What Is Rose Essence?

Carol Luther

More than any other flower over the centuries, roses have captured the imaginations of lovers, writers, thespians and others. Rose essence is an essential oil made by steam distillation or extraction with solvents. It also is called rose otto. Once the oil from rose petals has been captured, the essence is used for cooking, beauty products and a variety of household applications.

Pharmacists are generally not trained to know much about herbal remedies.
Pharmacists are generally not trained to know much about herbal remedies.

The distillation method using steam requires a small container inside a covered pot. As the steam rises, it condenses on the top and the essence droplets fall into the container. Before commercial companies began producing rose essence, many people made it at home or purchased it from apothecary shops, pharmacists and herbalists. It is difficult and impractical for consumers to extract rose oil from petals with solvents.

Rose essence.
Rose essence.

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Its aroma and taste have made rose essence a featured ingredient in cuisines worldwide. Puddings, breads and cookies are some commonly eaten dishes that incorporate rose essence, along with beverages such as lemonade. It is concentrated, so one rarely needs more than 1 teaspoon (5 ml) for any recipe.

Essential oils can irritate the skin, so most rose essence beauty preparations used diluted essence oil in a carrier oil such as jojoba or almond. It only takes a few drops in an odorless carrier oil to create a fragrant, long-lasting scent. Unlike perfume, fragrances that use rose essence retain their strength because they do not contain alcohol, which dissipates over time.

Roses and their essence have a long history of uses in the household. Dried rose petals are often a key ingredient in potpourri. Potpourri uses one flower or a combination of flowers and spices. The traditional use for potpourri is to provide a subtle, lingering aroma that freshens rooms naturally. One can keep rose potpourri fresh indefinitely by adding a few drops of rose essence to the mixture and stirring it gently to distribute the oil.

Sachets are packets of dried flowers, such as roses, or spices combined with essential oils. The ingredients are enclosed in small fabric bundles. They are most often used in dresser drawers and closets. When creating a sewn sachet packet, leaving a small opening allows one to refresh the rose scent by inserting a cotton ball that has been dipped in rose essence.

Facial toning preparations often use pure rose water, a less concentrated version of the essence. Producers claim it tightens pores and clarifies the skin. Creams that combine the essence or rose water with glycerin have been used for centuries to soften rough hands. Adding the essence to shampoo and bath products also imparts a lingering scent on one's hair or body.

A few drops of fragrant rose oil can be added to bathwater.
A few drops of fragrant rose oil can be added to bathwater.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - I like to try and use rose petals from scented roses in the first place for potpourri. It seems like cheating to add a scent to it after it's been dried. I mean, why bother having it at all in the house if it doesn't actually smell nice? I'd rather just use a scented candle, if that's the case.


@Fa5t3r - Just make sure they don't already have five bottles in the cupboard. Since you don't use very much in any recipe that calls for it, I tend to have more than I will ever used stashed away.

It's nice sprinkled on other things though, like tea towels and tableclothes although the scent doesn't last very long.

If you're going to use rose essence for something like potpourri, make sure you use oil instead of rose water, because you might end up encouraging mold, and the pure oil holds its scent a lot longer.


Rose water is a lovely gift to give anyone who is interested in cooking. It's the kind of thing that it's easy to leave out of a recipe when you don't have any at home, but it can finish off a flavor in a way that no other ingredient can.

I particularly like delicate pastry desserts with a little bit of rose water added. It's a funny taste, in that it is more like a smell, but it just adds something magical and decadent to the experience.

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