Rosewater Essence

One of my recent FT columns is all about rosewater, a by-product of rose oil production. After the steam distillation runs its course, there remains a fragrant liquid, or rosewater. It’s used in cosmetics, food, medical preparations and home scents. Rosewater is not stable enough to be used in perfumery, but many rose oil producers have started re-distilling the rosewater and making so-called rosewater essence, or extract. It’s less expensive than rose oil and is packaged with words like sustainable and environmentally friendly, which it may or may not be. Nevertheless, it’s a curious product, and perfumers have been using more of it to create a fresh petal effect, or to soften the outlines of synthetic floral accords.

rosewater

The 11th-century Persian philosopher and scientist Avicenna is credited with many contributions to astronomy, geography, psychology, logic, mathematics and physics. He also found time to delve into perfumery and devised methods to extract essential oils, experimenting on roses. If Avicenna were to step into a fragrance lab today, he would orient himself quickly enough – modern perfumery is a curious amalgam of traditional techniques with state-of-the-art technology. Indeed, rose oil is prepared in much the same way as in Avicenna’s time – through the process of steam distillation. Continue here.

Previously, I also wrote about my favorite ways with this rose-scented liquid. Do you use rosewater? 

Image via HTSI

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91 Comments

  • Jocelyn: I was inspired by your post “10 Ways to Use Rose Water” to buy a bottle. It was a year ago and I already used up 2 and a half bottles. I use it on my face and in my baths and love the smell. April 25, 2016 at 8:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very happy to hear it! A cupboard without a bottle feels empty to me. April 25, 2016 at 9:28am Reply

  • Annie: Could someone recommend a body lotion to layer with Diptyque Eau Rose? I like it very much and I just wish it lasted longer. Thanks! April 25, 2016 at 8:44am Reply

    • Nick: Have you checked L’Occitane? I should think that they have Arlèsienne lotion to accompany, if you don’t mind the price. April 25, 2016 at 9:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Crabtree & Evelyn has a great rosewater scented range, and their cream is luscious. April 25, 2016 at 9:28am Reply

    • limegreen: Jo Malone Red Roses body lotion (or the oil, which can be put on dry) is great. It’s one of the few Jo Malone products that have gone down in price, rather than up!
      Diptyque’s Eau Rose hand lotion is delectable but perhaps too rich as a body lotion. But I use it on my hands and wrists, and it would be great for layering. April 25, 2016 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Scented Salon: Rosewater certainly makes a difference in the complexion, clearing blemishes and giving a brightness to the face. And since rosewater is so cheap and fairly easy to find in most large cities, I bet people who never used it before are going to start doing so.

    This morning I added vanilla extract to my coffee: tomorrow I will be adding rosewater. April 25, 2016 at 9:11am Reply

    • Tammy: Coffee and roses makes me think of Tom Ford Café Rose. 🙂 April 25, 2016 at 9:13am Reply

      • Scented Salon: Exactly. It is a pretty good perfume. For a pure rosewater smell, you can’t go wrong with Crabtree’s Rosewater perfume. April 25, 2016 at 9:17am Reply

      • Victoria: Another toasty rose perfume I like is Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule. April 25, 2016 at 9:25am Reply

    • Nick: I cringe at that idea! Vanilla sounds wonderful, but rose in my coffee would be too perfume-like to drink for me. April 25, 2016 at 9:17am Reply

      • Scented Salon: I add rosewater to my drinking water and it does indeed taste just like drinking perfume. A little drop, and I mean LITTLE, goes a really long way.

        I will try it tomorrow in my coffee and see how I like it. If I don’t, I will stick to cardamom coffee. April 25, 2016 at 9:20am Reply

        • Victoria: I was going to add that adding rosewater and cardamom would be the best pairing. Both are citrusy, but then they part ways. Or you can do both rosewater and vanilla. April 25, 2016 at 9:22am Reply

          • Scented Salon: Gosh, sounds wonderful. I can’t wait till tomorrow. April 25, 2016 at 9:23am Reply

          • Scented Salon: Well, I tried rosewater in my coffee this morning and it was wonderful! I actually added way more rosewater to my cup than I would have to any other drink because of the cream in the coffee and it turned out delicious. It reminded me of some kind of pudding. Next I will try vanilla AND rosewater. April 26, 2016 at 9:32am Reply

            • Victoria: So happy to hear it! Also, rosewater and a touch of saffron are wonderful. April 26, 2016 at 12:55pm Reply

              • Scented Salon: Today I put both rosewater and vanilla into my coffee. Have not made it to the saffron yet: so luxurious. Vanilla and rose blend beautifully. No need for those horrible artificial coffee creamers ever again! April 27, 2016 at 9:21am Reply

                • Victoria: Good to hear! Saffron will be another treat. April 29, 2016 at 6:42am Reply

              • Annikky: Or cardamom! April 29, 2016 at 4:48pm Reply

      • Victoria: Actually, it’s not, as long as you dose the amount correctly. But a small amount highlights the floral notes in coffee and softens the burnt, toasty edge. April 25, 2016 at 9:21am Reply

      • Nick: It could also be culture-related since my mother scents baked goods with jasmine sambac water and benzoin fumes and I like them just fine. Speaking of burnt notes, I should experiment with rose cookies and see how 🙂 April 25, 2016 at 9:26am Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, please tell me more about jasmine sambac water and benzoin desserts! What did she make? Did she make her own jasmine water or use the ready-made variety?

          Well, no wonder that you grew up with such an acute sense of smell and vivid olfactory imagination, Nick. April 25, 2016 at 9:32am Reply

          • Nick: Yes, we picked them from our potted jasmines at dusk and let them float on mid-season rain water over night. Then, we removed the used blossoms gently. The process was repeated for three to five times without bruising the flowers and releasing the desirable green. Home-grown blossoms are best because we can be sure that they are pesticide-free. Rain water mid-season ensures that the condensation water is not tainted by chlorination that would affect the smell. That was what I could remember 🙂 The benzoin is part of a scented candle for desserts. I have a recipe that I have been trying to translate for some time. April 25, 2016 at 9:56am Reply

            • Victoria: What kind of desserts were they? Puddings or cakes? I once ate an incense flavored cheesecake at a Thai cafe in NYC, and they used special incense to scent/smoke the cake after baking. I loved the idea. April 25, 2016 at 10:04am Reply

              • Nick: Baked, steamed, and cooked in syrup perhaps? I am not sure of how to describe them. They are a mix of local ingredients like coconut milk, pandan, tapioca, charcoal water, tropical fruits, flowers, and tree barks, and Portuguese desserts. They came with the missionaries in the 15th century.

                Yes, the incense candle is a bit troublesome. The recipe calls for benzoin, frankincense, nutmeg, kaffir peels, beeswax, and some other ingredients (which I have to find a way to translate!) It is good to hear that the tradition survives in modern pastries; I would not imagine smelling it in NYC, least of all, in cheesecake! April 25, 2016 at 10:20am Reply

                • Victoria: Sounds delicious.

                  The combination of incense and cheesecake was great. Unexpected but great. April 26, 2016 at 12:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s not an expensive ingredient, and yes, Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores offer many good brands. Even when I travel, I bring a small atomizer filled with rosewater. The best way to make a morning cup of tea, even if it’s the dull, flavorless variety served at the hotel breakfast, taste better. April 25, 2016 at 9:27am Reply

    • Tijana: Actually, David’s Tea used to sell black tea mixed with rose petals / mini rose buds – my favourite tea, too bad it was eventually discontinued! April 25, 2016 at 10:48am Reply

      • Scented Salon: Try Teavana. They have all kinds of wonderful teas and many of them come with little rose buds. I am enjoying their Strawberry Blush Rose right now: strawberries, pink rose buds, crisp rhubarb, white grapes, soft vanilla, and a hint of bubbly champagne. April 25, 2016 at 11:01am Reply

        • Tijana: Thank you, I will! April 25, 2016 at 11:48am Reply

      • Laurie Brown: Upton Tea has a rose scented Chinese tea April 25, 2016 at 12:13pm Reply

      • kpaint: Upton Tea sells a black tea with rose petals and almonds which I absolutely love. It’s called Mélange Noël and the steeped leaves smell like L’Artisan Safran Troublant.

        I love the combination so much that I bought some food-grade dried rose petals/buds from amazon to experiment with in mixing my own teas.

        In the meantime, here’s a link to the Upton version. Hope it works!

        Upton website April 25, 2016 at 2:51pm Reply

    • mj: I used to use rosewater in my teens, when my face looked like a paella, all full of grains…. hahaha, sorry for the bad Spanish joke. Then, it was easy to find at pharmacies, now I’m not sure if that’s so easy and if people kees using as a complexion cleaner.
      I like the scent, I find it comforting. April 26, 2016 at 2:02pm Reply

  • Nick: I disliked rose flavoured syrups growing up. My idea was that ‘rose perfume’ should not be eaten! Now I am a little more willing to try rose-scented — or flavoured — desserts.

    If I am not mistaken, Dans Mon Lit for the sheets uses Rémy’s Rose Water Essential. I think it is very spicy, fresh, and tends to linger on the fabric. Of course, it is also safer with lower methyl eugenol. I wonder if it can be used safely just like a perume 🙂 April 25, 2016 at 9:14am Reply

    • Scented Salon: There was a rose jam I was crazy about when I was little, and a rose syrup I adored. Probably that is where my love of rose perfume came from. My mom and grandma never used rose perfume. I know some people hate the smell because it brings back bad memories or the smells of less pleasant older aunts or something like that. Yet there are so many perfumes that have a rose note that it would be a shame to miss out on all of them because of an old aversion. April 25, 2016 at 9:22am Reply

      • Nick: I think of those puckers and the Diorissimo that came with their hugs!

        Yes, it really opens the sense of smell once one gets outside the comfort zone. I have just discovered the things one could do with roses in Rose d’Homme, Une Zest de Rose, and Rose Praline. I could probably wear Rose d’Homme because of the agrestic lavender that I like. I am still experimenting with the line. April 25, 2016 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved the way rosewater is used in savory dishes in Iran, India, the Persian Gulf countries. It makes you realize that roses can taste savory too. But yes, too much rose makes for a heavy, cloying flavor.

      Rémy’s Rose Water Essential is a wonderful ingredient. The only issue is that it’s still every expensive and not as potent as rose oil, so it won’t have as many applications as they advertise. April 25, 2016 at 9:25am Reply

    • Surbhi: I am curious to know that as well. I was thinking about using it as a body mist. It smells so pretty. April 27, 2016 at 10:24am Reply

  • spe: No, I don’t use it, but I’m tempted to try it as a toner.

    I like the smell of growing roses, but I’m not an enormous fan of the smell otherwise. Rose based fragrances initially attract me. Then they get on my nerves after wearing them for about an hour. It’s happened with Narciso Rodriguez, Malle’s POAL, Tocade, Lumière by Francis Kurkjian (sp?), so many. I’m going to try Guerlain’s Idylle and see how that goes. But I don’t have high hopes. April 25, 2016 at 9:29am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t think of Idylle as a rose perfume, so you may have more luck with it. On the other hand, I notice in your selection the prevalence of oriental, balsamic perfumes that use rose as one of the accords. I also wouldn’t describe them as classical roses. April 25, 2016 at 9:34am Reply

      • spe: Thank you for the analysis! I couldn’t figure out the connection!

        It might be hilarious if I end up enjoying true rose! April 25, 2016 at 12:20pm Reply

  • Connie: Ah, an article close to my Heart. I love Rosewater as a toner and a cleanser. It has many uses and benefits to the skin. Roses are very addictive and have an aphrodisiac like fragrance. Worlds have been known to crumble over Roses and Romance. 🙂 April 25, 2016 at 9:57am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s the best toner, as far as I’m concerned. April 26, 2016 at 12:31pm Reply

  • Tijana: Great article! I have been wanting to use rose water in my skin care routine for a while now! Can someone recommend a good quality rose water for skin care use, ideally without the bad stuff in it? April 25, 2016 at 10:49am Reply

    • Scented Salon: Heritage Rose Petals Rose Water. April 25, 2016 at 11:03am Reply

      • Tijana: Thanks! April 25, 2016 at 11:48am Reply

      • Vishishra: I use Heritage Rosewater to clean my face every night. Inexpensive and refreshing! April 25, 2016 at 12:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Definitely Heritage Rose Water! April 26, 2016 at 12:40pm Reply

    • Connie: 🙂 I can. Not to toot my own horn on someone’s else blog, but I have a great one that I make with Organic Rose Petals from my garden, when in season, and they are here. I make my with all natural ingredients , @Tijana April 26, 2016 at 1:37pm Reply

  • Lucy Kake: My mother always used glycerin & rosewater. I’ll have to give it a try! April 25, 2016 at 11:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Another classical combination for skincare. April 26, 2016 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Laurie Brown: I use rose water (and sometimes rose flavoring that is used like vanilla extract) in things like cupcakes or frosting sometimes. April 25, 2016 at 12:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: I use rose flavoring too, especially in baked desserts. April 26, 2016 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Nancy A.: I guess great minds think alike! Only recently I’ve been searching for glycerin and rosewater in the drugstores (modestly priced, of course) but to no avail except at a higher price point. It’s one of those apothecary finds that I search for. Years prior the big box stores would carry it “hidden” on a lower shelf and it was not only beneficial for hand care with its lingering scent (especially if one was prepping onions/garlic. I’ve been drinking an English Garden tea with lavender, rose petals and hints of vanilla and have hopes it will be as good iced as hot. April 25, 2016 at 2:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can also make regular iced tea and add a spoonful of rosewater once the liquid is cool. April 26, 2016 at 12:44pm Reply

  • limegreen: My local coffee house has been experimenting with specials and they are usually perfume worthy. I see them and think, oh Caron Pour Homme! (Lavender and vanilla italian soda) They also have had rose lattes (with rose syrup). If it weren’t for the sugar, I would have them all.
    I will have to try rosewater with espresso! April 25, 2016 at 2:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’d love such a coffee house nearby. I’m now curious about lavender and vanilla soda. April 26, 2016 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Genevieve L Fawcett: What a timely post! I picked the first Rose petals of the season this past weekend for drying/tea making. I also made Spruce tip Jelly and aromatic salt. The smell of the Rose petals were a perfect match for the fresh green scent of Spruce in my kitchen. Thinking I might make another batch of the jelly and add a bit of Rosewater to it this time…I’m pretty sure it will be delightful. April 25, 2016 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: It would be! And you don’t need to add too much to have a rich flavor. April 26, 2016 at 12:45pm Reply

  • SilverMoon: You asked how we use rose water. In India, rose water squash/drink served ice cold in the summer was very popular. Also, sometimes one found rose water ice-lollies which were delicious and refreshing.

    As a teenager, I remember using a mixture of rose water, glycerine and fresh lime juice as a hand lotion. I thought it kept the hands smooth and scented, especially lovely to smell the rose water as one waved one’s hands around when one spoke. Sometimes I also would wipe it over the face. I stopped doing this once I left home and went to university.

    It is perhaps why I still love rose perfumes from fresh to dark ones. April 25, 2016 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ll have to try a mixture of rose water, glycerine and lime juice. Thank you! I love such recipes. April 26, 2016 at 12:46pm Reply

      • SilverMoon: It is fun to make these mixtures. For a ready made version the Jurlique rosewater face mist is lovely and the Crabtree &Evelyn rosewater range is excellent too. I think it has already been mentioned above.

        More importantly I have been thinking of Chernobyl today. You must have been a little girl back then. April 26, 2016 at 2:33pm Reply

        • Victoria: I used to like Jurlique a lot, but I haven’t tried it since they’ve reformulated my favorite serum. I should revisit the line.

          Yes, I was little then, but I remember it well. It’s such a tragedy, especially since the Soviet government concealed the extent of a disaster from people. Even today much hasn’t been revealed. April 29, 2016 at 6:36am Reply

  • Lindaloo: Thanks for the idea of rosewater in coffee. Will try this tomorrow.

    I have used rosewater as a toner, but am so inconsistent with it. The Cortina brand is so accessible and inexpensive here in Vancouver that I could use it with abandon.

    Congratulations on hitting the half million mark on your “Speaking of Perfume” post! April 25, 2016 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! I’m glad that this “Speaking of Perfume” post is so popular.

      Please let me know how you liked coffee with a touch of rose. April 26, 2016 at 12:47pm Reply

      • Lindaloo: I enjoyed my coffee with rosewater this morning. I was surprised by the number of spritzes it took to really incorporate the scent into the coffee. As I was upping the dose of rosewater I kept sticking my nose into my mug inhaling the beautiful scent.
        Thank you for the idea.

        I need to pick up a bottle of orange blossom water so I can finally make “Lebanese coffee.” April 26, 2016 at 2:55pm Reply

        • Victoria: The toasty notes in coffee are the potent stuff, so flavoring it to your liking can be tricky. On the plus side, it’s not so delicate that you can make too many mistakes.

          Coffee with orange blossom water is also very good. April 29, 2016 at 6:38am Reply

  • Sandra: I friend picked up some Tea Rose Petal preserves, so yummy on just about anything.

    I also love anything to eat that contains rosewater in it.

    My favorite to add to teas and things is Orange Blossom water.. April 25, 2016 at 4:33pm Reply

    • Scented Salon: Put the rose jam over ice cream. April 26, 2016 at 9:34am Reply

    • Victoria: You can also find orange blossom jam at the Middle Eastern stores. Another delicious treat. April 26, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Mel: I started using rose water after I read about it on this site. First in darjeeling tea, then to scent my sheets, and then I started buying rosewater flavored witch hazel which I keep in the refrigerator and use as a facial tonic. April 25, 2016 at 5:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: The days of roses! 🙂 April 26, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Jo: I’ve been using rosewater as a facial mist for years and it’s done such nice things for my skin tone. It’s effective and so inexpensive, I always pick mine up at the Indian markets.
    I like rose in pretty much anything – rose oil in the bath, Turkish delight, rose tea. The Trilogy clay radiance mask followed by their rosehip oil is also my skin’s favourite thing. April 26, 2016 at 4:41am Reply

    • Victoria: I do too. The Indian markets are my favorite places to look for rosewater. There are lots of brands, not just Indian. April 26, 2016 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Aurora: What an interesting article, Victoria. So much research, I didn’t know about rosewater essence; do you think there is some in AG Rose Absolue?

    I use Iranian rosewater which I buy at my Turkish market, it smells luscious, better than organic rosewater from Bulgaria I once bought. I add some drops of either lavender, geranium or even niaouli more recently, and use it on my face during the day and at night sometimes instead of a serum or night cream. April 26, 2016 at 7:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Iran has a well-established rosewater production, so most Iranian brands I tried are very good. If you can find a brand from Kashan, those are especially good. April 26, 2016 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Jean: I like a cold splash of rosewater on my face on a hot summer day. April 26, 2016 at 7:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Nothing is more refreshing. April 26, 2016 at 12:55pm Reply

  • solanace: Wonderful article, Victoria. Would never have guessed that Avicenna was into perfume! I use rosewater as a facial toner, but I need a strong heart in the chaos we are going through here, so will surelly add some to my diet! April 26, 2016 at 5:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: The guy had his plate full!

      Thinking of all of you. April 29, 2016 at 6:39am Reply

  • Surbhi: I have never used jurlique skin care. Came across their products recently and they have a decent selection of rose smelling and rose skin care range. They mentioned its all rose oil and no added artificial perfume. A rose scented moisturizer would be perfect.

    They also have some jasmine products. So on my list to explore. April 27, 2016 at 10:29am Reply

    • Victoria: As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t tried them in the past few years, but your comment about their jasmine products makes me want to revisit the line again. April 29, 2016 at 6:46am Reply

  • Teeny: I use a wonderful rose moisturizing cream for the face by Peter Roth. I also use a rose water spray when applying my makeup too. Rose formulations are great for super dry skin! April 27, 2016 at 1:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Me too, and I notice how well it holds makeup in place. April 29, 2016 at 6:50am Reply

  • Jean: Victoria, do you know of any studies exploring how we develop scent preferences?

    I had a strange experience at the fragrance counter where I found myself discarding perfumes that didn’t seem familiar. Its as though I was subconsciously developing a preference based on common scents (sweet gourmand). Even though I had intellectually discarded those to find something more original.

    The first time I wore POAL I smelled big roses. A few days later I put it on and smelled big patchouli. My olfactory senses are as filtered as all my other senses.

    So how do we individually decide what smells good? My aesthetic has always been rather open…the right thing at the right time and place. April 28, 2016 at 8:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not sure if I do, but I will check in my notes. It’s a fascinating topic. April 29, 2016 at 7:01am Reply

  • Raquel: I mix rosewater in a cotton disc and then coconut oil to remove make-up.

    Is it good the Rose jam from Laduree? It’s the only rose jam I’ve seen in my country. April 28, 2016 at 10:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried it, but their other jams have been very good. April 29, 2016 at 7:01am Reply

      • Raquel: Thank you! April 29, 2016 at 8:17am Reply

  • Annikky: After I started reading your blog, years ago, I’m never without rosewater. Never. But I’m mostly chiming in to say that these Buterbaugh perfumes seem to be created after a secret focus group session in my brain. Must try them somehow! April 29, 2016 at 4:52pm Reply

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