Many of those who flock to the little town of Grasse, France (the perfume capital of the world) have only one reason in coming early to watch an old practice. Everyone is interested in witnessing local women harvest the flowers of the renowned Rosa Centifolia from 7am to 10am.
Early on, when the warmth of the sun comes in, everyone will then get the chance to have a whiff of the “fruity, deep and voluptuous” scent of the most coveted rose variety in the world. The harvesting women break the blooms into petals and gather them in bags fashioned from old cottony fabrics.
At the end of the morning harvest time, the five acres of one farm may yield around a ton and a half of petals. These will be processed into precious rose oil that may amount to only about 2.3 liters, and this oil may command a price of over $280 per ounce.
Rosa Centifolia foliacea, painted engraving of a rose by Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759-1840), Wikimedia
Rosa Centifolia literally means “one hundred petaled rose” and is commonly known as Provence Rose or Cabbage Rose or Rose de Mai. It had been the product of complex hybridizations through the years, between the 17th and 19th centuries, maybe earlier.
The most pervasive and endearing quality of the flower is its being multi-leaved (or multi-petaled) and being highly scented (“clear and sweet, with light notes of honey”) with the captivating rose fragrance. As a décor, its round form and its pink to dark purple hues are not bad-looking either. It is its singular scent, however, that makes it truly expensive.
The biggest reason for the high price tag is, of course, the scant supply. Aside from a very labor-intensive production process (from the manual harvesting to the actual processing that must be done on the same day), the requirement of thousands of pounds of rose petals to produce an ounce of oil makes every drop very costly indeed.
In addition, today’s rose fields have been drastically reduced to smaller private farm lots due to the rise in real estate prices. As a result, the demand has been steady and growing but the supply has been slowly dwindling. Predictably, prices have risen.
Rose Absolute and Rose Otto
Rose Absolute is the extract using a solvent. Rose Otto is produced through steam distilling.
Due to the low temperature used in extraction, Rose Absolute has a nearer scent to the fresh rose than Rose Otto which uses heat.
Rose Absolute is used in making perfumes and cosmetics while Rose Otto is used mostly for therapeutics.
The beauty-enhancing elements and the medicinal properties of rose oil had been discovered quite early, as Arabs and Berbers had been distilling the rose and its byproducts as early as the 1st century.
One discovery was the astringent properties of the oil, which can help the skin when applied topically. It is also purported to have a positive calming effect, can lift moods and can give one a sense of well-being. Not bad coming from Rosa Centifolia whose scent makes it precious.