Damask Rose

Rosa damascena

The Damask Rose, scientific name Rosa damascena, is actually a hybrid plant developed as a cross of the species Rosa moschata, Rosa fedtschenkoana and Rosa gallica.

It looks like a deciduous shrub that can reach a height of 2.2 metres. Damask rose has a very dense structure and an irregular shape, with the stems protected by large numbers of prickles and bristles. The pinnate leaves typically consist of five leaflets, sometimes seven. Flowers have a color that varies between pink and red and are small in size, located in clusters. It is both a very important cultivar on its own and also a species widely used to develop other varieties of roses.

The flowers are commercially harvested for the production of rose oil, which is known for the special fragrance. Also known as rose otto or rose absolute, the oil is further use to make rose water and the so-called rose concrete. The petals are edible, even if they are rarely consumed as such. They are mixed with sugar to make gulkand and can also be brewed as a tea or used for flavouring.

The Damask rose is considered one of the most important commercial species of rose. It is widely cultivated due to the aroma of its flowers, which are used to produce oils and concentrates.

Several bioactive compounds that provide health benefits have been identified in this plant. The most important are flavonoids, anthocyanins, terpenes and glycosides. The species has been used in treatment and many of its medicinal effects are well-known. It can be an effective anticonvulsant, analgesic and hypnotic agent. It is also attested as an antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anti-HIV, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, respiratory, cardiovascular and laxative. Scientists suspect that most of these benefits are due to the compounds that are soluble in lipids.

The exact origin of the Damask rose is unknown. It grows today in Iran, Turkey and several European countries. Just like the name suggests, the species was probably created in Damascus and then introduced to other areas.

It is cultivated in many countries today, with the highest production in Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, Russia, India, France and Italy. The largest producers are Bulgaria, Turkey and Morocco. However, the rose oil output remains low and these three countries only supply about 10 tons per year. An area at the footsteps of the Balkan Mountains in Central Bulgaria is the largest region where Damask roses are cultivated.

Varieties of Damask rose

Scientists divide Damask Roses in two main varieties. R. × damascena nothovar. Damascene, or the Summer Damask Rose, only flowers during the summer and has a short season.

Just like the name implies, the Autumn Damask Rose (R. × damascena nothovar. semperflorens (Duhamel) Rowley) can flower in the autumn as well, with a longer harvest season. Otherwise, the two varieties are identical.

Other popular cultivars exist, for example the so-called Ispahan Rose. Many other rose hybrids have been developed from the Damask rose, for example the various perpetual roses, as well as the Bourbon, Portland and Centifolia varieties.

While some authors list the Trigintipetala Rose (Rosa gallica forma trigintipetala) as a separate plant, this cultivar is actually the same as the regular Damask Rose. A flowering semi-double type named Celsiana also exists.

Culinary uses

Damask roses are edible and can be included in dishes as a spice, due to their special flavour. Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as the ones of India or Iran, makes use of both rose powder and rose water. The powder can be added to sauces, while meat pieces can be sprayed with rose water. A popular Persian recipe cooks chicken meat with rose petals. Zuhurat is a traditional tea brewed from whole flowers or just petals. It is heavily used in Middle Eastern and Turkish desserts like jams, rice pudding, yogurt or ice cream, as a flavoring agent.

Roses have always been considered a powerful symbol of love and beauty. Since ancient times, people of India and the Middle East have produced rose water in order to preserve the scent of the flower, using a method that has remained unchanged for centuries.

Roses are rarely used in cooking in the western world, where this tradition doesn't exist. It used to be a lot more popular in antiquity and remained a common ingredient until the Renaissance. It is still included in marzipan or turrón, which reflects the old status of roses as a flavoring ingredient in desserts.

Health benefits

Steam distillation is a simple and effective method to produce essential oil from roses. The oil has a long history of use as a cosmetic agent in beauty treatments and in medicine for its health benefits.

Rose oil is known to have many useful properties. It is a good treatment for acne because it balances hormones and kills pathogens at the same time. It also reduces rosacea and can provide relief for anxiety and depression, as well as boost libido.

Like many other essential oils, it is also a great skin cosmetic product. It can be added at home as an ingredient in creams and lotions, due to its effective anti-germ action and the added benefit of aromatherapy.

A Chinese study published in 2010 found that rose oil had one of the strongest antiseptic activities from the 10 natural essential oils that were tested. The bacteria that causes acne, Propionibacterium acnes, was killed after just 5 minutes of exposure to a rose oil solution with a concentration of just 0.25 percent.

Adding just one drop of pure rose essential oil on acne spots three times per day is usually enough to eliminate this condition. It can be mixed with coconut oil, for an easier application. Always use a sterile cotton swab for this purpose.

Rose oil can greatly increase the skin's permeability, which makes it such an effective and prized cosmetic ingredient. It is included in many products for skin beauty because it opens up the pores, allowing your skin to absorb the other nutrients and bioactive compounds that treat it in depth.

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