, to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning that weighs value against value. And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions, who would sell their words for your labour. To such men you should say, 'Come with us to the field, or go with our brothers to the sea and cast your net; For the land and the sea shall be bountiful to you even as to us.' And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, - buy of their gifts also. For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul. And before you leave the marketplace, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands. For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.'." ---The Prophet, Kahil Gibran

Today in Bulgaria two different means of distillation are practiced. One uses the hydrodistillation technique and the other steam distillation. As the company I procure oils from uses hydrodistillation this technique will be described. The whole subject of distillation is a lenghty one but some knowledge of it goes a long way in understanding how beautiful oils are obtained. There is, my opinion, no better method of distillation. It all depends on the expertise of the person doing the work. There is a "feel" that develops for bringing out the best in an aromatic plant and people who possess this "feel" can work wonders with any method that is available to them. By the same token the best method in the world may not produce good results if the people doing it are not attuned to their art and craft and do not appreciate the sacrafice the plants are making for the benefit of others.

Distillation of Rose Otto-(Extracted from Ernest Guenther, Essential Oils Volume V)
" The following description of the methods actually employed is based upon the authors observations in the course of two producing seasons in Bulgaria.

Most of the industrial still employed today are directly fired(with an open fire beneath the retort) and of 1000 to 2000 liter capacity. Requiring no seam generator with accessory steam and water pipes, they offer the advantage of low initial investment and simplicity of operation, important features in the primitive "Valley of the Roses" The stills are made of copper, heavily tinned inside, and of cylindrical shape. Insulation with bricks or some other suitable material permits even distribution and retention of heat inside the retort. The still top is provided with a manhole through which the flowers can be charged. A grid a few inches above the bottom of the retort prevents contact of the flower material with the directly fired bottom. Pm tje sode amd ;eve; wotj tje grid, is another manhole(opened and closed by means of levers) through which the exhausted flowers and the residual water can be quickly discharged after completion of the flower distillation. The still is equipped with a pipe and valeve, beneath the grid, which permits drawing off the residual waters when the still is used for cohobation.

Generally the retorts are charged with flowers up to about 10 inches below the still head. The quantity of rosed charges depends upon their condition, fresh flowers taking up much more space than those stored in the distillery for a few hours. Retorts of 1,200-1,500 capacity-the most popular type, are charged with 150-300 kg.of roses; these are then covered with 3-4 times their weight in water.

For example: a retort of 1800 liters is charged with 250-300 kg. of roses, and 1200 liters of water are added. The whole mass is then stirred thoroughly. Then the manhole in the still top is closed and the fire started. After about 1.5 hours, acutal distillation starts, this lasts another 1.5 hours-the entire operation requiring 3 hours.

At the beginning, great care must be exercised to keep the fire low, so that actual distillation starts slowly. Otherwise the warm expanding air will blow through the condensors with great velocity and carry along the most volatilem highly aromatic constituents of the rose oil, which under such circumstances can never be recovered(My note: This is where one begins to see how important the distillers "feel" for the process is. Distillation seldom occurs at just one temperature. First the most volativel constitutents have to come out under low heat and then gradually the heat is increased to get as complete a spectrum of volatile molecules as possible until the material is completely exhausted.) During the operation the inlet for the cooling water in the condensors must be regulated so that the condensate flows at a temperature of 35-40 degrees centigrade. At lower temperatures the oil, which contains a good deal of stearoptene,(*stearoptene n : the portion of a natural essential oil that separates as a solid on cooling or long standing) will solidify in the condensor tubes and on oil will appear in the Florentine flask(oil separator).

Distillation of the flowers which, after a short start, should proceed at a lively pace, is completed when about 140 liters of water per 250 kg of flower charge is distilled over. The very small quantity of greenish oil seperating in the Florentine flask is called "Direct Oil" or "Surovo Maslo" in Bulgarian; this is drawn off with a pipette and poured in a glass bottle. When the oil has been decanted, the 140 liters of distillation water("First Water") are pumped into a storage tank and bulked with other "First Waters" of other operations. As soon as enough "First Waters" have been accumulated, they are redistilled(cohobated) as explained below.

The exhausted flowers in the retort, together with the residual water, are discharged and thrown away.

The yield of "Direct Oil" obtained on distillation of the flowers is very low, because the greater part of the rose oil is dissolved in the distillation water.(First Water) To isolate this dissolved oil the "First Water" has to be redistilled(cohabted) For this purpose 1,200 liters of First Water are pumped into a retort of 1,800 liter capacity, and 140 liters are very slowly distilled off. During this operation the condensor temperature should be low. The process requires about 2.5 hours; 1.5 hours for heating the water , and one for actual distillation(cohobation)

The condensate consists of 140 liters of "Second Water" and a small amount of "Water Oil" called "Prevarka" in Bulgaria. The "Water Oil" is drawn off with a pipete and added to the "Direct Oil" obtained from the distillation of the flowers. Combined the two oils constitute the rose oil of commerce. The freshly distilled oilis poured into glass bottles and exposed to sunlight for several days. This causes impurities and colloidial matter floating in the oil to precipitate, and water to separate. The clear oil is then carefully decanted, filtered, and stored in the well known tinned copper containers.

The ratio of "Direct Oil" to "Water Oil" is not constant and depends upon several conditions, including quality of flower material and method of distillation. In general the complete oil consists of 25% of "Direct Oil" and 75% of "Water Oil".

As regards the above mentioned 140 liters of "Second Water" after the oil has been decanted they are pumped into the storage tank holding the "First Waters" and redistilled with them to remove any oil remaining in solution. The residual water left in the retort after the 140 liters of "Second Water" have been distilled off is kept in the retort and used for the distillation of a new batch of roses.

With the qualification noted some pages back, the entire process is rose oil distillation does, after all represent something of a closed circle. The distillation waters are used again and again, only the exhausted waters together with essential oil, being eliminated."

Since the time of Guenther published his great work, Essential Oils, some modifications in the above process have been made but his description gives us a good idea of the basic two step process involved in the hydrodistillation of rose oil in Bulgaria. I hope this information provides you a bit more insight into the incredible world of roses and their wonderous aromas.

Following is a list of Rose attars, absolutes, essential oils, waxes and concretes that I have available. If there is enough interest I will gladly order Bulgarian Rose Concrete for those who use it in soaps, candles, and solid perfumes. I need to order 1 kilo at a time and the price would run about $50 per ounce so if you have needs in this direction kindly inform me and I will procure this precious material.

Your friend, Christopher


Rose legends
http://www.markw.com/nurmahal.htm nur jahan

Symbolism of the Rose
http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rosesymb.html many symbolic references to rose http://members.tripod.com/~Darkkisses/rose.htm rose color symbolism http://www.gardenstrusts.co.uk/rose.html a nice historic presentation on rose symbolism

Roses in Food

Roses in History

Rose Fragrance
http://www.leffingwell.com/rose.htm incredible page on chemical nature of Rosa damascena

Rose Research
http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/duke/farmacy2.pl?867 chemicals in rosa damascena

Rosa damascena in art
http://store1.europe.yahoo.com/worldgallery-uk/manygsrb2241.html http://www.praiseofglory.com/rosaryart.htm roses and the rosary in Christian art and literature

Roses in the garden
http://gardens.co.nz/RoseGarden/RGJulyDamask.htm excellent article on growing Damask Roses

Rose Absolute

http://www.markw.com/recipes.htm great site for cooking with roses
http://www.thebeadsite.com/BMM-ROSE.htm rose beads
http://www.floramex.com/lirosepot.htm many great rose recipes
http://www.markw.com/rosebeads.htm rose bead recipes
http://www.rdrop.com/~paul/recipes.html wonderful fragrant recipes
http://www.markw.com/potpourri.htm rose potourri

Educational sites
http://www.shiseido.co.jp/e/e9803kor/html/text/kor05100.htm shiseido's superb site on the rose http://www.darwinsgarden.com/resource/r/roses-18.html historical, constitutents,

Unique sites
http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/religion/pages/rosewater.html microscopic picture of rose water http://www.exploreturkey.com/pic_htms/toist162.htm rose water flask http://www.yesterdaysthings.com/st1002.htm rose water container
http://www.saola.com/cgi-bin/prin.pl?path=new_report/tourism/vallee&nbimage=19&language=english&numero=1&logo=natureuk Valley of Roses Morocco http://www.bsp.org.uk/archive/morocco.html Valley of Roses Morocco Journal http://www.open-sesame.com/roses.html wonderful site including lore, magic, myth, uses