Rosa damascena is one of the oldest roses in the world with a history as ancient as Biblical times. It is a popular plant in the beauty industry. People also refer to it as Damask rose, Rose of Castile, and Gole Mohammadi. Apart from its use as an ornamental plant in gardens and houses, Damask rose is principally cultivated for use in beauty, perfume, food, and medicinal products.
What is Damask rose?
From erect shrubs to climbing stems armed with thick or thin prickles, a variety of roses are found in every part of the world. The plant can bear roses as small as the nail of a thumb, or as large as grandiflora roses. Thousands of years of hybridization has produced many different varieties of roses.
Although many types of roses are known for their fragrance and beauty, a more popular variety is Damask rose (Rosa damascena), which is widely grown in Turkey, Pakistan, Syria, Bulgaria, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, and India. It is also the most important species of Rosaceae family – the rose family.
There are two groups of Damask roses:
- Summer Damask: It blooms in summer.
- Autumn Damask (four season Damask): It blooms in summer and fall.
Damask roses grow in many colours ranging from white to deep pink. The highly fragrant blossom of these roses puts them in the spotlight for the perfume industry. They are also used in medicine, skincare, and food industry.
History of Damask rose
There are 4,828 species of Rosaceae, Rosa damascena being a popular one. Evidence shows that Rosaceae dates back to the late 7th century AD. In fact, some fossils of rose found in the United States are as old as 30 million years.
Damask rose is believed to have originated from the Middle East, whereas some pieces of evidence suggest that rose water was first introduced in Iran – of course, the land was not known as Iran back then. Additionally, rose essential oil created from Damask rose is believed to have originated in Greece.
Damask rose is worldwide famous and is cultivated across the globe. The high-cultivation areas include Bulgaria, Turkey, India, Europe, China, Pakistan, and Iran. The largest cultivator of Damask rose is Iran where Kashan, Fars, and Azerbaijan are the major areas of cultivation. Iran was also the major producer and exporter of rose oil until the 16th century.
Traditional uses of Damask rose
Damask rose is traditionally used for treating conditions like
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Excessive menstrual bleeding
- Digestive issues
- Wound healing
In ancient medicine, damask rose was also used for strengthening of the heart. Moreover, it is believed that rose oil reduces depression, anxiety, and stress.
Chemical components of Damask rose
Rosa damascena owes its benefits to numerous chemical components found in it. Following compounds are found in Damask rose:
- gallic acid
- carboxylic acid
- vitamin C
Products created from Damask rose
Damask rose is used to produce different products in a variety of industries. Major products are as follows:
It is an abundantly found product in the markets. Other than numerous skincare benefits of rose water, it is used in religious ceremonies, especially at mourning ceremonies of the Muslim world. Rose water is also used in the food industry.
Method of producing of rose water
The quality of rose water is dependent on its mode of production. There are many DIY recipes for making rose water, but they do not create a high-quality product. A simple way is to mix rose oil with some distilled water. The resulting mixture is not authentic rose water, and it is still missing on a variety of valuable ingredients.
A professional way of rose water production is through steam-distillation of fresh damask rose petals.
Steam distillation is the distillation of liquid in a current of steam, used especially to purify liquids that are not very volatile and are immiscible with water.
This process creates high-quality rose water that can produce all the claimed benefits. Kashan is by far the best-quality producer of rose water.
Rose oil is used for various therapeutic purposes. It is a volatile oil obtained from fresh flower petals of Damask rose. This pale and semisolid oil is created through a labour-intensive process under carefully controlled conditions. Due to a low oil content in the roses, rose oil requires 3000 parts of flowers to yield one part of the oil.
Damask roses grown in Bulgaria are especially popular. One ounce of Bulgarian rose oil is produced from 60,000 rose blossoms. It is called as “Liquid Gold of Bulgaria”, as an ounce of Bulgarian rose oil is more expensive than an ounce of real gold.
The difficulty of the extraction procedure along with the required number of flowers for 1 mL of rose oil makes it a highly expensive, yet a useful oil in the world. Despite the high price tag, rose oil remains popular.
Methods of producing rose oil
There are three main processes for rose oil production.
- Steam distillation
- Solvent extraction
- Carbon dioxide extraction
It is a two-stage process. Large stills made of copper are filled with roses and water. This mixture is fired for 60-105 minutes. The vaporized water and rose oil resulting from high-temperature exit the still and are collected in a condensing apparatus, and eventually in a flask. This distillation produces concentrated oil which makes up to 20% of the rose oil.
The water which condenses along the oil in the flask is drained off to be redistilled. This process yield water-soluble fractions of rose oil. The two products, i.e., concentrated oil and water-soluble fractions, are mixed to form rose oil. The aqueous product of steam distillation is known as rosewater.
A few other names for rose essential oil are:
- rose otto
- attar of rose
- rose essence
A solvent, such as hexane, is used to agitate flowers in a vat. This process draws out the aromatic components as well as soluble substances like pigment and wax. Vacuum processing removes the solvent from the extract for re-use. The remaining mass is known as concrete and is waxy in nature. The concrete is mixed with alcohol to dissolve aromatic constituents. Wax and other substances are left behind. Alcohol is evaporated, leaving behind the finished product – rose absolute, which may be subjected to further processing to remove impurities.
Carbon dioxide extraction
This method combines the best aspects of steam distillation and solvent extraction methods. Carbon dioxide extraction requires CO2 supercritical fluid to extract the aromatics from roses.
CO2 supercritical fluid: When carbon dioxide is put under high pressure (at least 73,900mb) and at a high temperature (32.0 °C), it converts into a supercritical fluid, which has solvation properties of a liquid and permeation properties of a gas.
Carbon dioxide extraction extracts a wide variety of compounds rendering the extract more concentrated and close to the original. The final product contains no traces of carbon dioxide. Expensive equipment is required to carry out this process.
Damask roses are also dried to generate edible form of the petals. The dried petals are eaten to resolve digestive issues. Iranian people also use dried rose petals with yoghurt.
Other products made from Damask rose include:
- Hydrosol extractions
- Chloroform extracts
- Absolute extractions
- Aqueous extractions
- Ethanolic extracts
Of these, ethanol, chloroform, and aqueous extracts are often used for research purposes.
Health benefits of Damask rose
Damask rose has many health benefits due to its antimicrobial effects, anti-inflammatory properties, laxative effects, ophthalmic uses, and hypnotic effects. A detailed account of the specific product benefits is given below.
Benefits of rose water
Rose water has been in use since the Middle Ages. Historicists claim that rose water originated in the land we call as Iran today. The uses of rose water are not only limited to beauty products, but it is also used in the food industry. There are immense benefits of this incredible water, including the following.
Rose water soothes the skin.
Rose water has anti-inflammatory properties. It is used as at-home-remedy to soothe the skin irritation caused by rosacea, eczema, and other skin conditions.
Rose water heals wounds.
The antiseptic (substances that slow down or stop bacterial growth) and antibacterial properties of rose water make it a desirable liquid to heal wounds faster. The antibacterial action fights bacteria and cleans infection from cuts and burns.
Rose water contains antioxidants.
As the name indicates, antioxidants inhibit oxidation – the chemical process that produces free radicals, which then lead to a chain of chemical reactions that may damage the cells. This damage can eventually present as cancer, atherosclerosis, or even vision loss. Antioxidants prevent or delay this cell damage by neutralizing the free radicals.
A number of highly effective antioxidants are found in rose water. Therefore, using rose water on our skin can protect against cell damage.
Rose water soothes pharyngitis.
Pharyngitis (a sore throat) is a viral infection, such as cold and flu. It causes pain and irritation in the throat, especially when one swallows. Most people do saline water gargles to get relief from the scratchiness that accompanies a sore throat. Rose water can also help soothe pharyngitis. There is strong anecdotal evidence for this remedy. It is useful and not likely to be risky.
Rose water has anti-aging effects
Hundreds of beauty products contain rose water in them. The anti-aging and beauty enhancing impacts of rose water makes it popular in the cosmetic industry.
Topical application of rose water can soothe the skin and make it look more fresh and young.
Rose water reduces skin redness
The erythema caused by acne is often frowned upon. You can significantly reduce it by topical application of rose water. Its anti-inflammatory properties reduce swelling and redness around pimples.
Rose water can treat eye infections.
Almost every grandma knows about this benefit; rose water is used to treat conjunctivitis (pink eye) – the inflammation of the conjunctiva.
The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent tissue that covers the white part of your eye and also the inner part of the eyelids. A bacterial or viral infection can cause conjunctivitis. The infection results in red eyes, swelling, tears (more than usual), itchy and burning eyes, sensitivity to light, and often a whitish or greenish discharge from the eye.
For hundreds of years, our elders have used rose water to alleviate the symptoms of pink eye. It is also used in eye drops and other medicines.
Rose water may help with anxiety and depression.
The anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties of rose water are being studied in detail. A 2011 study conducted on mice found that rose water relaxed the CNS, which resulted in antidepressant effects.
Rose water helps relieve headaches.
Rose water is a commonly used ingredient in aromatherapy. The de-stressing impact of this water relieves a headache.
Research shows that vapours of rose water can alleviate a headache. For good results, one may also apply a rose-water-soaked-cloth to the head for 30-45 minutes.
Benefits of rose (essential) oil
Rose (essential) oil is produced through a labour-intensive procedure of steam distillation. Just like rose water, the essential oil is also an age-old remedy for treating health conditions and for enhancing beauty. There are two main benefits of rose essential oil, but before presenting the details of those benefits, let’s take a look at the therapeutic compounds found in it.
Research has discovered more than eight compounds with healing properties in rose essential oil. These are as follows:
- Citral: This compound is used in many cosmetics and personal care products, such as moisturizers, aftershave, perfumes, lotions, and bath products. It has strong antimicrobial properties and is also used in vitamin A synthesis.
- Carvone: It is found naturally in essential oils from Rosa damascene, spearmint, and seeds of caraway. Carvone is used to give flavour to the food products and also for air freshening products. It is used to prevent premature sprouting of stored potatoes. Additionally, essential oils containing carvones are also used in alternative medicine.
- Citronellol: It is used in insect repellants and as mite attractant. Perfume industry also makes use of this compound.
- Citronellyl Acetate: It is used as a flavouring agent and fragrance. The aroma of roses is attributed to citronellyl acetate, which is why it is also used in laundry products, air care items, and many beauty products.
- Eugenol: It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Other than its use as a local antiseptic, eugenol is also used in perfumes and flavouring of food.
- Farnesol: It is used in floral scents. Farnesol is also a natural pesticide for mites. It might be of surprise to you, but Farnesol is also one of 599 additives found in cigarettes.
- Nerol: It is a colourless liquid, which was originally isolated from neroli oil, hence the name. Nerol has a floral odour and is used as a fragrance agent in products.
- Phenylacetaldehyde: It is another flavouring agent and an aromatic compound found in flavoured cigarettes, beverages, and fragrances.
- Phenyl Geraniol: It is one of the most commonly used fragrance material, and is also used in flavours, such as pineapple, lemon, orange, plum, lime, and blueberry.
Rose essential oil helps against depression
Roses are a perfect sight to better your mood. It is nearly impossible to smell a rose and not smile. Before the days of antidepressants and wide availability of mental health care professionals, small things, such as being close to nature were used as strategies to fight the blues. Today, with more options available to us, roses are still a beneficial choice.
Researchers took it upon themselves to find out the real benefits of rose oil. They took a sample of 28 postpartum (the period beginning immediately after the baby’s birth) women and divided them into two groups. It was a four-week study. Group 1 was to receive aromatherapy session twice a week. A mixture of rose oil and lavender oil (2.5 percent solution) was used for aromatherapy. Group 2 was a control group.
After four weeks, the results from group 1 were compared with group 2. It was discovered that women in group 1 experienced significant decrease in postpartum depression (PPD) scores. The study was published in the journal, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
Rose essential oil heals skin
As you have discovered in the “benefits of rose water” section, Damask rose is highly beneficial for skin. The antimicrobial properties of the rose oil are especially suitable for acne prone skin. A 2010 study discovered that rose oil has one of the most potent antibacterial actions when compared to ten other essential oils. They also found out that the bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, is destroyed within five minutes of rose oil (a 0.25% dilution) application. Propionibacterium acnes is one of the acne-causing bacteria.
Rose oil also increases the permeability of your skin, and the skin can then absorb more of the healthy nutrients that you apply to your skin.
Skincare products that contain rose oil/rose water can actually be good for your skin. You can also apply rose essential oil directly to the blemishes/pimples with a sterile cotton swab. If you are hesitant in using a 100% pure rose oil, mix it with some coconut oil. That’ll provide the added benefits of coconut oil, for example, moisturizing effect.