The use of rose oil can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks. The Roman were also known to use rose oil for perfumery and skincare. In medieval Europe, rose oil was used in religious ceremonies and was highly valued for its therapeutic properties.
When oil-bearing roses are distilled, via double distillation, the product is rose oil. It is not accidentally that it is called “liquid gold”. It is highly-priced, and it is an indispensable material for the cosmetic industry and perfumery.
Since oil-bearing roses left their home country, China, and were brought to Bulgaria via Persia, they have become a staple plant grown in the picturesque Rose Valley, huddled by the Balkan Range.
Methods used to derive rose oil
The production of rose oil is achieved in two methods. One is steam distillation, in which water steam is used. The other method is by extraction, using ether, and then the product obtained is rose concrete: it is wax-like, soft. Rose oil is derived from it with the aid of alcohol.
The process of producing rose oil is an almost uninterrupted one. First, the petals are placed in huge metal vessels, water is poured over them, and steam is passed. In that manner, the first distillate is obtained. It passes through coolers and then is distributed into special vessels. From there, it is transferred to columns, where the second distillation is performed. The reason for obtaining a second distillation is that the first one does not manage to extract the oil sufficiently well. The columns for the second distillation are filled with specific material, consisting of small cylinders. They increase the friction multiple times, and that contributes to the maximum extraction of the oil. Finally, the oil is collected in vessels where it floats over water because it is lighter than it. It is gathered using pipes and is stored in copper or aluminum containers.
In the past, the last container was only one, and the state-owned the rights on it. It was certified as original via a wax seal, and the gathering of oil into it was observed by a commission.
Nowadays, each producer has an individual container for the final storage, where the oil remains until it is poured into bottles.
Requirements for rose petals
Rose petals are collected very early in the morning. The percentage of etheric substance is between 0.02 and 0.04. Only rarely it can be up to 0.09%. Two to three tons of rose petals are needed to obtain one kilogram of rose oil.
It takes approximately 60,000 roses to produce one ounce of rose oil, making it one of the most expensive essential oils on the market.
More about the process of rose picking
The rose bush is capable of living for around thirty years and can reach a height of two meters. Its cultivation requires much effort and several agricultural tasks, such as pruning, plowing, earthing up for winter, turning the soil in spring, watering, feeding and treating against pests.
The Rose Museum in Kazanlak displays rose farming tools from the past, as well as antique stills and glass containers used to keep rose oil. The rose–picking season begins in the latter half of May, and the exact date depends on the local conditions; it lasts for a couple of weeks and ends around mid–June.
The harvesting process is accompanied by the Rose Festival and a beauty pageant to determine the Rose Queen. During this time, demonstrations of the rose–picking technique and of the rose distillation process are held, as are tastings of rose jam and rose brandy. The roses must be picked early in the morning when they open, no later than 10–11 a.m., otherwise their essential oil will lose its delicate aroma. An experienced worker can pick around 30 kg of flowers in one day, while a less experienced one will gather about 20–25 kg.
Rose oil composition
That is a substance rich in different components. In fact, its composition depends on the method of obtaining oil.
The main component in oil derived by distillation, constituting about 50% of it, is geranyl alcohol. When the extraction is used, the main component is phenylethyl.
The other components are citronellol, which together with geranyloil and phenylethyl alcohol contributes to the scent of the oil, and stearoptens. Stearoptens do not have any scent, but they contribute to the property of rose oil to become solid at 25 degrees Centigrade.
The shelf life of rose oil
Fortunately, to compensate for its high price rose oil belongs to the group of products whose shelf life is practically infinite.
Properties of Bulgarian rose oil
One distinguishing feature of Bulgarian rose oil is its content. There are about 283 components established in its composition, which are divided into two broad groups:
- Scent bearing substances: they are the liquid components of the oil;
- Substances fixing the scent; they are solid at room temperature and lend the oil its long shelf life. As mentioned above, they are called stearoptens.
People who use almond oil will see the similarity between it and rose oil. The colour is clear yellow, with a greenish tint. Besides the strong scent, the oil derived from roses has a sharp balsamic taste.
Bulgarian rose oil producers have maintained and perfected the technology
Bulgarian oil derived from roses has been offered on the European market since the 18th century. It promptly became famous owing to its quality, which was due to the specific technology comprising double distillation, and also to the ratio of rose petals and water. Thanks to the cooling system, the duration of Bulgarian rose oil production has been made shorter by half, and the yield has been increased up to fivefold.
Still back in the 18th century, a very important factor for oil quality was the maintaining of the correct temperature of the fire under the cauldrons where the petals were boiled with water.
Naturally, with modern equipment, the process is even more effective.
Areas in Bulgaria where oil-bearing roses are grown
There are 35,000 decares where roses grown for obtaining oil are planted. Almost the entire production obtained from them is exported. The main importers of the oil are the USA, Japan, France, South Korea.
The climate and the soil in the Rose Valley, where the areas are located, are among the major factors for high-quality oil famed worldwide, along with the technology of production.
The average yield from the areas planted with oil-bearing roses
In good years, Bulgarian production of rose oil is close to 2 tons. The limits within which the production is obtained are between 870 and 2,000 kg. Only in the year 2002, owing to unfavorable weather conditions, the annual yield was about 650 kg.
Rose oil in perfumery and cosmetics
The reason why famous companies like Lancome use oil for their perfumes is not just its aroma. It has a precious property: it can stabilize perfume mixtures, even in tiny amounts. The stabilization is achieved for a very long period. That makes it indispensable for perfumery production.
In cosmetics, the hydrating effect of the oil makes it a quality component in creams.
Uses of Rose Oil
Rose oil has a wide range of uses, both in perfumery and in traditional medicine. It is used as a base note in perfumes, as well as in skincare and haircare products. It is also used in aromatherapy for its calming and soothing properties.
In traditional medicine, rose oil is used for a variety of ailments, including:
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Improving skin health
- Relieving menstrual cramps
- Treating respiratory issues
Bulgarian rose oil is used to treat diseases of bile ducts, chronic cholecystitis, bronchial asthma. Rose concrete has antibacterial properties and heals the skin, so it is used to treat burns and wounds. Rose oil hydrates the skin in depth and is excellent for treating dry skin. Inflammations, eczema, herpes are also treated with it.
The oil can also be used to treat headache, runny nose, or cough.
One more very important effect is when treating kidney problems. Kidney stones can be destroyed by administering one drop before meals every morning, for a certain period. Problems with the intestines can also be treated in that way.
Precious and indispensable, yielding appealing aroma and beneficial for the treatment of a host of ailments, rose oil should become more and more popular and widely used in everyday life.