Out of over 200 species of the rose bush and approximately 10,000 more hybrid species of rose, only about six species are used to produce rose oil and rose absolute, with the vast majority being produced from Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia. Other species of rose used to produce rose otto and rose absolute in limited quantities are Rosa rugosa, Rosa alba, Rosa bourbonia and Rosa moschata. These particular rose species exhibit the traditional fragrance commonly associated with the rose plant, while other varieties may exude aromas of fruits, musks, or other flowers (Guenther, E. (1952) The Essential Oils. London: Macmillan). The rose’s familiar fragrance is due to a simple water-soluble alcohol, beta-phenylethanol, and three monoterpenic oil-soluble alcohols, geraniol, nerol, and citronellol. The acetate esters of these alcohols are also rose-scented but of a slightly different fragrance. The clove-scented eugenol and methyl eugenol contribute to the spiciness of the rose’s fragrance. The different concentrations of these chemicals determine the final fragrance, which varies for each species of rose (Tucker, source, 2014).
Rosa damascena, also known as the pink damask rose, is celebrated for its rich fragrance which is at the heart of this species’ rose oil and rose absolute. Recent scientific analysis, as well as decades of harvest and distillation and extraction, have revealed that Rosa damascena yields more oil than Rosa centifolia, and consequently, this species is widely cultivated for its essential oil throughout many different countries. Rosa damascena is mainly grown in Bulgaria and Turkey, with smaller producers in France, India, Iran, and Greece (Khan & Rehman, source, 2005; Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety. New York, NY: Elsevier).
The cultivar commercially grown in Bulgaria’s Valley of the Roses is usually listed in rose books as “Trigintipetala.” Other important cultivars for this species are “Prof. Émile Perrot,” which was gathered from commercial fields in Iran in 1931, and “Gloire de Guilan,” which was gathered from commercial fields in the Caspian provinces of Iran in 1949 (Tucker, source, 2014).
- Aroma: Very rich, deep, sweet-floral, slightly spicy and honey-like
- Appearance: Rose oil is a light yellow mobile liquid that congeals upon cooling, while rose absolute is dark reddish or orangish
- Key constituents in Bulgarian Rose oil:
- (-)-Citronellol 16-35.9 %
- Geraniol 7-25.7 %
- Alkenes & alkanes 19-24.5 %
- Nerol 3.8-8.7 %
- Methyleugenol 0.5-3.3 %
- Linalool 0.4-3.1 %
- Citronellyl acetate 0.4-2.2 %
- Ethanol 0.01-2.2 %
- 2-Phenylethanol 1.0-1.9 %
- (E,E)-Farnesol 0-1.5 %
- β-Caryophyllene 0.5-1.2 %
- Eugenol 0.5-1.2 %
- Geranyl acetate 0.2-1 %
(Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety. New York, NY: Elsevier
Also known as the cabbage rose or the Rose de Mai, Rosa centifolia possesses a rich, sweet, rosy and tenacious fragrance and is mainly grown in Egypt and Morocco, as well as in the Grasse region of France and in China. This species of rose is frequently used to produce Rose de Mai absolute and is thought to possess a greener, spicier fragrance than the Rosa damascena. The essential oil of Rosa centifolia was is more challenging to distill than the oil of Rosa damascena, most likely because of the increased delicacy of this species’ many-petaled blooms and it is rarely produced.
One important cultivar for this species is “Crested Moss,” which emerged in 1827. These cultivars possess the old-rose scent typical of the true cabbage rose, in addition to the odor of the pine-scented moss rose (Tucker, source, 2014).
- Aroma: Rich, sweet, deeply floral, spicy, slightly honey, intensely rosy and somewhat woody
- Appearance: Rose de Mai absolute is orange-yellow to yellowish-brown viscous liquid
(Shabbir, Nadeem, Mukhtar, Anwar, & Mumtaz, source, 2009).
- Key constituents:
- 2-Phenylethanol 64.8-73
- (-)-Citronellol 8.8-12
- Alkanes & alkenes 1.1-8.5
- Geraniol 4.9-6.4
- Eugenol .7-2.8
- (E,E)-Farnesol .5-1.3
- Terpinen-4-ol 0.1
- Methyleugenol 0-.8
Called the Japanese rose, Turkestan rose, ramanas rose and rugosa rose, Rosa rugosa is native to China and Japan, and today this species is mainly cultivated in China. Some hybrids of this rose, such as “Hansa,” which emerged in 1905, are thought to have fine fragrances similar to that of Rosa damascena (Tucker, source, 2014).
- Aroma of Rosa rugosa otto: deep, soft, honey-spicy
- Appearance: Colorless, or light yellow
- Key constituents:
- Citronellol 44.5 %
- Geraniol 12.8 %
- Farnesol 3.8 %
- 2-Tridecanone 3.3 %
- (+)-Aromadendrene 2.5 %
- 2-Dodecanone 2.5 %
- 2-Pentadecanone 1.2 %
- Linalool 1.1 %
- 2-Tridecanol 1.1 %
- B-Cubebene 1Eugenol 1 %
- Methyleugenol .1 %
(Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety. New York, NY).
Rosa alba, also called the white rose, or the alba rose, is predominantly cultivated in small amounts in Bulgaria, often on plantations alongside Rosa damascena. Rosa alba is said to have a more intense aroma than Rosa damascena. Additionally, because a much greater volume of rose petals are needed to produce Rosa alba essential oil (twice the amount needed to produce Rosa damascena essential oil), rose essential oil from this species is also significantly more expensive than that of Rosa damascena.
An important cultivar of Rosa alba is “Suaveolens,” a white rose with 12-16 petals and a favorite of perfumers since before 1899. “Suaveolens” is often used to protect rows of Rosa damascena from the wind on the rose plantations in Bulgaria. The petals are also occasionally harvested for the commercial damask rose essential oil (Tucker, source, 2014).
- Aroma: Fresh, sweet, floral, sharp
- Appearance: Pale yellow
Rosa bourboniana, also called rose Edward or the Bourbon rose, is mainly cultivated in India, especially in Tamil Nadu in southern India where the rose petals are harvested to produce rose absolute. Rosa bourboniana is also grown extensively in Rajasthan and used in the production of Indian attar (perfume), rose water and, to a lesser extent, essential oil.
Aroma: Warm, sweet, spicy
- Appearance: Orange-yellow to slightly reddish