Photo © Steven Foster
Rosa damascena, or damask rose, is a perennial, deciduous shrub that can reach a height of 6 feet.1 It produces red, white, or pink flowers up to 3 inches across in summer.1 Native to Persia (Iran), R. damascena is now grown commercially in Bulgaria and Turkey.2
History and Cultural Significance
Known as the queen of flowers, the fragrant blooms of R. damascena have long been prized as a symbol of love and beauty.2 It is cultivated mainly for the extraction of its essential oil for use in bath and skincare products. Rose oil and rose water, produced through steam distillation of the petals of damask rose flowers, also have a long history of use.2 Thought to originate in Damascus, Rosa damascena, was brought to Europe from Syria in the 14th century by knights returning from the Crusades.1 Various strains of roses, including damask rose, were cultivated and used in the ancient Greek, Roman, Asian, Egyptian, and Arab worlds.1,2 Avicenna, a Persian physician, was the first to produce rose water in the 1st century CE.1 In 77 CE, Pliny the Elder recorded 32 different beneficial effects of rose preparations.1 Damask rose preparations are used internally in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, for soothing various complaints.2 Rose oil is used topically for all types of skin conditions from dry skin to aging skin as it softens and enhances tone and texture. Cold cream was originally known as ‘ointment of rose water’ because it contained rose oil and rose water.1,2 External application of rose essential oil is useful in soothing irritated skin.2 In aromatherapy, rose essential oil is utilized to counter depression, anxiety, grief, and negative feelings.2 The scent alone is said to have an uplifting and stabilizing effect.3 Rose oil is the predominant anointing oil used in the coronation ceremony of British monarchs.1
In one case study, an ill 74 year old woman found her mood elevated with rose oil aromatherapy.4 The aroma appeared to alter the patient’s perception of pain, and although the terminal nature of her disease was not affected, her quality of life appeared to be improved.4
It takes about 180 lbs. of flowers to make 1 ounce of rose oil.2 Hence, authentic rose oil is extremely costly and much of what is used in fragrances now is synthetic. Adulturation with less expensive oils is a common practice. Rosa damascena also requires very particular growing conditions to thrive, limiting how much can be cultivated.2 In Europe rose oil is mainly produced in Bulgaria and France.5 However, Turkey and Iran currently produce far more R. damascena oil than does Europe.5
1 Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
2 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol 2. New York: Dover Publications Inc; 1971.
3 Schnaubelt K. Advanced Aromatherapy. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 1998.
4 Buckle J. Clinical Aromatherapy. 2nd ed. New York: Elsevier Science; 2003.
5 Katzer G. Rose (Rosa damascena Miller). Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. Available at http://www.kfunigraz.ac.at/~katzer/engl/generic_frame.html?Rosa_dam.html. Accessed January 28, 2006.