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Rose Essential Oil

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Roses have been valued all over the world in both the ancient and modern world for their beauty, scent, essential oils, and their essence waters. The cost of rose essential oil is higher compared to other flowers because it takes so many petals to create the essential oil, but once you have used rose essential oil, you will find a new appreciation for this beautiful and versatile flower.

What is the history of Rose Essential Oil?

Roses belong to the family Rosaceae, and some fossils of roses have been found in America dating to 30 million years old.  Roses are cultivated for their oils and their essences in waters. The history of rose essential oil has many myths and legends surrounding its origins, but it is believed that the distillation of roses for their oil began in the 7th century AD in Iran.   [1]

  • Babylon: Ancient Babylonians grew roses
  • China: Records reflect that the Chinese were growing roses from at least 500 BC [2]
  • Rome: The Romans prized roses and scattered the petals over floors and threw them from ceilings during feasts.  They adorned their statues with roses and wore roses to protect them from drunkenness.  Roman mythology included references to roses, and it is said that Virgil wrote the goddess Aphrodite asked for Hector’s body to be embalmed with rose essence. [3] The ancient Romans also brought roses to England during their conquests.   [4]
  • Greece: Homer referred to roses in the Iliad and Odyssey and Sappho called it the queen of flowers.
  • Egypt: Ancient Egyptians used roses in religious ceremonies and put them in tombs with their mummies. [3]
  • Europe: In 1148 during the Siege of Damascus, a French crusader Robert de Brie brought the Damask rose from Syria back to Europe and credited the rose with its name:      [4]
  • North America: North American Indian tribes used the root of the rose to treat children’s coughs.   [1]
  • Persia: Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna in the west) was a leading physician, writer, and astronomer who was one of founders of early modern medicine. He produced essential oils, especially rose essential oil, in the 10th century via steam distillation. [5]

Persian physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) was a great believer in the healing benefits of rose essential oil. Concerning head wounds that required surgery, Ibn Sina advised doctors to soak a linen cloth with rose oil and bandage it over the wound, as well as applying rose oil to the wound topically.  Ibn Sina wrote that rose oil relieved pain, and that rose oil could help wounds clot.  He considered rose oil to have cooling effects.  [6]

Ancient Types of Rose

Prior to 1867 when the first modern rose (La France) was introduced, all roses were called Old Garden roses. Old Garden roses are sometimes called heritage and historic roses and generally refer to roses of Mediterranean or European origin, very fragrant, double-flowered blooms that are mostly red, pink, or white. [2]

Common types of Roses for Essential Oils

Rosa  x Damascena

  • Also known as the Damask rose, or rose of Castille
  • Hybrid of Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata
  • Considered an “Old Rose” [4]
  • Holy herb in Iran
  • Grows in Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Russia, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, China and Iran [7]
  • Most popular rose used for essential oil

Rosa x Damascena Varieties:

  1. Summer Damasks (R. x damascene nothovar. Damascena)
  2. Autumn Damasks (R. x damascene nothovar. Semperflorens (Duhamel)Rowley)
  3. Celsiana: flowering semi-double

Rosa x Damascena Hybrids:

  1. Isapahan rose

Rosa Centafolia

  • Also known as gallica var. centifolia (L.)Regel)
  • Called the “cabbage rose” [7]
  • Grows in Morocco, Egypt, and France [7]
  • Created between the 17th and 19th century, exact history unknown [8]

Rosa Centifolia Varieties:

  1. Bullata: also known as “Lettuce Rose” and created in 1801
  2. Cristata: also known as “Chapeau de Napoleon”
  3. Petite de Hollande:  also known as “Pompon des Dames” and created in the 18th century
  1. Rose de Meaux:  also known as “Rosa pomponia” and created in 1637
  2. Unique Blanche:  also known as “Mutabilis”, “Vierge de Clery”, and “White Province”
  3. Village Maid: a striped flower that was introduced in 1845 [8]

What is an essential oil?

Essential oils are the essences of a plant.  Aromatic plants have defense mechanisms against insects/pests and animals which are called secondary metabolisms.  Secondary metabolisms can either be a scent, a color, or an attractant for pollination.  Essential oils are the distilled, volatile essences of their defense mechanisms, usually their scent.

Essential oils, despite being called oils, are not actually oils and do not contain any fats, or lipids.  They are a mixture of volatile compounds that can have anywhere from 20-60 constituents, depending on the plant or flower from which it is made.  Terpenes and aromatic compounds are the two types of constituents contained in essential oils. [9]

How is Rose Essential Oil Made?

Essential oils can be made through distillation with steam, solvents, or mechanical expression.  Steam distillation for rose essential oil or extraction by solvent is preferred for this flower. A typical season produces 4,400 lb of flowers and steam distillation extracts about 14 oz of oil, and extraction with a solvent produces 5 ½ lbs of oil from the same amount of flowers. [3]

There are two kinds of rose essences:  rose ottos and rose absolutes.  Rose ottos are the essences extracted via steam distillation, and rose absolutes are extracted with solvents.  Rose absolutes are used more in perfumery. [7]

Regardless of the method used for producing rose oil, it takes a very large amount of rose petals to make its essential oil.  Therefore, many rose oils are contaminated with geranium or palmarosa essential oils to “extend” the rose fragrance.  Both geranium and palmarosa are high in geraniol (the main compound in rose oil) and simulate rose essential oil.  It is important to be sure of the purity of the rose essential oil you are purchasing.  Geranium and palmarosa are often used to adulterate rose oil and to decrease the costs of manufacturing rose essential oil. [7]

What is Rose Essential Oil made of?

Rose essential oils generally contain phenylpropanoid compounds (such as rose oxide and citronellol), monoterpene hydrocarbons (such as Nonadecane and the other compounds with the suffix -ane), and monoterpene alcohols (such as Gerniol and Nerol).   [10]

Rosa damascena Essential Oil contains:

  • Rose oxide (the oxidative product of Citronellol)
  • Citronellol: 9 to 35.3%
  • Geraniol: 46%, or between 8.3 to 30.2%
  • Geraniol acetate: 18%
  • Phenylethyl alcohol: 84%
  • Phenylethylamine: 12%
  • Nerol: 65%, or between 4 and 9.6%
  • Eugenol: 10%
  • Eugenol Methyl ester: 5 to 2.04%
  • Heneicosane: 6 to 7.9%
  • Nonadecane: 5 to 16%
  • Nonadecen-9: 18 to 3.1%
  • Heptadecane: 25 to 2.8%
  • 2-Undecanone
  • Germacrane-D: 39%
  • Tricosane, Pentacosane, Eicosane (up to 0.62%)
  • B-Caryophyllene
  • Z,Z-Farnesol: 56%
  • Terpinen-4-ol: 39%
  • Linalool: 0.7 to 2.8%
  • a-Pinene: 81%
  • B-Pinene: 21%
  • cis-Citral: 9%, trans-Citral:  1.2%    [10]

The characteristic scent of rose oil is due to beta-damascenone, beta-ionone, beta-damascone, and rose oxide.  They are present in very small quantities of total rose oil volume and comprise only 1% of the oil but are responsible for over 90% of the odor of the rose.  [7]

How to Use Rose Essential Oil

Essential oils are highly concentrated and should be diluted before use.  Unless otherwise instructed by your healthcare practitioner or aromatherapy practitioner, essential oils should not be taken internally.  There are specific guidelines for using essential oils in children based on their ages and it should be supervised by a healthcare or aromatherapy practitioner.

Safety and Side Effects of Rose Essential Oil

Common side effects of rose oil can include allergic reactions and sensitivity to topical use.


  1. Boskabady, Mohammad Hossein et al. “Pharmacological effects of rosa damascena.” Iranian journal of basic medical sciencesvol. 14,4 (2011): 295-307.
  2. “Garden Roses.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_roses#Old_Garden_Roses.
  3. Ryman, Daniele. “Rose (Rosa Spp. -Rosaceae.” aromatherapybible.com/rose/.
  4. “Rosa x Damascena.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_×_damascena.
  5. “Avicenna.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avicenna.
  6. Ghannaee Arani, Mohammad et al. “Ibn Sina's (Avicenna) Contributions in the Treatment of Traumatic Injuries.” Trauma monthlyvol. 17,2 (2012): 301-4. doi:10.5812/traumamon.4695
  7. “Rose Oil.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_oil.
  8. “Rosa x Centifolia.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_×_centifolia.
  9. Yap, Polly Soo Xi et al. “Essential oils, a new horizon in combating bacterial antibiotic resistance.” The open microbiology journalvol. 8 6-14. 7 Feb. 2014, doi:10.2174/1874285801408010006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3950955/.
  10. “Rose Essential Oil.” Examine.com, published Mar 12, 2014.  Last updated Jun 14, 2018.  https://examine.com/supplements/rose-essential-oil/.


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