"Fame is ultimately but the summary of all misunderstandings that crystallize about a new name" ~ Rilke Rodin
Rose is not a new name for the flower that is always a rose despite its name, but the name "rose" repeatedly renews itself with every breakthrough that holds the idea of the flower in its imagination.
There is natural and there is studied, but when it comes to rose both apply. It is one of the most diverse plant families, and most roses, including the old roses-- damasks among them--are feats of engineering, made by crossing different species of rose to create new roses or by whizzing out a molecular plan on a computer and then putting some compounds together for another rose fragrance...a disembodied ghost.
Sometimes, you have a little of both. In Emperor of Scent, Chandler Burr clarifies:[Annick Goutal's] Petite Cherie also contains a natural South American musk rose, though again this means something you don't really expect: only two species of rose Centifolia and Damascena, are actually distilled, basically because most other rose species don't have enough odorant to make distilling them pay. So all the scents of every other species of rose, including "natural South American musk rose," are actually re-creations, mixtures of molecules that give you that species' smell: 100 percent natural [from other plants] and 100 percent engineered at the same time" (249).
Most of us hold a generally accepted "rose fragrance" that is elastic enough to allow a subtle "real" along with a heady synthetic. But every iteration of rose comes with a distinct fragrance, whether expressed as a synthetic molecule or natural distilled oil. The same variety of rose grown in a different terrain or at a different altitude will smell different.
For centuries throughout the world roses have signified abundance, hospitality, high mindedness, elegance, something special, and delicious. Rose flavors food, graces festivities and appealing environments. It accompanies etiquette and intimacy. And then there is tribal pride, as in the warring Rose families who each claimed a rose--one white, one red--as their symbol. There are hundreds of stories about the use of rose that would make those who dislike the scent (whichever amalgam of "rose" they have filed away in their mind), curious to try again. Most of the stories would make those who consider rose a feminine fragrance wonder how the definition of masculine has become so impoverished. Rose was the fragrance of sultans, of kings. In Daughters of the Sun, Ira Mukhoty writes: "When Noor Jehan's mother Asmat Begum discovers rose oil while making rosewater, her son-in-law, the Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) "is delighted...'it restores hearts that have gone', exclaims the jaded padshah, 'and brings back withered souls'". In that instance of discovery, the oil was named "Itr-e-Jahangiri" (148).
Roses are social flowers. Despite all the fussiness surrounding show rose cultivation, roses are actually quite easy going growing, tolerating even poor soil. A great many varieties can even grow in the shade (thank you, David Austen, you genius!). Some wild roses (rosa multiflora, for example) tough out the coldest zones and are somewhat heartlessly tagged as invasive species.
My earliest memories of rose are of special drinks and desserts, and weddings. When I was growing up and we went to England to visit family, everyone easily grew roses in the garden and then went to other rose gardens to photograph every wedding party, engagement, or special event. I suspect that whether anyone was aware of it or not, roses served as more than a decorative prop. This is because roses are rich in esters, which tend to make people feel more relaxed and at ease as they go forward to mark major life events.
For all their beauty, and for all that they evoke for the senses, for the purposes of skin care let's put aside all the tens of thousands of rose varieties aside--along with all synthetic rose and look to one: the damask rose or Rosa damascena.
Beyond fragrance, it is the Rosa damascena oil that we reach for because: it is rich in monoterpenols, which means the oil is skin nourishing; it is great for circulation and relaxing tense muscles; it brings emotional balance (part of the reason they are useful for grief), and tones the nervous system. Rosa damascena benefits circulation and digestion, is anti-depressive, highly antiseptic and a great gift for mature, dry, and sensitive skin. It cools redness and inflammation and has a soothing action on the nerves but it is neither a stimulant, nor a sedative. It imparts a calm alertness, a sober elegance that is relaxing enough to use before bedtime. Because it promotes circulation, it is useful for wound healing.
While Rosa damascena is grown in many parts of the world, the centers that grow enough flowers to satisfy export demand are in Turkey, Bulgaria and to a lesser extent in France, most notably in Grasse. Over time, Grasse's once vast fields of rose, jasmine, and violet have shrunk to accommodate a voracious real estate market, thereby dramatically changing the landscape and flower production. Ironically, it was the flowers that recreated the once uninhabitable city (olfactorily speaking) that was home to many leather tanneries. Now, most roses grown in Grasse are destined for the perfume houses as absolutes and concretes, and the extraction method used there to distill the oil is primarily solvent extraction.
Rose oil is obtained from one of three processes: solvent extraction, steam distillation, and CO2 extraction. Solvent extraction is use to obtain oil using a hexane solvent, from which a special waxy substance is produced that is called concrete-- a divine thing for perfumers. An absolute (the solvent-extraction derived oil) is distilled from the concrete. Rose absolute is mainly used in the perfume industry. It is believed to be closer to the full smell of rose, and the oil is the least costly of all the extraction methods.
Given that there may be some traces amounts of hexane left in the concrete, there is some debate among aromatherapy practitioners about whether this oil is suitable for aromatherapeutic uses. Some say it's okay, and some say not. Perhaps it is the budget that must be the deciding factor of what to use as steam distilled and CO2 extraction are significantly more expensive--sometimes soaring to $1000 per ounce. I feel the latter two are most suitable for skincare and for Balbec products, I choose steam distilled organic Rosa damascena.
Rose is the bedrock of Bulgaria’s wealth and while the industry was nationalized during communism, there is now a variety of rose production that ranges from large industrialized rose farms to more artisanal ones. Rose growers often have their own unique distillation methods, and their own "terroir", and consequently, their own unique rose oil. During the harvest season, the larger farms rely on temporary, seasonal labor for providing a large, physically demanding, and time sensitive harvest that must happen in the morning within a short amount of time. Many of the seasonal workers are Rom and often rely on the harvests to mitigate their yearly economic shortfalls. As is the case with so many luxuries, there are many unknown hands to thank when enjoying the beauty of the final product.
At Balbec, organic, steam-distilled, Bulgarian rose features in three products. Our rose hydrosol is single ingredient Rosa damascena hydrosol. Babies, the elderly, and everyone in between can benefit from the slightly acid ph of the hydrosol that softens, hydrates, and lightly cleanses the skin. The freshness of rose is uplifting. It is super for an aftershave, as a toner, after the sun, as a reprieve from heat, after makeup, and to simply freshen up the complexion.
Then our other two rose products. First: The French Green Clay and Yogurt Cleanser with Rose & Matcha. This is a very special cleanser--like our other clay and yogurt based cleansers, it is fresh, probiotic-rich, contains raw honey, and contains no preservatives. Matcha's antioxidants are paired with a therapeutic dose of rose to help nourish and tone the skin, diminish the appearance of fine lines, improve circulation, and soften and repair wounds and scar tissue. This is a wonderful product to care for skin that has seen its share of stress and has helped keep up a brave face for years on end.
And finally our Moisturizing Oil with Rose & Helichrysum. Paired with helichrysum (also known as immortelle) this is a rare and magnetic blend intended to treat the skin to intensive care, especially for those seeking to diminish the appearance of aging skin or who seek to steadily and slowly heal and soften the appearance of old and new scars. For those who practice a nightly face massage before cleansing, I cannot imagine a better oil to apply afterward.
It's funny that old adage: life is not a bed of roses. Which is exactly why one would need a bed of roses--for its incomparable earthly cure and comfort.
**These photos I took while watching tv on a plane to India. I've searched high and low for the title of the show I watched, which must be somewhere in my notes. I cannot find it yet, but I'll show these beautiful stolen roses anyway.