Rose oil is one of the most expensive oils on the market. That’s because it takes around 22 pounds of rose petals to create just 0.16 oz of rose essential oil. But what an oil it is! This article will divulge exactly what makes rose essential oil so magnificent, so healing, and one of the most sought-after oils today.
How Rose Essential Oil is Made
At rose picking time, seasonal workers congregate on rose farms in various parts of the world. Damask roses are grown in abundance in Bulgaria, Syria, Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran, India, China, Pakistan, France, and a few other places. Rose heads are picked by hand first thing in the morning during a three-to-four-week time window when the petals are just right.
The rose petals are taken to the distillery and placed into large copper stills, and water is added. The still is fired for 60 to 90 minutes. Making a high-quality rose oil is a two-step process. When the water vaporizes, rose oil is collected from condensing apparatus and this comprises about 20% of the final product. Secondly, the water which condenses along with the oil is drained off and distilled again which is necessary to get the water-soluble fractions of the rose oil.
Known as cohobation, the resulting oil makes up 80% of the final oil. The two are then combined and this results in medicinal grade rose essential oil, sometimes called rose otto or attar of roses.
Other rose-derived products include rose absolute in which the rose petals are mixed with chemicals (solvent extraction) like hexane and ethanol. Rose water is created from the hydrosol portion of the distilled rose oil. These are much less expensive, but also not of a therapeutic quality.
Rose Through the Centuries
Rosa damascena (the latin name for the Damask Rose) has been the symbol of love, beauty, faith and purity since ancient times. Originating in Syria, Iran, Bulgaria, and Turkey, rose essential oil has been utilized for healing since the Dark Ages. The people of Iran refer to Rosa damascena as the “flower of the Prophet Muhammad,” so highly is it regarded there. Avicenna, a 10th century Arab physician, first distilled rose oil and wrote a book about its healing attributes. In Elizabethan England, rose was used as a food flavoring and indeed many dishes in the Middle East still contain rose water for flavoring.
Medicinal Uses for Rose Essential Oil
Rose oil is used for a great many conditions − clearing congestion, soothing inflammation, strengthening digestion, nerve calming, pain relief, and assisting with depression. It has been said to have a balancing effect on female hormones. It helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, ease menstrual cramps, help with premenstrual tension, as well as easing menopause symptoms.
Rose soothes and comforts the itching and burning of eczema and psoriasis and other dermatitis problems due to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is wonderful as a skin tonic for scarring, wrinkles, broken capillaries, and acne. Rose helps to restore the moisture balance of skin, so is very helpful for mature, dry or damaged skin. Sensitive and normal skin can benefit from rose too.
The Healing Phytochemicals in Rose Oil
The key phytochemicals (plant based natural chemicals) in rose essential oil are citronellol (34-44%) and geraniol (12-28%). These two components are largely responsible for the pharmacological activities of rose. Other minor phytochemicals include nerol, nonadecane, phenyl ethyl alcohol, and a few others. The phytochemical content of rose varies depending upon where in the world the plant is grown and even the time of year that the petals are harvested.
Research into the Healing Benefits of Rose Oil
Much of the most recent research on rose essential oil comes from Iran, where the plant is much revered for its healing properties. Research confirms that rose oil has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and antidepressant properties.
Acne – A 2010 study reported in the journal Molecules found that Rosa damascena (along with a few other essential oils) had potent activity against Propionibacterium acne bacteria which cause acne.
Antimicrobial, Anti-fungal – A multitude of studies have clearly shown that Rosa damascena has potent antimicrobial and antifungal activity. One of the most exciting studies, reported in 2010 in the journal Molecules, found that it was active against Salmonella typhimurium and Bacillus cereus. The study also found it to be active against Candida albicans and MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a particularly virulent strain of bacteria that is overcoming most modern antibiotic drugs.
Antiviral – A 1996 British study reported in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications reported that extracts from Rosa damascena had moderate anti-HIV activity.
Anti-cancer – 1997 American research reported in the journal Lipids found that geraniol (one of the phytochemicals in rose oil) inhibited the growth of pancreatic tumor cells.
One of the researchers in that 1997 study was part of subsequent research reported in 2007 in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics which elucidated exactly how geraniol worked against malignant pancreatic cells.
A French study reported in 2001 in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found that geraniol inhibited the growth of human colon cancer cells.
2011 Iranian research published in Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine found Rosa damascena to have toxic effects against cervical cancer cells. Researchers stated it could be “a promising chemotherapeutic agent in cancer treatment in future.”
A study reported in 2013 in Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench, again from Iranian researchers, found that rose oil in small quantities had anticancer effects against human colon cancer cells. In high quantities, however, it had the opposite effect! Thus disproving the old adage that more is better.
2014 Indian research reported in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine found that Rosa damascena petals, combined with biocompatible silver nanoparticles, had potent activity against human lung adenocarcinoma cells.
Antidepressant, Relaxant – A 2015 review of research on Rosa damascena published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine discussed several studies which found that rose extracts had an antidepressant effect in animals.
Does it work for humans? It appears so. A small 2012 American research study reported in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice followed a group of 28 women suffering from postnatal depression. The women were separated into two groups. One group was treated with 15-minute aromatherapy sessions of a 2% solution of rose and lavender essential oil twice per week for four weeks. The control group used inhalation only. Researchers discovered that the women in the aromatherapy group experienced not only a significant decrease in postnatal depression, they also reported improvement in general anxiety.
Japanese research reported in Complementary Therapies In Medicine in 2014 found rose oil to have relaxing benefits for 20 university students who took part in the study.
Pain Relief – A 2016 Iranian study published in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that rose oil was effective for pregnant women with low back pain. The study was a randomized, controlled clinical trial conducted on 120 women with low back pain related to pregnancy. Patients were put into one of three groups. One group received topical rose oil in a carrier of almond oil, one group received a placebo (carrier oil only), and one group received no intervention. All groups were followed for 4 weeks. The group receiving the rose oil had “significant decrease in pain intensity” and functional ability compared with the other two groups. Researchers noted “Rose oil reduced pregnancy-related low back pain intensity without any significant adverse effect.”
A 2016 study reported in Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research on 50 patients with second-and third-degree burns found that simple inhalation of rose oil significantly eased pain intensity for the burns patients, compared with placebo.
A 2016 Turkish research study appearing in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice on 100 patients with dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps) found that rose essential oil to be beneficial for pain relief.
Surgical Adhesions – An animal study reported in May 2016 in the journal Wounds – A Compendium of Clinical Research and Practice had some interesting results. They found that for rats undergoing laparotomy surgery, an application of 1% rose oil in an ethanol base resulted in “a remarkable decrease of intra-abdominal adhesions after laparotomy in rats.” Researchers noted that a 5% solution of rose oil and ethanol resulted in the death of the rats, so again, less is more. Heavily diluting rose oil is recommended by most aromatherapists. And one can’t help but wonder whether the ethanol (an alcohol) had a role to play in the death of the rats.
Neuroprotective – An interesting Japanese study published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015 examined the pharmacological effects of several different essential oils, including rose oil. Researchers evaluated the effects of these essential oils on certain nerve cells damaged by hydrogen peroxide, aluminum, zinc, or tamoxifen. Hydrogen peroxide-induced neuronal death was “attenuated” by rose (and a few others) and rose was found to have protective effects against zinc-induced neurotoxicity. This is important because excess zinc secreted during times of ischemia (an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body) causes neuronal death and plays a central role in the onset of vascular-type senile dementia.
How to Make Your Own Rose Water
While creating your own rose essential oil might be an expensive and laborious process (and best left to the experts), you can make your own rose water with some simple household supplies. You will need about 1 to 1-1/2 cups of fresh rose petals (make sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides), 3 cups (700 ml) filtered water, a large pan with a lid, some cheesecloth or a nut bag, a large glass measuring cup with a pour spout, and a clean, dark glass bottle (about 500 ml capacity as some of the water will evaporate.)
Place the rose petals into the pan. Pour the filtered water on top of the rose petals, cover, and bring to a boil. Then immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting − but still allow water to simmer gently. Check after about 5 minutes − you just want to simmer the petals until the color of the petals fade, somewhere between 5-10 minutes.
Remove lid from pan and cool mixture to room temperature. Place the cheesecloth or nut bag over the glass measuring cup and strain the liquid into the glass measuring cup. Then pour the rose water into the dark glass bottle you wish to use. This will not have a long shelf life, so must be stored in the refrigerator. It should keep for several weeks if chilled, but only for a week or so unrefrigerated.
Uses for your rose water: As a light, summery perfume, for homemade body products like shampoo, makeup remover, hair treatments, after shave. Great for misting your bed sheets before you climb in, to lift the mood, and for flavoring foods (think Turkish delight, gelato, herbal teas). Enjoy!
Some Final Notes on Rose Essential Oil
If you wish to use rose essential oil therapeutically, please carefully source your oil. It is important that your rose oil supplier knows how to properly distill rose, without the use of chemical solvents. Only buy from a trusted source who uses organic farming methods for their roses.
Rose essential oil is extremely condensed. Practice caution when using rose oil on or near the face. Never apply essential oils anywhere near the eyes and never into the ear canal (outside is fine). Dilute with an organic carrier oil if you have sensitive skin.
If rose essential oil is out of your budget, consider geranium essential oil which has many similar benefits. A combination of rose and geranium oil is also an excellent alternative to pure rose oil.