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Rose de Mai of Grasse Newsletter

"LITTLE ROSE-MOSS beside the stone, cabbage rose
Are you lonely in the garden?
There are no friends of you,
And the birds are gone.
Shall I pick you?"

"Little girl up by the hollyhock,
I am not lonely.
I feel the sun burning,
I hold light in my cup,
I have all the rain I want,
I think things to myself that you don't know,
And I listen to the talk of crickets.
I am not lonely,
But you may pick me
And take me to your mother."

-- Poems by a Little Girl by Hilda Conkling

Rose de Mai has a long and revered aromatic history in the Grasse region and was one of the main aromatic essences distilled and extracted there along with Jasmine, Tuberose, Violet, Neroli and Mimosa. In that special Mediterranean environment all the natural elements were found to grow Rose de Mai to perfection. Even today, though the land devoted to its cultivation is greatly reduced from the golden era in the late 19th and early 20th century, Rose de Mai Absolute of France is considered the finest in the world.

Botanical Description of Rose de Mai

—This is an erect shrub, 3 to 6 feet in height, having the branches closely covered with nearly straightprickles, 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.

--see Henriette's Home Page "Rosa centifolia"

Rose de Mai in Grasse (all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide to treatment for disease)
The culture of growing roses in France truly began with the introduction of R. gallica 'Officinalis', brought to France in the 13th century by Thibault IV from the Holy Land, country of the Damask rose, herself a natural hybrid believed to be between R. gallica and R. moschata. The repeat-flowering form of the Damask rose, R. x damascena 'Bifera' syn. 'Quatre Saisons,' is one of the first repeat-flowering roses of the West. It is from 'Officinalis' or 'Apothecary Rose' and from its mutations and spontaneous sowing that sparked rose growing first for its medicinal virtues and later for its ornamental beauty.

Other mother plants of roses for reproduction and breeding of new varieties were imported in the 18th century from Holland and Belgium, where exterior trade with the Orient permitted the importation of new botanical roses from overseas. Born in France in the 16th century from several crossings of botanical roses, R. x centifolia or 'Cabbage Rose' with its hundred petals, was introduced in Grasse for the production of rose essence.

--see The History of Rose Culture in France

The rose plantations are relatively small and mostly operated by individual farmers and their families--are located near Grasse, Pegomas, Mougin, Montauroux, and other parts of that picturesque and beautiful country; two-thirds of the crop comes from La Colle, Grasse, and Saint-Paul de Vence. In 1939 the extraction of Grasse region processed altogether 750,000 kilos of roses(rose de mai) In 1946 the quantity declined to about 400,000 kilos. In 1949 the Grasse region produced 500,000 kilos of roses and in 1950 300,000 kilos. According to Elmer, roses cultivated in the higher altitudes(about 1,150 meters) yield from 30-35% more concrete than the flowers from the plains(100-250 meter altitude)


In the Grasse region the rose are usually grown on nonirrigated land for the simple reason that they withstand spells of drought better than other flowers--jasmine, e.g. As a rule, however, rose bushes require water...

Harvesting starts in the second year after planting, reaching its maximum in the fifth year. After 12 years the productivity of of a planting declines rapidly. On the average a single bush produces 250 grams of flowers. A yield of 3000 kilos of roses per hectare is considered satisfactory. The harvest takes plant in May, very early morning(from 4-8 AM) before the dew has disappeared from the flowers. One harvester can pick from 4-10 kilos per hour. After collection, the roses should be processed as soon as possible, otherwise they will wither and give a poor yield on extraction.

The variety of rose mostly cultivated is the Rose de Mai, a hybrid of R. gallica and R. centifolia, bearing recurved prickles on the flowering branches. Two types are grown in the Grasse district, one more spiny than the other. They are mingled in the plantations, but the more spiny is preferred for less irrigated ground and the one with fewer thorns for wellwatered land. The bushes are planted half a metre apart, in rows one metre asunder. The first fortnight in May sees the rose harvest. The buds open gradually and are numerous, as each stalk bears a dense cluster and all the annual stems are well-covered. In the second half of May, after flowering, they are cut back and the complete pruning takes place in the following November. A rose plantation lasts from eight to ten years. Five thousand rose-trees will occupy about 1/2 acre of land and will produce about 2,200 lb. of flowers during the season.

--see Botanical.com "Roses"

Production of Rose Water
Years ago relatively large quantities of "Rose de Mai" were processed in the Grasse region by hydrodistillation for the  production of fragrant rose water. To a limited extent this is still practiced. For this purpose 1000kilo of Rose centifolia are charged into a still and boiled in water until 1000 litres of water have distilled over. The water is not redistilled(cohobated) and represents the commercial "rose water." In the process of of distillation about 100 grams of direct rose oil separate in the florentine flask. This quantity corresponds to a yield of 1 kilo of rose oil per 10,000 kilos of Rosa centifolia as compared with 1 kilo of rose oil per 4000kilos of Rosa damascena in Bulgaria(It must,however, be kept in mind that in Bulgaria the rose water is repeatedly cohobated in order to recover the relatively large quantity of rose oil suspended and dissolved therein. The yields indicated above therefore do not represent the actual oil content of the two rose species. The rose oil obtained in the Grasse region is only a byproduct of the preparation of rose water; it is not usually sold on the market as a commercial product, but used by the essential oil houses in Grasse (mostly in perfume compositions).

F. A. Fluckiger visited the area in 1885 and commented on the rose de mai industry in Grasse. "At the time of the author's visit the enormous metal tanks and cemented cisterns for holding rose water (more) in the factory of M. Roure were ready for the reception of the products of the coming season, which, like that of the neroli flowers, is at its height in the month of May, when thousands of kilograms of rose leaves are passed daily into the stills. The rose oil collected in small quantity during the distillation of the rose water is probably equally as fine as the oil of roses from the Balkans or from India; but notwithstanding it grows in nearly the same geographical latitude, the rose in Provence produces far more of the worthless solid constituent, dissolved in the liquid portion, which alone is odorous. The question arises whether a change in the strain of the roses so largely cultivated in Grasse might not lead to an improvement in respect to the oil. However, the rose water has for a century found a good sale, so that Grasse is not under the necessity to seek for further progress. The oil at present obtained in the manufacture amounts to about one kilogram from each 12 000 kilograms of fresh rose petals; to completely satisfy the requirements of customers, oil is obtained from the Balkans. The author thinks that the manufacture in Grasse affords a favorable opportunity to determine the chemical properties, hitherto completely unknown, of the oil to which the rose owes its perfume."

--see Henriette's Herbal "Essential Oil Industry in Grasse"

Solvent extraction

In the solvent extraction method, the flowers are agitated in a vat with a solvent such as hexane, which draws out the aromatic compounds as well as other soluble substances such as wax and pigments. These vats are cylindrical in shaped and about 10 feet across and 6 feet deep. Inside of the vats one finds a central cylinder upon which one seats a perforated grate. The rose petals are spread upon the first grate sitting at the bottom of the vat in a thin layer. A special metal piece is then inserted on the cylinder to hold the next grate which sits above the first one. A new layer of rose petals is spread upon it and the process continues until 5 or 6 grates have been placed inside the vat. Once the vat is full then then the heavy lid is clamped into place.

The hexane is then pumped into the vat. The hexane washes over the flowers and removes from them waxes, volatile oil and pigments. The "washing" takes about 10 minutes and then is pumped off. This process is repeated three times. The three extracts are then collected together and subjected to vacuum distillation which removes the hexane from the solution leaving behind the odiferous waxy concrete. The hexane is saved for future extractions. . To obtain the absolute the concrete is dissolved in warm alcohol and subjected to chilling so that the nonalcohol soluble pigments and waxes precipitate out. The solution is then filtered and subjected to vacuum distillation to remove the alcohol from the solution, leaving behind the absolute.

It takes about 400-500 kilos of Rosa centifolia flowers to make 2.2 lbs of concrete and from the concrete one obtains 1.1 pound of absolute.

Properties of Rose de Mai Absolute
The absolute is an orange-brown to orange-yellow viscous liquid which has a rich and sweet, deep-rosy, very tenacious odor. The spicy tonalities are usually less pronounced, while the honeylike notes can be described as similar to those of the damascena absolute.....

Rose de Mai Absolute is used very extensively in high-priced and medium-priced perfumes, particularly in floral bases, chypres, Oriental bases, etc. and also generally as a "touch" to round off the sharp corners or rough notes in synthetic compositions.

It blends well with jasmin, cassie, mimosa, orange flower... or with modifying essential oils such as bergamot, sage clary, geranium, sandalwood, guaicwood, patchouli
Uses of Rose de Mai

*Edible Uses

Edible parts include flowers, fruit and seed. Used in tea. Fruit may be eaten 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. 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. Be sure to remove the seed hairs. The blossoms are used for scenting tea. The petals are preserved in sugar and used as a delicacy. They can also be added to fruit pies as a flavouring.

Some perfumes incorporating Rose de Mai

Shalimar (1925)
by Guerlain

L'Heure Bleue (1912)
by Guerlain

Chanel No 5

Chanel No 19

Rose de Mai in Literature
The very rose-trees at which Adam stopped to pluck one looked as if they grew wild; they were all huddled together in bushy masses, now flaunting with wide-open petals, almost all of them of the streaked pink-and- white kind, which doubtless dated from the union of the houses of York and Lancaster. Adam was wise enough to choose a compact Provence rose that peeped out half-smothered by its flaunting scentless neighbours, and held it in his hand—he thought he should be more at ease holding something in his hand—as he walked on to the far end of the garden, where he remembered there was the largest row of currant-trees, not far off from the great yew-tree arbour.

--Adam Bede by George Eliot

After passing Frejus and St. Raphael, the train passed through a veritable garden, a paradise of roses, and groves of oranges and lemons covered with fruits and flowers at the same time. That delightful coast from Marseilles to Genoa is a kingdom of perfumes in a home of flowers.

June is the time to see it in all its beauty, when in every narrow valley and on every slope, the most exquisite flowers are growing luxuriantly. And the roses! fields, hedges, groves of roses. They climb up the walls, blossom on the roofs, hang from the trees, peep out from among the bushes; they are white, red, yellow, large and small, single, with a simple self-colored dress, or full and heavy in brilliant toilettes.

Their breath makes the air heavy and relaxing, and the still more penetrating odor of the orange blossoms sweetens the atmosphere till it might almost be called the refinement of odor.

--Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

When I stand upon the rampart, and look round me, I can scarce help thinking myself enchanted. The small extent of country which I see, is all cultivated like a garden. Indeed, the plain presents nothing but gardens, full of green trees, loaded with oranges, lemons, citrons, and bergamots, which make a delightful appearance. If you examine them more nearly, you will find plantations of green pease ready to gather; all sorts of sallading, and pot-herbs, in perfection; and plats of roses, carnations, ranunculas, anemonies, and daffodils, blowing in full glory, with such beauty, vigour, and perfume, as no flower in England ever exhibited.

--Travels through France and Italy by Tobias Smollett

Suddenly I saw some villas in one of those ravishing bays that one meets at every turn of the mountain; there were only four or five fronting the sea at the foot of the mountains, and behind them a wild fir wood slopes into two great valleys, that were untraversed by roads. I stopped short before one of these chalets, it was so pretty: a small white house with brown trimmings, overrun with rambler roses up to the top.

The garden was a mass of flowers, of all colors and all kinds, mixed in a coquettish, well-planned disorder. The lawn was full of them, big pots flanked each side of every step of the porch, pink or yellow clusters framed each window, and the terrace with the stone balustrade, which enclosed this pretty little dwelling, had a garland of enormous red bells, like drops of blood. Behind the house I saw a long avenue of orange trees in blossom, which went up to the foot of the mountain.

Over the door appeared the name, “Villa d’Antan,” in small gold letters.

I asked myself what poet or what fairy was living there, what inspired, solitary being had discovered this spot and created this dream house, which seemed to nestle in a nosegay.

--Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

Following a walk marked by an intangible mist of bloom that followed the white border stones she came to a space overlooking the sea where there were lanterns asleep in the fig trees and a big table and wicker chairs and a great market umbrella from Sienna, all gathered about an enormous pine, the biggest tree in the garden. She paused there a moment, looking absently at a growth of nasturtiums and iris tangled at its foot, as though sprung from a careless handful of seeds, listening to the plaints and accusations of some nursery squabble in the house. When this died away on the summer air, she walked on, between kaleidoscopic peonies massed in pink clouds, black and brown tulips and fragile mauve-stemmed roses, transparent like sugar flowers in a confectioner’s window— until, as if the scherzo of color could reach no further intensity, it broke off suddenly in mid-air, and moist steps went down to a level five feet below.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"To a Cabbage Rose"

Thy clustering leaves are steeped in splendour;
No evening red, no morning dun,
Can show a hue as rich and tender
As thine -- bright lover of the sun!

What wondrous hints of hidden glory,
Of strains no human lips can sing;
What symbols rare of life's strange story,
Dost thou from earth's dark bosom bring!

What elements have made thy sweetness,
Thy glowing hue, thy emerald stem?
What hand has fashioned to completeness
From tiny germ, thy diadem?

Thou art the fair earth's fond expression
Of tenderness for heaven above --
The virgin blush that yields confession --
Thou bright "ambassador of love"!

Fair are thy leaves when summer glowing
Lies in the lap of swooning spring;
But where art thou when autumn, blowing,
Bids youth and tenderness take wing?

Sweet messenger! thou waftest beauty
Wherever human lives are sown,
Around the peasant's humble duty
Or weary grandeurs of a throne.

Transfused through hearts in future ages,
Thy glowing power anew may shine
Effulgent in the poets' pages
Or music's harmony divine.

But not to thee from future glory
Can shine one added charm or day;
Sweet is thy life's unwritten story
Of radiant bloom and swift decay.

Give, then, to vagrant winds thy sweetness,
Shine, tearful, in the summer shower;
And, heedless of thy season's fleetness,
Enrich with joy the passing hour.

--by Henry Lea Twisleton

Rose Enchantment Perfume
The recipe for Rose Enchantment Perfume was created using Rose de Mai Absolute and several other choice rose essences in order to escort the one imbibing its essence into the heart of Grasse's golden age of perfumery. The land surrounding this ancient city was devoted to the cultivation of many precious aromatic plants including this special rose, whose warm, radiant, rosaceous bouquet was cherished by perfume connoisseurs around the world.

Rose de Mai in literature
A great rose-tree covered with flowers, climbing as high as herwindow, exhaled in the night a soft and gentle perfume, in light breaths; and she stood for a moment enjoying it. The moon, in its first quarter, was floating in the dark sky, a little raggedat the left, and veiled at times by slight mists.

Guy de Maupassant

Roses ruddy and roses white,
What are the joys that my heart discloses?
Sitting alone in the fading light
Memories come to me here to-night
With the wonderful scent of the big red roses.

Banjo Paterson
The Man from Snowy River & other verses

A sweet-smelling piece of clay, one day in the bath,
Came from the hand of a beloved one to my hand.
I asked: ‘Art thou musk or ambergris?
Because thy delicious odour intoxicates me.’
It replied: ‘I was a despicable lump of day;
But for a while in the society of a rose.
The perfection of my companion took effect on me
And, if not, I am the same earth which I am.

Sheikh Muslih-uddin Sa'di Shirazi
The Gulistan of Sa'di

But now her spirit resembled, in its potency, a minute quantity of ottar of rose in one of Hepzibah’s huge, iron–bound trunks, diffusing its fragrance through the various articles of linen and wrought–lace, kerchiefs, caps, stockings, folded dresses, gloves, and whatever else was treasured there. As every article in the great trunk was the sweeter for the rose–scent, so did all the thoughts and emotions of Hepzibah and Clifford, sombre as they might seem, acquire a subtle attribute of happiness from Phoebe’s intermixture with them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
The House of the Seven Gables

Rose Enchantment Perfume recipe

1 1/2ounces Geranium Sur Fleur Rose Petals
3/4 ounce Sandalwood
1/4 ounce Rose de Mai Absolute
1/16th ounce Pink Lotus Absolute
1/4 ounce Rosa damascena Absolute
1/8th ounce Rose Otto/Essential Oil
1/4 ounce Beeswax Absolute
1/8th ounce Amberi Attar
1/8th ounce Hop CO2 select