Rose perfume

Perfumes of the Rose

At an early period in the cultivation of the Rose, and after its admission among the luxuries of the wealthy, human skill was exerted to extract its delightful perfume.

Several authors have considered the invention of the essence of the Rose very ancient, and have even traced it back as far as the siege of Troy. This, however, can scarcely be admitted, for nothing relating to the essence or essential oil of roses can be found in Homer, or in any other author for many subsequent years. The discovery of these valuable articles of commerce was made at a much later period. If the essential oil of roses had been known to the ancient Greeks or Romans, it would probably have been more particularly mentioned by Pliny, and the mode of preparation even would have been described. In speaking, however, of various perfumes, he says nothing of any distillation from the petals of the Rose, but simply mentions that, as early as the siege of Troy, the expressed  juice of roses was known, and being mixed with a delicate oil, formed an agreeable perfume.

In speaking of artificial oils in general, Pliny also observes that the oil of roses was made by simply steeping the rose-petals in oil. According to the same author, oil was the body of nearly all the perfumes used at that day, and for a perfuming substance, roses were most frequently used, because they grew everywhere in the greatest abundance.

Perfumes of every kind were more abundantly used among the ancient Greeks and Romans than at the present day. Athenæus, in his Feast of Wise Men, states that nearly all of these were drawn from the Rose, and says that the most sweet were those of Cyrene, while those of Naples, Capua, and Faseoli were the best and most delightful of all.

This agrees with the subsequent researches made on the same subject by D'Orbessan. “The cities of Naples, Capua, and Preneste,” says the latter, “obtained their roses from Campania, where there is yet a considerable tract of land, commonly called Il mazzone delle Rose.

“This field is sometimes called Rosetinus, on account of the prodigious quantity of roses which grow there without culture, and in greater abundance than in any other section of that country.”

Athenæus states that the perfume of roses was frequently used in culinary preparations, and gives a curious receipt for a sort of pot-pourri, made by the cook of the King of Sicily. “This is what I call potted roses, and it is thus prepared: I first pound some of the most fragrant roses in a mortar; then I take the brains of birds and pigs, well boiled and stripped of every particle of meat; I then add the yolks of some eggs, some oil, a little cordial, some pepper, and some wine: after having beaten and mixed it well together, I throw it in a new pot, and place it over a slow but steady fire.” “As he said these things,” so runs the story, “the cook uncovered the pot, and there issued forth a most delicious fragrance, perfuming the whole dining-hall, and overcoming the guests with delight.” This is a point in gastronomic luxury to which Americans have not yet attained.

Although the perfume of roses was considered more choice than any other, it was frequently used when men were least in the state to enjoy it; for D'Orbessan states that slaves were made to burn it around their masters while sleeping.

If the essential oil of roses had been known in the time of Pliny, that author would have mentioned it among the most esteemed and precious perfumes. So far from this, however, he only speaks of the “Royal Perfume,” so called because it was prepared expressly for the King of the Parthians. This was composed of the oil of Ben, an Arabian tree, with several aromatic substances. According to Langles, who has carefully examined a great number of oriental works, no writer, previous to the sixteenth century, has mentioned the essential oil of roses, although these flowers abounded at that time, and mention is made of rose-water as an agreeable perfume. Besides these negative proofs against the ancient existence of this perfume, Langles quotes several oriental historians, from which it seems evident that its discovery dates about the year 1612, and was owing entirely to accident.

According to Father Catron, in his History of the Mogul Empire, in the fêtes which the sultana Nourmahal gave to the great Mogul, Jehan-guire, their chief pleasure was sailing together in a canal which Nourmahal had filled with rose-water.

One day that the Emperor was thus sailing with Nourmahal, they perceived a sort of froth forming and floating upon the water. They drew it out, and perceived that it was the essential oil which the heat of the sun had disengaged from the water and collected together on the surface. The whole seraglio pronounced the perfume the most exquisite known in the Indies; and they immediately endeavored to imitate by art that which nature had made. Thus was discovered the essence, essential oil, otto, or attar of roses.

According to Langles, the word A'therA'thr, or Othr, which the Arabs, Turks, and Persians use to designate the essential oil of Roses without adding the name of that flower, is Arabic, and signifies perfume. It is necessary, the same author states, to recollect the distinction between A'ther, or A'ther gul  and gulab, which is simply rose-water.

From the very small quantity congealed on the surface of the water, the manufacture is limited, and the cost of the article immense. Langles states that the rose-water is left exposed to the freshness of the night, and in the morning a very small quantity of attar is found collected on the surface.

Dr. Monro, according to Loudon, gives the manner of making the attar in Cashmere, which is apparently more simple, without the tedious process of distilling.

“The rose-petals are put into a wooden vessel with pure water, and exposed for several days to the heat of the sun. The oily particles, being disengaged by the heat, float upon the surface of the water, whence they are taken up from time to time by applying to them some very fine dry cotton wool. From this wool the oil is pressed into little bottles, which are immediately afterwards sealed hermetically.”

Another method is, exposing the rose-water to heat, then suddenly cooling it, and collecting the drops of congealed oil which float upon the surface.

Bishop Heber describes the method used in India, which is very similar to that of Langles. The attar has the consistency of butter, and never becomes liquid except in the warmest weather.

Loudon states that “a wretched substitute for otto of roses is said to be formed by the apothecaries of Paris. The petals of Rosa Damascena  are boiled in a large caldron of water along with as much hog's lard as will cover its surface with a thin stratum of grease. The oil of the rose-petals, on separating from them by boiling, unites with this grease, from which it is again separated by spirits of wine.” A large portion of the attar imported into the United States is probably of this manufacture.

The quantity of genuine attar produced from a given weight of rose-petals is not always the same; it is very liable to vary according to the nature of the climate, the temperature of different seasons, the period of bloom at which the roses are picked, the process of manufacture, and the skill of the manufacturers. Generally, a hundred pounds of roses will scarcely produce a drachm of attar, sometimes only half a drachm, and at others a drachm and a half. Bishop Heber states that in India, at Ghazepoor, two hundred thousand well-grown roses are required to produce one rupee's (165 grains) weight of attar. The calyx is sometimes used with the petal, but as the oil of that contains little or no perfume, although it may increase the quantity of attar, it must sensibly weaken its properties.

The color of attar is generally green, sometimes lemon or rose color, and occasionally brownish. These differences in color are owing to the various processes of manufacture, and the different periods at which the roses are picked. The attar is prepared in Barbary, Syria, Arabia, Persia, India, in the island of Scio, at Fayoum, in Egypt, at Tunis, and many other places in the East. That made in Syria and Barbary is considered very inferior; while the best is made in Chyraz, Kerman, and Cashmere. In some parts of France and Italy it is also prepared, but in comparatively small quantities.

The attar is very costly, although not so dear as formerly. The French traveler, Tavernier, who visited Ispahan about the year 1666, stated that the price of attar at Chyraz rose and fell every year on account of the unequal produce of flowers; and that an ounce of that article sold, at one period, for ten tomans (about ninety-two dollars).

At the time another Frenchman, Chardin, traveled in Persia, some years after Tavernier, the attar was sometimes much higher. He states that forty pounds of rose-water were required to produce half a drachm of attar, an ounce of which sometimes sold in India for two hundred ecus. Langles states that in India half an ounce of attar is worth about forty dollars. Bishop Heber also speaks of its enormous price at Ghazepoor, where the variation in price is also very great, being, according to Langles, sometimes as low as eight dollars an ounce.

At one time, soon after its discovery, it was valued at about five times its weight in gold. Until quite recently, it was worth its weight in gold, but now sells in Paris for about one quarter that value.

Attar is rarely found pure in commerce; it is always more or less adulterated. In the countries where it is manufactured, they frequently increase the quantity of the attar by mixing scrapings of sandal-wood with the rose-petals during the process of distillation Kæmpfer, a German writer, states this mode of adulteration to have been known a long time, and adds that the sandal-wood gives additional strength to the attar; but another author, who has also made some researches on the subject, asserts that the sandal-wood injures the delicacy of the attar, which is more sweet and agreeable when mild than when strong.

The quality as well as the quantity of attar which they obtain from roses depends upon the proportion of aroma which they contain; and this is found more developed at the South, and in a warm climate. The kinds of roses used in distillation have also a great influence on the quality of the attar. In Persia and the East, the Musk Rose is generally used, and the Damask is employed in France.

Although roses are distilled in large quantities at Paris for perfumery and for medical purposes, very little attar is made, because the proportion of the manufactured article to the roses required is, in that climate, extremely small; so small, in fact, that, according to one writer, five thousand parts in weight of rose-petals will scarcely produce one part of essential oil. This limited manufacture exists only at Grasse and Montpelier, in France, and at Florence, in Italy.

Some years since, the adulteration of attar was successfully practiced in the south of France by mixing with it the essence distilled from the leaves of the Rose Geranium (Pelargonium capitatum ). This adulteration is very difficult to detect, because this last essence possesses the same properties as the attar; its odor is almost the same; like that, it is of a lemon color; it crystalizes at a lower temperature; and its density is very little greater.

The attar, when pure, is, beyond comparison, the most sweet and agreeable of all perfumes. Its fragrance is the most delicate conceivable, and equals that of the freshly expanded Rose. It is also so strong and penetrating, that a single drop, or as much as will attach itself to the point of a needle, is sufficient to perfume an apartment for several days; and if the small flask in which it is sold, although tightly corked and sealed, is placed in a drawer, it will perfume all the contents.

When in a congealed or crystalized state, the attar will liquefy at a slight heat; and if the flask is merely held in the hand, a few minutes will suffice to render it liquid. In the East much use is made of the attar, particularly in the harems. In Europe and America it is employed in the manufacture of cordials, and in the preparation of various kinds of perfumery.

Rose-water, or the liquid obtained from rose-petals by distillation, is very common, and is found in almost every country where the arts and luxuries of life have at all advanced.

Pliny tells us that rose-water was a favorite perfume of the Roman ladies, and the most luxurious used it even in their baths. This, however, must have been some preparation different from that now known as rose-water, and was probably a mere tincture of roses.

The ancients could have known nothing of rose-water, for they were entirely ignorant of the art of distillation, which only came into practice after the invention of the alembic by the Arabs. Some attribute this discovery to Rhazes, an Arabian physician, who lived in the early part of the tenth century; and others attribute it to Avicenna, who lived at Chyraz, in the latter part of the same century. It is also attributed to Geber, a celebrated Arabian alchemist, who lived in Mesopotamia in the eighth century. Subsequent, therefore, to this discovery of the alembic, we find, according to Gmelin, in his history of the preparation of distilled waters, that the first notice of rose-water is by Aben-Zohar, a Jewish physician, of Seville, in Spain, who recommends it for diseases of the eye. From the Arabs, this invention passed among the Greeks and Romans, as we are informed by Actuarius, a writer of the eleventh or twelfth century.

In France, the first distillation of rose-water appears to have been made by Arnaud de Villeneuve, a physician, who lived in the latter part of the thirteenth century.

The Orientals made great use of this water in various ways in their houses, and in the purification of their temples when they thought they had been profaned by any other worship than that of Mahomet. There are many anecdotes told by historians of the use of rose-water by the Sultans on various occasions; and several of these, as Chateaubriand remarks, are stories worthy of the East. It is related of Saladin, that when he took Jerusalem from the Crusaders, in 1187, he would not enter the Mosque of Omar, which had been converted into a church by the Christians, until the walls and courts had been thoroughly washed and purified with rose-water brought from Damascus. Five hundred camels, it is stated, were scarcely sufficient to convey all the rose-water used for this purpose. An Arabian writer tells us that the princes of the family of Saladin, hastening to Jerusalem to worship Aliah, Malek-Abdul, and his nephew, Taki-Eddin, distinguished themselves above all others. The latter repaired with all his followers to the “Chapel of the Holy Cross,” and taking a broom himself, he swept all the dirt from the floor, washed the walls and the ceiling several times with pure water, and then washed them with rose-water; having thus cleansed and purified the place, he distributed large alms to the poor.

Bibars, the fourth Sultan of the Mameluke dynasty, who reigned from 1260 to 1277, caused the Caaba of the temple of Mecca to be washed with rose-water.

Mahomet II., after the capture of Constantinople, in 1453, would not enter the Mosque of St. Sophia, which had been formerly used as a church, until he had caused it to be washed with rose-water.

It is stated by a French historian that the greatest display of gorgeous magnificence at that period was made in 1611, by the Sultan Ahmed I., at the dedication of the new Caaba, which had been built or repaired at his expense; amber and aloes were burnt in profusion, and, in the extravagance of Eastern language, oceans of rose-water were set afloat, for washing the courts and interior surface of the walls. Rose-water is by no means so generally used now as for a few hundred years subsequent to its invention. In France, during the reign of Philip Augustus, it was a necessary article at court. It was formerly the custom to carry large vases filled with rose-water to baptisms. Illustrating this custom, Bayle relates a story of Rousard, the French poet: “It nearly happened that the day of his birth was also that of his death; for when he was carried from the Chateau de La Poissoniére to the church of the place to be baptized, the nurse who carried him carelessly let him fall; his fall, however, was upon the grass and flowers, which received him softly; it so happened, that a young lady, who carried a vase filled with rose-water and a collection of flowers, in her haste to aid in helping the child, overturned on his head a large part of the rose-water. This incident was considered a presage of the good odor with which France would one day be filled by the flowers of his learned writings.”

At one time rose-water was largely consumed in the preparation of food and the seasoning of various dishes. In the “Private Life of the French,” it is mentioned that in the fourteenth century, the Comte d'Etampes gave a feast in which a large part of the dishes and even the chestnuts were prepared with rose-water. It is still used to flavor various dishes, but its principal use is in affections of the eyelids, or as a perfume for the toilet. The principal consumption of rose-water is, however, in the East, where the inhabitants are very fond of perfumes. In Persia a very large quantity is made annually for domestic use. They deem it an excellent beverage mixed with pure water.

The Corinth Grape, mixed with rose-water, and a slight infusion of spices, is the nectar so much in vogue among the Greeks of Morea. The Persians, according to Lebruyn, sprinkle with rose-water those who visit them. They also make it an important article of commerce; large quantities are sent to different parts of the East, and entire cargoes are sometimes shipped to India.

In Egypt, the nobles and wealthy inhabitants consume large quantities of rose-water; they scatter it over their divans and other places where they spend their time; they also offer it with confectionery to their visitors.

The custom of offering rose-water to a guest is alluded to by Shakespeare, who makes one of his characters in Padua say:

“What is it your honor will command?Let one attend him with a silver bason Full of rose-water, and bestrewed with flowers.”

Almost all the rose-water used in Egypt is distilled in the province of Fayoum, from the pale rose. “About the middle of February, in Fayoum,” says a French writer, “they pluck the roses every morning before sunrise, while the dew is yet upon them; they then place them immediately in the alembic, not allowing them to become dry or heated by remaining too long a time without distillation. This lucrative branch of manufacture has not escaped the monopoly of Mehemet Ali. No private individual can now distil roses in Egypt, and those who cultivate them are obliged to sell the petals to government at a low price. The value of all the rose-water distilled in Fayoum, annually, is estimated at 50,000 or 60,000 francs.” Of the profusion with which rose-water is used in India, some idea may be formed from the narrative of Bishop Heber, who was shown, in the ruins of the palace of Ghazepoor, a deep trench round an octagonal platform of blue, red, and white mosaic pavement. This trench, he was told, was filled with rose-water when the Nawâb and his friends were feasting in the middle. “The ancient oil of roses,” according to Loudon, “is obtained by bruising fresh rose-petals, mixing them with four times their weight of olive oil, and leaving them in a sand-heat for two days. If the red Rose of Provence is used, the oil is said to imbibe no odor; but if the petals of pale roses are employed, it becomes perfumed. This preparation was celebrated among the ancients. Pliny says that, according to Homer, roses were macerated for their oil in the time of the Trojans. The oil is chiefly used for the hair, and is generally sold in perfumers' shops, both in France and England, under the name of L'huile antique de Rose.”

Spirit of roses is made by distilling rose-petals with a small quantity of spirits of wine, and forms an agreeable article for external applications. The green leaves of the sweet-brier are sometimes, in France, steeped in spirits of wine to impart a fragrance; and in England they are frequently used to flavor cowslip wine.

As the petals of the rose preserve their fragrance for a long time after being dried, many are in the habit of making, annually, little bags filled with them. These, being placed in a drawer or wardrobe, impart an agreeable perfume to the linen or clothing with which they may come in contact. The petals can be obtained from almost any garden in sufficient quantity for this purpose, and can be dried by the process mentioned hereafter. The confectioners, distillers, and perfumers of France draw from the Rose a part of their perfumes, particularly from R. Damascena, and R. centifolia, in fixing their sweet odors in sugar-plums, creams, ices, oils, pomatum, essences, and fragrant powders.

The petals of the Rose, after being freshly picked and bruised in a marble mortar, until they are reduced to a sort of paste, are employed in the preparation of different kinds of confectionery. Of this paste the French also make little perfume balls of the size of a pea. They are made round in the same manner as pills, and before becoming hard, they are pierced with a needle and strung on a piece of silk. In a little while they become hard like wood, assume a brownish color, and emit a delightful perfume. This rose scent continues very long, and one writer remarks that he has known a necklace made in this style, possess, at the end of twenty-five years, as strong a perfume as when first made.

In Great Britain, in the vicinity of the large cities, and in many private gardens, the flowers are gathered for making rose-water or for drying as perfumes. In Holland, the Dutch hundred-leaved  and common cabbage rose  are grown extensively at Noordwich, between Leyden and Haarlem, and the dried leaves are sent to Amsterdam and Constantinople. In France, the Provence Rose is extensively cultivated near the town of Provence, about sixty miles south-east of Paris, and also at Fontenay aux Roses, near Paris, for the manufacture of rose-water, or for exportation in a dried state. The petals of the Provence Rose (Rosa Gallica ) are the only ones that are said to gain additional fragrance in drying; all the other varieties losing in this process more or less of their perfume. A French writer states, that apothecaries employ both pale and red roses; the pale give more perfume, while the red keep the longer.

Loudon states that “the petals of roses ought always to be gathered as soon as the flower is fully expanded; and the gathering should never be deferred until it has begun to fade, because, in the latter case, the petals are not only discolored, but weakened in their perfume and their medical properties. They should be immediately separated from the calyx, and the claws of the petals pinched off; they are then dried in the shade, if the weather is dry and warm, or by a stove in a room, if the season is humid, care being taken, in either case, not to spread them on the ground, but on a platform raised two or three feet above it. The drying should be conducted expeditiously, because it has been found that slowly dried petals do not exhale near so much odor as those which have been dried quickly, which is also the case with hay, sweet herbs, and odoriferous vegetables generally. After the petals are dried, they are freed from any sand, dust, or eggs of insects which may adhere to them, by shaking them and rubbing them gently in a fine sieve. After this, the petals are put into close vessels, from which the air is excluded, and which are kept in a dry, airy situation.

“As it is extremely difficult to free the rose-petals entirely from the eggs of insects, they are taken out of these vessels two or three times a year, placed in sieves, rubbed, cleaned, and replaced.”

I have been careful to give the details of the above process, because it may be useful to those who embark extensively in the cultivation of roses for the exportation of petals in a dried state. We should suppose that rose-petals produced in this latitude, where the Rose has a long period of hibernation, would produce more perfume, and be more valuable in a dried state than those grown under the tropics. The Provence and Damask Rose are both known to succeed well here, and to produce abundant flowers. Their fragrance is unsurpassed, and our summer's sun would be abundantly sufficient to dry the petals without any artificial heat. It is not too much to hope that the attention of our cultivators may yet be directed to this subject, and that the manufacture of rose-water and the preparation of dried petals may yet be an important branch of domestic industry, and form an important addition to the list of exported articles.