The healing work of Damask rose

The rose is often called the queen among flowers. It not only looks beautiful with its petals arranged in multiple whorls, it also has a unique and sweet fragrance. The fragrance of the Damask rose is subtly captured in the aqueous extract of the petals. But the essential oil from the flower is more than just a beautiful fragrance. Its medicinal and healing properties have been in use for centuries. For this reason, rose oil is an important ingredient in the griffin+row Enrich formulation.

Introducing Rosa damascena

The damask rose is a hybrid between the Rosa gallica and Rosa Phoenicia/Rosa moschata or possibly Rosa fedtschenkoana 1. While the rose is supposed to have originated near the Caucasus Mountains, Rosa damascena is thought to have been developed in Damascus in Syria.

Although the birthplace of the damask rose is in West Asia, with the spread of the Ottoman Empire into Eastern Europe, rose cultivation became popular in Bulgaria 2. Today the flower is mainly cultivated in Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco. This is why it is also known as the Turkish rose or Bulgarian rose. These countries are also the leading manufacturers and exporters of rose oil 3.


Used in: Enrich Why? Rose essential oil has been included in the Enrich formulation primarily for its hydrating benefits. The use of rose essential oil goes back to ancient times. It is one of the mildest astringent (skin-tightening) ingredients available, making it ideal for use on delicate skin. Rose essential oil is an expensive ingredient, due to the lower yield of oil from the delicate petals, in comparison to say the oils available in the peel of citrus fruits.

Traditional uses of Rosa damascena

Fossil records reveal that the rose evolved at least 40 million years ago. The use of the rose, however, dates back to around 5000 years. Sumerian and Akkadian clay tablets that describe the rose and rose water have been recovered. The earliest depiction of the rose is on the door of the temple of the Sumerian goddess Inanna dating back to 3300 BCE. Later avatars of Inanna include Ishtar, Aphrodite/Venus and Isis who are also associated with the rose. The temple of Isis has the goddess holding a rose in each hand 4

A depiction of the flower is seen in a fresco in the palace of Knossos (Crete). A hieroglyph in the tomb of Thutmose IV suggests that Egyptians included roses in their burial chambers.

The Greek historian Herodotus has recorded the cultivation of roses by the Phrygian King Midas in Anatolia. This is the first recorded mention of the Damask rose which is still called ‘King’s rose’ in that region. Midas may have brought the rose to Macedonia but further west, the Romans valued the flower’s fragrance, using it liberally during feasts and gatherings.

The use of the rose as food or medicine dates back to the Hittites of Anatolia (circa 1500 BC) who prepared a version of ‘gulkand’. This preparation had sugar mixed with the crushed petals of red roses and used as a medicine. Later the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, described the flower and its uses in his treatise “Naturalis historia”. The petals, flowers and heads were used to treat many ailments of the ears, mouth and the alimentary canal. While he recommended rose extracts in a mixture of water and vinegar, the Greek physician Dioscorides was partial to the liquor of roses cooked in wine. The latter mentioned the rose’s cooling and astringent qualities. He recommended the extract as a remedy for ailments of the eyes, ears, gums, anus, and uterus.

Rose oil was the other form of rose that was used medicinally, although this referred to petals steeped in oil.  Hippocrates first mentioned the use of Rosaceum oleum (rose oil) in Anatolia where fresh rose petals were macerated in olive oil 2. The steam distillation of rose petals to obtain rose water is thought to have been developed by the Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in Iran. However, steam distillation may date back to 4000 BC, since archaeological excavations in the Indus Valley have revealed the presence of distillation apparatus. Similar apparatus is still in use in Kannauj, India for the manufacture of rose attar – the distillate of rose petals in sandalwood oil. The use of rose water and rose oil was prevalent in both India and China in the 7th and 8th century CE, as recorded by Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century North African historiographer 5.

The symbolism associated with the rose is vast. Greek mythology abounds with references to the rose. The goddess of flowers, Cloris, wears a crown of roses and Aphrodite presented Eros with a rose as a symbol of love. In the Iliad, Homer mentions that she anointed Hector’s body with rose oil when he died in the Trojan War. Zoroastrians associate the flower with their supreme god Ahura Mazda. According to some scholars, the biblical Rose of Sharon (Solomon 2:1 and Isaiah 35:1) may actually have been the narcissus [6]. In fact, early Christians considered the rose to be pagan but later used it as a symbol of Christ and other martyrs. Several associations of Aphrodite with the rose were also adapted to the Virgin Mary who was referred to as the ‘thorn-less rose’ 5.

The rose was probably introduced to England by the Romans. However, legend has it that Robert de Brie brought the flower from Persia sometime between 1254 and 1276 CE during the Crusades. The other mention of the damask rose is that Henry VIII was presented with one by his physician. The rose in England became so popular that it was the symbol of the Tudors 1.

Rose damascena is used as an ornamental plant in parks, gardens, and houses. Mass cultivation is undertaken for the extraction of essential oil from the flower. This is used in the perfume, medicine and food industry 7.

The Damask rose is used in cooking as a flavouring agent. It is one of the ingredients of Ras el Hanout (a Moroccon spice mixture). Persian cuisine includes chicken with rose jam. Rose water is used regularly in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Rose powder is added to sauces and desserts.  Mediterranean cooking also uses the rose, especially in jams such as the rose petal jam.

The rose is also used extensively in cosmetic preparations. Dried Damask rose petals, rose water or rose oil have been added to various formulations. Soaking the flower for three to four days yields rose water into which some amount of essential oil is also present. This is added to bath water in order to clean the face and/or as a conditioner for the hair.  Being a gentle astringent, rose water is used as a skin toner for dry and mature skin and has anti-aging effects. Damask rose oil has also been used therapeutically to soothe the mind and combat depression, nervous tension and stress 1.

In the social context, the rose has always been a symbol of love. Even Aphrodite gave a rose to Eros as described in Greek mythology. Today, in India and in Middle Eastern countries, rose water is sprinkled on guests during weddings to ensure that the event is a happy one 7. Rose petals are also scattered during weddings in England 1.

Bioactivity and associated components of the plant

Rose flowers and rose hips are the parts of Rosa damascena that have the maximum bioactivity. The steam distillation of both these parts yields oils that are called rose oil and rose hip oil respectively.

Rose hip oil is derived from the fruit of the rose which forms after the flower dries on the shrub. It is rich in linoleic and oleic acids along with terpenes, terpenols, flavonoids and polyphenols (see Rose hip oil).

Rose oil (also called attar or otto) is extracted from the petals of the flower. Citronellol, geraniol, n-nonadecane and phenylethyl alcohol are the most important compounds in the essential oil of damask rose 7. Some of the compounds in rose oil are-

  • Monoterpene ‘rose’ alcohols: The major alcohols are citronellol (24-43%), geraniol (2-18%), its cis-isomer nerol (0.7-18%) and phenyl ethanol (12-90%). Traces of farnesol, nonanol, linolool, methyl eugenol and eugenol can also be found.
  • Rose ketones: β- damascenone, damascene, ionone, carvone and related compounds.
  • Terpenals: Nonanal, phenyl acetaldehyde, citral.
  • Terpene esters: Phenylmethyl acetate.

Rose petals also contain the following compounds 8

  • Phenolics: These are gallic acid and its derivatives.
  • Flavonoids: Quercetin glycosides such as quercetrin, kaemferol, rutin and myricetrin.
  • Anthocyanins: The anthocyanin in rose is mainly cyanidin 3,5-di glucoside.

Geraniol, Citronellol and beta-damascenone: a spotlight on the main components

  • Geraniol and citronellol are acyclic monoterpene alcohols.

Geraniol is the main ingredient in damask rose oil. Citronellol is the hydrogenated form of geraniol. Citronellol, geraniol and its cis- isomer nerol are responsible for the fresh rose fragrance 8.

  • β- damascenone is an unsaturated ketone.

This molecule along with β –ionone, β- damascene and rose oxide is responsible for the characteristic fragrance of rose water and rose oil 9. Although present in much smaller quantities than citronellol and geraniol, the detection of the fragrance of this molecule is much higher.

General uses and benefits of Rose oil

Rose oil is a light oil with a strong fragrance. It is non-greasy, hypoallergenic and generally safe for topical application. Most of the properties attributed to the oil are anecdotal. However, there is substantial proof of the following properties-

  • Moisturising: Rose oil has a mild emollient action which retains moisture in the skin. This keeps the skin supple and delays the formation of wrinkles 4.
  • Antimicrobial: The oil is effective against a wide spectrum of both Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria including coli and S.aureus. It is also useful against the yeast Candida albicans which causes skin infections such as oral thrush and athlete’s foot 7.
  • Cicatrizant: Rose oil enhances wound healing by speeding up the formation of scar tissue. The citral in rose oil promotes the formation of vitamin A which helps to regenerate the epidermal cells of the skin 4.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Rose oil soothes sensitive and inflamed skin, decreasing redness and promoting repair of irritated and damaged skin 4.
  • Astringent: Rose oil is one of the mildest astringents that can be used on delicate skin. It gently removes excess oil and tightens the pores on the skin, giving a more even-tone 4.
  • Analgesic: Quercetin and kaemferol in rose oil have been suggested to contribute substantially to the analgesic property 7. Combined with the anti-inflammatory action, rose oil is useful in the treatment of skin acne.
  • Heals broken capillaries: Farnesol in rose oil eases the pressure on damaged capillaries, allowing them to heal faster. Rosacea is another condition that benefits from the use of rose oil. 4.
  • Depigmentation: Hyperpigmentation and age spots result from hormonal changes or excess sun exposure. Rose oil helps reduce the melanin concentration in hyperpigmented areas, evening out the skin tone 4.
  • Antioxidant activity: High free radical production in skin due to exposure to the sun and pollutants in the atmosphere causes premature ageing of skin. This is because free radicals are instrumental in peroxidation of lipids, damage of cell membranes and consequently breakdown of tissue. Rose oil also shows a high free radical scavenging property, which decreases the rate of tissue damage by free radicals.

Besides skin care, rose oil has also been used to relieve menstrual problems and to treat neurological conditions such as dementia. Its anti-convulsant action, tonic action on cardio-vascular health and ability of ease respiratory discomfort has also been documented 7.

Botany and grow it yourself 

The Damask rose is a deciduous perennial shrub growing to with a life-span of about 20-30 years when cultivated. It grows to a height of about 3m. The stems have numerous slightly hooked prickles of varying sizes and stiff glandular bristles. The leaves are imparipinnate, oval in shape with serrated edges. The flowers appear in clusters of 5-7 at the axillary terminals of the branches. The flowers have over seventy pink coloured petals. The fruits form from the dried flowers and are ovoid, red, pulpy and rich in vitamin C 1.

The Damask rose prefers temperate climate. It also thrives in some sub-tropical regions which have cold winters. It needs sunlight, does not thrive in the shade and is sensitive to frost. Low humidity during flowering can reduce the essential oil content. Temperature from 0-5°C for 15 days from the onset of flowering enhances the quality of flowers. Bright sunny mornings during the flowering season prolong the duration of flowering and the quality of oil.

Flowers are harvested before they open fully so that the petals do not get detached. Harvesting at dawn prevents the petals from shrivelling up 10.

Roses are mostly propagated by cuttings.  After two years, the shrub is pruned at the end of summer to allow flowering to take place. Flowers generally develop two or three months after pruning the plant. Pruning is also done to check the height of the bush and to encourage it to expand sideways 11.


Cicatrizant: A compound that helps in wound healing or the formation of a cicatrix (scar tissue).

Imparipinnate: A botanical term that defines the arrangement of leaves, where the paired leaves along the stalk have a single leaf at the end.

Read about the five simple steps of the griffin+row skincare system: 1 Cleanse     2 Exfoliate     3 Hydrate     4 Nourish     5 Enrich

griffin+row starter kit

Each griffin+row product has a particular role and prepares the skin for the next skincare step. Products work best when used together. The griffin+row starter kit includes the complete system, with everything you need packed in a convenient bonus bag.


References and sources

  1. Haynes J. (Undated). History of roses: Damask roses. Retrieved from (2nd October 2017).
  2. Baser KHC. (1992). Turkish Rose Oil. Perfumer and Flavourist 17: 45-52.
  3. Mahboubi, M. (2016). Rosa damascenaas holy ancient herb with novel applications. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine6(1):10–16.
  4. Mahboubi, M. (2016). Rosa damascenaas holy ancient herb with novel applications. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine6(1):10–16.
  5. Miracle uses and benefits of rose essential oil. (2017). Retrieved from (6th October 2017).
  6. Baser KHC, Aktintas A and Kurkcuoglu M. (2012). Turkish rose: A review of the history, ethnobotany and modern uses of rose petals, rose oil, rose water, and other rose products. HerbalGram 96: 40-53.
  7. (2017). Retrieved from (5th October 2017).
  8. Boskabady MH, Shafei MN, Saberi Z and Amini S. (2011). Pharmacological effects of Rosa damascena. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences 14(4):295-307.
  9. Rosa damascena. (2011). Retrieved from (6th October 2017).
  10. Cotton S. (2015). Beta- damascenone. Retrieved from (5th October 2017).
  11. Rose rain (Undated). Retrieved from (6th October 2017).
  12. Farooqui AA and Sreeramu BS. (2001). “Rose”. In “Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic crops”. Universities Press (India) Ltd. pp 433-442.

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