The Nature's Laboratory: The Rose and Its Origins in Perfumery

The essence of the rose. Rosewater.

Plants cultivated for their fragrance are quite numerous; here we will focus on the main ones, providing, as an example, their cultivation and extraction methods, their scent, and starting, quite naturally, with the queen of flowers, the rose.
It is said that the essence of the rose was discovered in 1612 by the wife of the Great Mughal Jahangir. Some authors, however, think it must have been known much earlier, as rose distillate water was used very long ago; but oriental books do not mention it before the beginning of the 17th century.
Fragrant rose bushes thrive very well in the south of France but not in Algeria, where the soil and heat are not suitable for them.
"The rose bushes used for this purpose are local forms or varieties of the Provins rose (rosa gallica) and the Damask rose (rosa damascena), both with highly scented, semi-double flowers in various shades of pink.
Mention before the beginning of the 17th century.
Fragrant rose bushes thrive very well in the south of France but not in Algeria, where the soil and heat are not suitable for them.
"The rose bushes used for this purpose are local forms or varieties of the Provins rose (rosa gallica) and the Damask rose (rosa damascena), both with highly scented, semi-double flowers in various shades of pink. These roses are cultivated in foot rows; as they age, they form large bushes that get covered with flowers in May-June, depending on the region. For the industrial usage of their flowers, they are grown in rows spaced 2 to 2.50 meters apart, but as they grow older, they join together, widen, and form wide continuous rows. Planting is done in trenches using slightly rooted sprouts or long cuttings planted obliquely at the bottom of the trench; the base of young plants is covered with mulch or litter to retain moisture. The following year, almost until the top, the branches that develop are mounded, then the trench is filled when the branches are long and strong enough. Production starts around the third or fourth year, and the plantation can last for about twenty years in good production. Maintenance involves keeping the soil loose and clean. There is no spring pruning to be done, just a simple removal of dead or dying branches, as well as thin and overly dense branches." (S. Mottet). Roses are harvested in April and May, every morning after the dew has vanished. A vigorous bush yields 200 to 300 gr. of flowers. These are sold for 50 to 60 cents per kg. On average, in the Alpes-Maritimes, a hectare planted with roses yields 600 to 900 fr. However, the rose bush faces stiff competition from the scented geranium.
Mr. R. Blondel has published a remarkable work on the fragrant products of roses, and we can do no better than borrow from him what he says about rose production in different countries. This passage is a bit technical, but there are no roses without thorns...

beauty of Rose

The Bulgarian Rose and Its Origins

Today, the most important center for rose essence production is in the Balkan region, specifically in the area formerly known as Eastern Rumelia (fig. 223) during the Turkish rule, now part of the Danubian Bulgaria. The territory dedicated to rose cultivation consists of approximately one hundred fifty villages, located in the valleys of the Tundja and Struma rivers, two tributaries of the Maritsa. These two valleys, oriented from West to East, are located between the main Balkan mountain range to the North and its foothills, the Sredna Gora (middle mountain), to the South: The two extreme points of the region devoted to this culture are Koprichtitsa in the West and Tvarditsa in the East. The Struma valley is part of the Karlovo district (former Turkish canton of Giopça), while the Tundja valley is in the Kazanlik and Nova Zagora districts.
Karlovo and especially Kazanlik are the main centers of rose essence commerce. This essence is manufactured in the very villages that produce the plant. These villages cover the slopes bordering the valley, but it is those occupying the southern slope of the main Balkans that yield the best essence due to their southern exposure, much more favorable for rose cultivation. Besides the mentioned valleys, the southern slope of Sredna Gora hosts several villages engaged in rose cultivation in the Bulgarian districts of Novo Selo (former Turkish district of Kojim-Tépé), Brezovo (Karadja Dagh), Tchirpan, and Stara Zagora (Eski Sagra). Lastly, further South, at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains (Despoto Dagh), between these mountains and the Maritsa River, a small exploitation center has recently emerged at Bradzicovo (Pecht-chera district, Bazardjik department). However, the region providing the highest quality essence is the mountainous area surrounding Kazanlik, not only due to the good exposure and specific soil qualities but also because of the abundant water and wood available during harvest time, essential for proper distillation. Kazanlik is situated at an altitude of about 400 meters above sea level. The climate is moderate, but temperature fluctuations are frequent and can reach 40° in summer and -20° in winter. The sandy soil allows for good water drainage. Where the slope is insufficient, and clay shows too close to the surface under the sand layer, or where water accumulates, the rose bushes wither, affected either by frost or fungi.
The rose plantations form vast fields covering a vast area of land, divided into numerous plots belonging to the local farmers. There is no large-scale farming per se. The major traders in the city mainly act as intermediaries, often doubling as distillers; at most, they own one or two hectares for their specific cultivation. These plantations exhibit a uniform appearance. The rose bushes grow into long bushes of a hundred or two hundred meters in length, without interruption, reaching at least a person's height with alleys between them measuring 1.50 to 2 meters wide. Previously, these alleys were much narrower, allowing only for the passage of a person for harvesting and horticultural care. In new plantations, a spaced layout has been adopted to facilitate plowing the alleys with oxen-drawn plows, where the labor-saving benefits outweigh the loss of productive land.

Roumelie orientale

Diversity of Bulgarian Roses in Perfumery

The roses cultivated in Bulgaria are of two types, the red and the white, as termed by the locals. In reality, only the red rose is commercially cultivated on a large scale, and it is this species that the following observations pertain to. The white rose, more vigorous, is cultivated only on the edges of the plantations, at the beginning of each row of roses, and on the neighboring rows, both to demarcate the fields and to protect them from passersby, offering them only flowers of no value. Honest farmers do not harvest this white rose, which blooms fifteen days after the other and yields a low-quality essence, not very fragrant. However, being poor in volatile and fragrant elements, it is rich in an organic material - stearoptene. Unscrupulous traders sometimes mix this flower with the red roses in the still to obtain a product higher in stearoptene, which freezes at a higher temperature, and... can withstand, without revealing it, the addition of a large dose of geranium essence. These are not normal circumstances, and the true essence rose of Kazanlik is the red rose, the Rosa damascena, which seems to descend from Rosa centifolia: the flower utilized by distillers is the same as our old Puteaux rose, almost disappeared today but from which Parisian perfumers long extracted their rose water.
The red rose is a bushy shrub reaching 5 to 6 feet in height, flowering in May and sometimes even in November. This second flowering is insignificant from an industrial perspective but clearly shows the tendency that all descendants of Rosa centifolia exhibit to become repeat bloomers. The branches, more or less spreading, emerge from the base of the aerial axis from the second year and intermingle their divisions into a thick bush. The young shoots, emerging from the ground until they reach 20 centimeters in height, are intensely red. The branches, unless old, are covered with brown, straight, closely spaced thorns that can grow up to 1 centimeter in length. The leaves are 10 to 15 centimeters long, with seven leaflets. The stipules are very wide, leafy, green, extended into sharp points. The midrib is finely hairy and carries many very small pedicellate glands mixed with hairs. The leaflets, quite unequal, are sessile, elliptical, not tapered, toothed at the edges with sharp, non-glandular teeth. The upper side is smooth, while the underside is finely pubescent along the veins. The color is light green above, glaucous and dull below. The petiole bears some curved thorns and, like the major veins, is covered with brownish glandular hairs of small size. The odor of the crushed blade is nearly absent.

rose in perfume industry