What is Rose Water?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A rose by any name smells as sweet, according to Shakespeare, and so does rose water, be it called gulub jal or goolub. It is the liquid or hydrosol remaining when rose petals and water are distilled together for the purpose of making rose oil. Usage of this liquid dates back, at least, to the early Romans, but production with steam distillation was probably first used by the Persian doctor Avicenna in the 10th century.

Rose water and a red rose.
Rose water and a red rose.

Classically, rose water is made using damask roses, which are many-petaled and fragrant. These were first grown in Iran and Bulgaria, but are now frequently found in Spain, Italy, and France. Middle Eastern countries remain some of the largest producers of this liquid because of the availability of damasks, however. If one is trying a homemade recipe, recommendations for other types of roses include most of the purple shaded varieties, such as Angel Face and Sterling Silver, as they tend to be the most fragrant.

Rose water may be used in facial creams.
Rose water may be used in facial creams.

The uses of rose water are as varied and numerous as the petals of a damask rose. Most western countries are familiar with it as an addition to fragrances and in body and facial creams. More recently, it has been introduced as a skin toner, and many people also enjoy its use in varied applications of aromatherapy. In ancient Rome, people enjoyed bathing in it, and it was, and still is, considered to have anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. For this reason, rose water was frequently used to wash the hands.

Rose water is used to add flavor to drinks such as mango lassi.
Rose water is used to add flavor to drinks such as mango lassi.

Less familiar to most westerners is the use of this liquid as an ingredient in food. In the Middle East and Asia, meat can be cooked and infused with it, and there are recorded recipes dating back to the 8th century.

Rose water also provides the primary flavor for many sweet treats. A teaspoon (about 5.9 ml) may be added to mango lassi or marzipan. Turkish delight, a favorite candy in many Arab countries, derives its unique taste from this flavoring. To the untrained palate, the addition is often described as tasting "soapy," but that is often because many associate the fragrance of roses with skin creams. Once used to this taste, gourmets or gourmands can delight in many Middle Eastern and Asian dishes that evoke traditional cuisine at least a millennia old.

This liquid flavors not only many foods of the Middle East, but also holds sacred importance in religious ceremonies of both the Muslim and Hindu religions. In certain Islamic rituals, it cleanses the body before prayer cleanses the spirit. In Hinduism, the fragrant liquid bathes the Shiva lingam, or phallus, during the Mahshirvrati festival, an annual day of devotion to Shiva, also traditionally celebrated as the day Shiva married the goddess Parvati.

Rose water can certainly be made at home with either very simple or more complex distillation methods. The easiest way is to combine rose petals and water in a sun tea jar and set the jar in the sun for several days. Individuals should keep in mind that care should be taken when concocting these home recipes because they are not long lasting and are subject to growing bacteria, which may make the liquid quite dangerous if used in food.

Commercial preparations come in many forms and can safeguard against bacterial formation. In addition, the buyer can choose organic preparations, eliminating pesticides from the roses in their food or on their bodies. However used, rose water is certainly almost universally enjoyed, with its sweet and deep aroma, and delightful and unusual taste.

Rose water has long been important in Islamic religious ceremonies.
Rose water has long been important in Islamic religious ceremonies.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


My rose water I made at home turned the water purple and my skin purple. I washed it off but it also does not have the rose scent once I put in the hot distilled water. How do I make rose water that is clear and keeps its fragrance.


Can rose water be used as home protection or is a myth?


For me the best brand of rose water is the brand rose of Bulgaria rose water, because i tested so many but the rosa damascena of bulgaria is the best one. you can find the brand rose of bulgaria online.


and it would be great to note that Avicenna was a Persian doctor, and not an Arab one. This is a bit insulting to us Iranians, as he is one of our national heroes, given the fact that he was born in Persia, lived in Persia for a good deal of his life, and died and was buried in Persia. Thank you!


The one thing I'm allergic to and turns to be hypoallergenic? It makes me sick! I can't find information about anyone else being allergic to it. Strange!


My dad's sister told my dad to buy us rose water.

He bought some and I used it just now. It smelled very strongly of rose and I was a little shocked, it's still on my hands but my face felt nice afterward.

I love the smell of roses and the best thing about it is that it's hypoallergenic, people with perfume allergies most likely won't react to this.


I buy the rose water online and has no scent it all.


You can get rose water at any indian grocery store.


I made rosewater for free in my own home. It works great! I had bad acne and scars and large pores,now everything is starting to clear up and my skin is so soft and has a glow to it. I love it!


I highly recommend checking out any Persian or middle eastern markets, online or at a store. They sell it for a good price. --Kay


Where can I purchase rosewater in Connecticut or by mail? Dawn


where can you purchase a fair amount of rose water for a reasonable price?


Thanks for the information!


so how many weeks can I used this rose water as a skin toner?


My daughter has been using rose water for bad pimples and scars on her face and she has had tremendous results. Her face has cleared up so beautifully.


Lovely, I'm very fond of rose water. It's the perfect thing for a perfume; it's inexpensive, yet still provides a nice touch. I was unaware that it is used in ceremonies - how gorgeous!


Lovely. After I wash my face or take a shower/bath, I spray rosewater and let it mist down onto my face and body. I started doing this after I read that it's good to get dosha in balance, especially when you have a pitta imbalance. I love the scent. It relaxes me and I haven't seen any adverse effects on my skin.


I have found that rose water, lightly sprayed on your neck and wrists, makes for a fresh and very light perfume - very pleasant especially in the summertime!

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