The History and Use of Aromatic Rose Oil in Aromatherapy
The Rose (rosa damscena), a flower which was highly prized by Islam, was one of the first plants to be distilled successfully by the scientist Avicenna (Ib’n Sina) (980 – 1037 A.D.). It is thought that this most captivating of flowers originated from the Orient before being cultivated throughout Europe. The Rose was used in cosmetics, medicine and perfumery by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Arabs for centuries.
The Egyptians were amongst the first to macerate fresh roses and make them into fragrant pomades. These were shaped as a cone and placed on top of the head. Heat from the body melted the fat, resulting in an aromatic rose-scented oil trickling down the neck and the face. The ancient Greeks and Indians also made some sort of pomade with roses.
The Romans were quick to appreciate the many uses of the Rose too. They devoted a lot of reverence to it and the flower was often the feature of their large gardens. Nero was said to have covered many banqueting floors with rose petals, believing the calming aroma prevented drunken shenanigans!
The Properties of Rose Essential Oil
The Rose is probably most known for its association with lovers. Roses are used lavishly in weddings, on anniversaries and to woo a potential new love. It is no coincidence that Rose essential oil has aphrodisiac properties and it is used by both men and women in this very quest.
It is also used to help aid depression and stress related problems; it is excellent for general skin care (especially dry, sensitive or aging skin) and helps ease wounds and sprains; can help treat insomnia; is helpful in a number of problems of the female reproductive system; is anti-viral and anti-infectious.
Although Rose is said to be as useful as Lavender essential oil and has a number of therapeutic uses in aromatherapy, it is used for many other purposes. Rose is extensively used in soaps, toiletries, cosmetics and perfumes; it is used in the production of Turkish Delight; and it is also used as a household cosmetic and for some culinary purposes.
Rose is one of the most expensive essential oils to distill and, as a consequence of this, it is often substituted by a lesser oil or adulterated. Common substitutions for pure Rose essential oil include Geranium (pelargonium graveolens) and Palmarosa (cymbopogon martini). It takes 60,000 rose petals to distill just one ounce of pure Rose essential oil, hence its prohibitive cost; many are not willing to pay the high price.
There are estimated to be over 300 constituents which make up Rose essential oil; attempting to replace, dilute or fractionate some part of these components changes its properties and thus lessens its therapeutic value in aromatherapy. Perhaps we should heed the words of the English playwright William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616):
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii 1-2)
- Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils London: Element
- Price, Shirley 2000 Aromatherapy Workbook UK: Thorsons