The Damask rose, sometimes called the Rose of Castile, is a rose hybrid, derived from Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata. Further DNA analysis has shown that a third species, Rosa fedtschenkoana, is associated with the Damask rose. Regardless of who its parents were, it was around during Roman times and there is even a story that the Romans may have taken it with them to Britain. As the city of Castile is in Spain, I believe we can assume the Romans took it with them to Spain as well.
An English physician, Nicholas Culpepper, in the 17th century describes using the Damask rose to “strengthen the heart, ease headaches and tired eyes.”
Another of the uses for the Damask rose was as rose oil, the Greeks and Romans being the first to develop the method of producing oil from rose petals.
Now if we move forward to the 1600’s and 1700’s and into the Kazaniak Valley of what is now Bulgaria and into the Isparta area of what is now Turkey, we will find two competing rose oil industries developing surrounding the Damask rose.
Even today the Damask roses are picked by hand during the morning hours and processed the same day most often by the method developed by the ancient Romans; steam distillation. It can take as many as 8,000 lbs of rose petals to produce 1 lb of rose oil by steam distillation.
There is another processing method which involves chemicals being mixed with the rose petals and being extracted out leaving what is called “rose absolute”. This is a much more involved and modern method which can produce 7 lbs of absolute from 8,000 lbs of rose petals. It is also considered to produce scent more faithful to the rose because of the low temperatures involved.
Either way rose oil is very labor intensive and uses a huge amount of raw material to produce a very small amount of finished oil, which is used in a great many perfumes and scents throughout the world.
The profits from rose oil can be very significant and the competition between the two major rose oil producing areas, Turkey and Bulgaria, is fierce indeed.
And it all started with a pretty pink rose that has remained virtually unchanged since it first appeared during the Roman times, Rosa damascena.