Roses ~ Grown for Scent

Synopsis: People often do not know which Rose species are used for scent by distillation or by solvent extraction ~ here is a short discussion of the Roses used.

Roses ~ Grown for Scent – Part I of 2

Compiled by Jeanne Rose ~ April 2017

I am often asked about Roses. Why doesn’t that Rose that I grow have any odor? Or why isn’t the correct odor or the odor I smell when I purchase the absolute or the distilled oil in the Rose flower? What Rose can I grow to make scent or to distill? Where can I get Roses for scent?   And I am NOT writing about Roses that smell good or good smelling varietals; I am only talking about the antique Roses, heirloom Roses, species Roses, the real Roses that were used historically and are still used now for distillation or solvent-extraction for scent and perfumery. These are 2 totally different matters. Roses have a season of odor determined by the weather ~ the fragrant ones only bloom once a year and in order to capture that scent, they have to be picked at the correct time.

If you will check any of my books you will find much information on the Roses that are grown for scent. Herbs & Things p. 101; Herbal Body Book p. 118-119; The Aromatherapy Book, p. 128-129; and 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols, p. 132-134; a long article in my Herbal Studies Course; and so, there is no sense in repeating that information here. We are discussing only heirloom or species Roses that are used for scent.

In order to get a quality essential oil and hydrosol, you must first start with the correct plant, the correct cultivar type of plant and then plant it in the best location in the correct soil, then distil it, analyze the essential oil and if the numbers (GC/MS) are correct for that particular plant, then you can plant this as a crop and be pretty much assured that the essential oil and hydrosol will be a quality product. Each species of plant will have different needs and requirements.
You will also need a three-year plan before you try to market your product.

  1. Know Your Soil.
    2. Location, Location, Location.
    3. Water source and type.
    4. Choose the correct plant that will match the terroir.
    5. Harvest at the correct time.
    6. Harvest the correct part.
    7. Choose a method of distillation and type of equipment that works for your plant.
    8. Choose whether you are distilling for essential oil or hydrosol.
    9. Distil with the art and craft of careful knowledge and many years’ experience.

Here are the species and at the end the likely sources for them.
* #1 Rosa alba (Rosa damascena alba) – White Rose
* #2 Bourbon Rose, R. x bourboniana (Edouard Rose)
* #3 Rosa centifolia – Cabbage Provence rose or Rose de Mai (
confused with #5)
#4 Rosa chinensis viridis or viridiflora Green Rose
(only mentioned because it is interesting)
* #5 Rosa damascena (Rosa damascena forma trigintipetala or Kazanlik Rose
* #6 Rosa gallica officinalis – Apothecary Rose, French Rose or  Rose of Provins (distilled for Rosewater)
#7 Rosa moschata – The English Musk Rose (not often distilled)
#8 Rosa polyantha Mlle. Cecile Bruner (peppery smelling hydrosol)I
#9 Rosa rubiginosa or R. eglanteria
(hip used for Rosehip seed oil

*Those starred are the only Roses that are used commercially for their scent and the ones you should try to obtain.



#1 Rosa alba (Rosa damascena alba) – White Rose, ‘Alba Semi-Plena’ Rose, PICTURE SOURCE Les Roses, Volume I (1817), by Redouté
ORIGINAL BOTANICAL NAME Rosa alba flore pleno, ORIGINAL FRENCH NAME Rosier blanc ordinaire,
CURRENT BOTANICAL NAME R. alba var. semi-plena, COMMON NAME Alba Semi-Plena,
OTHER NAMES Double White Rose, White Rose of York, CLASS Alba Rose,
ORIGIN Unknown; ancient cultivator, possibly introduced to Britain by the Romans.
FLOWERING Once-flowering; summer,
SCENT Strong, sweet fragrance,
GROWTH Tall shrub, 8-12 feet (2.4-3.6 meters),
AVAILABILITY Still in cultivation
DISTILLATION: Available only rarely, sometimes available in the hydrosol. The scent is strong and sweet and a lovely addition to the perfumery.


#2 Bourbon Rose, R. x borboniana, PICTURE SOURCE Les Roses, Volume III (1824) by Redouté
Rosa canina Burboniana, ORIGINAL FRENCH NAME Rosier de L’Ile de Bourbon
OTHER NAMES Rose Jacques. ‘Rosier de l’Île Bourbon’ is from hips received from the Île Bourbon (= Réunion). The hips were almost certainly originating from ‘Rose Edouard’ which was cultivated there and in Mauritius. The rose cultivated in India as R. borboniana is actually ‘Rose Edouard’.
CLASS Bourbon
ORIGIN Raised, 1821 in the gardens of Neuilly, France, by Monsieur Jacques from seed imported from the Íle de Bourbon (now called Reunion)
FLOWERING Blooms in flushes throughout the season
SCENT Sweetly fragrant
GROWTH Vigorous bushy shrub to a height of several feet (1 meter)
AVAILABILITY Still in cultivation, At upper left is illustration of the Bourbon Rose, R. x borboniana, painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, portrait 169 out of 170, Volume III of Les Roses.
EVALUATION: The essential oil content of the varieties of R. damascena varied from 0.037% to 0.051% and that of R. bourboniana was 0.017%. Super jwala recorded the highest oil content (0.051%). A total of 32 components were identified in the different varieties of rose oil. These components constituted 78.1–93.5% of the total rose oil species. The main components of rose oil were citronellol + nerol (16.3–30.1%), geraniol (15.8–29.3%), linalool (0.7–1.9%), rose oxide (0.9–2.6%), phenyl ethyl alcohol (0.1–0.4%), eugenol (0.3–2.2%), nonadecane (7.3–14.7%). The content of citronellol + nerol (30.1%) and geraniol (29.3%) was the highest in Himroz compared with other varieties.


#3 Rosa centifolia – Cabbage Provence Rose or Rose de Mai, Cabbage Rose, R. centifolia, PICTURE SOURCE Les Roses, Volume I (1817). The dark green shrub is vigorous and not as open as in some varieties of Damask.
ORIGINAL BOTANICAL NAME Rosa centifolia, ORIGINAL FRENCH NAME Rosier à cent feuilles
OTHER NAMES Provence Rose, Holland Rose, Hundred-Petalled Rose, Rose des Peintres
CLASS Centifolia
ORIGIN 16-19th century; Dutch breeders
FLOWERING Once-flowering; summer
SCENT Strong, sweet fragrance
GROWTH Tall shrub, 6-7 feet (1.8-2.1 meters) high
AVAILABILITY Still in cultivation,  At upper left is a picture of the original Cabbage Rose, R. centifolia, painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, portrait 002 out of 170, Volume I of Les Roses.

This rose is still alive and well today and can be obtained from specialist rose nurseries. It is a sturdy shrub with a tall, spreading, sometimes sprawling habit covered in large, soft, green leaves and in the summer, pink, very double, cupped flowers.
Redouté and his botanist friend, Thory, describe it as being a shrub some 6-7 feet high ‘studded with a multitude of straight, unequal thorns’. Its flower they describe as ‘rounded in shape and composed of numerous rose-tinted petals, becoming more deeply tinted as they approach the flower’s center’. And the leaves as being arranged in groups of ‘five leaflets, rarely seven’, dark green in color and ‘deeply and almost doubly dentate [serrated]’. They suggest that it is essential to prune the shrub well in February [in their French climate] to keep it ‘very small’ so that it ‘beautifully flowers in the greatest abundance’ that will be achieved later in the growing season. This is a very sweetly perfumed rose, its attar used by the perfume industry.



#4 Rosa chinensis viridis or viridiflora. The Green Rose.  A species rose from China; the date of discovery is unknown but prior to 1896. It is a green rose and is not distilled but is certainly interesting to have around. I love this Rose and have grown it wherever I can, it is strange and funny looking and wonderful.  It cannot be distilled for essential oil, but if you have enough it can be distilled for a peppery rose hydrosol. This is a good face and body spray.
NAME: Rosa chinensis f. viridiflora (Lavallée) C. K. Schneid. (1905)
COLOR: White, near white or white blend or green
CLASS: China / Bengal, Hybrid China.
ORIGIN: Discovered by John Smith (United States, circa 1827). Introduced in France by Guillot/Roseraies Pierre Guillot in 1855 as ‘Rosa viridiflora’. Nigel Pratt of Tasman Bay Roses says this rose has small, many-petalled flowers of an unusual shape, in shades of dull green and reddish brown. Sangerhausen lists Viridiflora as a Hybrid China and the date as 1856.
FLOWERING: Green.   Average diameter 2″.  Borne mostly solitary, cluster-flowered, in large clusters, rosette bloom form.  Blooms in flushes throughout the season.
SCENT: None / no fragrance or greenish scent.
GROWTH: Medium, upright.  The height of 23″ to 4′ (60 to 120 cm).  Width of 2′ to 3′ (60 to 90 cm). USDA zone 7b through 10b.  Can be used for cut flower, exhibition or garden.  Shade tolerant.  Diploid – has 14 chromosomes.


#5 Rosa damascena (Rosa damascena forma trigintipetala or Kazanlik Rose, the original Rose for attar of Rose. • Kazanlik (Bulgarian Rose). Grown extensively in Bulgaria and Turkey; this Rose can be confused with the R. centifolia as they look very much alike but originated from different areas and it may also be the centifolia Rose but just from another area. It is distilled and solvent extracted for Rose scent. The valley is famous for its rose-growing industry which have been cultivated there for centuries, and which produces 85% of the world’s rose oil. The center of the rose oil industry is Kazanlik, while other towns of importance include Karlovo, Sopot, Kalofer and Pavel banya. Each year, festivals are held celebrating roses and rose oil. The picking season lasts from May to June.
Also called ROSA CENTIFOLIA TRIGINTIPETALA is the Kazanlik, known Prior to 1850 and Perhaps the most sought after of Damask roses, ‘Kazanlik’ or ‘Trigintipetala’ is grown in quantity in Bulgaria, a country which still exports a great deal of the world’s rose attar. The flowers are deep pink, with thirty petals arranged in a somewhat shaggy halo around golden stamens.
NAME: R. gallica var. damascena f. trigintipetala Synonym, Trendaphil;
AVERAGE RATING: EXCELLENT-.  Deep pink Damask., COLOR: Pink, white undertones, ages to lighter.
ORIGIN: Registration name: Kazanlik. Bred by Unknown origin (before 1612). Damasks are related to Gallicas. Summer damasks are crosses between R. gallica and R. phoenicea and autumn damasks between R. gallica and R. moschata. Recent research in Japan indicates that both summer and autumn damask roses originated with (R. moschata X R. gallica) X R. fedtschenkoana. Gene, Vol. 259, Issues 1-2, 23 December 2000, Pages 53-59. Introduced in Germany by Dr. Georg Dieck in 1889 as ‘Rosa damascena var. trigintipetala’ Damask.
FLOWERING: 30 petals.  Average diameter 2″.  Medium, double (17-25 petals), in small clusters bloom form.  Occasional repeat later in the season.  Small, glandular sepals, leafy sepals, buds.  Armed with thorns/prickles, bushy, well-branched.  Light green foliage.  7 leaflets.
Strong, eponymous centifolia fragrance.
GROWTH:  Height of 5′ to 8′ (150 to 245 cm).  Width of 4′ to 6′ (120 to 185 cm). USDA zone 4b through 9b.  Vigorous.  Prune lightly directly after flowering is finished.  This rose blooms on old wood so be careful how you prune.  Bulgaria (Kazanlik region), Turkey (Sparta region).
INFORMATION:  – see references, ‘Kazanlik’ seems to be the same Damask-type which is also cultivated in Isparta/Turkey and Isfahan/Iran. Perhaps the most mysterious of the old rose groups; attempts have been made to track down the probable parentage of the Damasks (see above), but the suggestions seem implausible. The name refers to Damascus in the Middle East, where it was once believed these roses originated. We do know that they have been used for centuries in the production of attar or oil of roses; their fragrance is strong, and today it is the scent most often associated with roses. For potpourri, few roses are more valued than the Damasks aka Damask Rose.


#6 Rosa gallica officinalis – Apothecary Rose, French Rose or Rose of Provins
PICTURE SOURCE Les Roses, Volume I (1817)
ORIGINAL BOTANICAL NAME Rosa Gallica officinalis, ORIGINAL FRENCH NAME Rosier de Provins ordinaire
CURRENT BOTANICAL NAME R. gallica var. officinalis, COMMON NAME Apothecary’s Rose
OTHER NAMES Common Provins Rose, Red Rose of Lancaster, Old Red Damask, Medicine Rose.
CLASS Gallica
ORIGIN Sport from R. gallica, ancient origins
FLOWERING Once-flowering; spring/summer
SCENT Strong fragrance
GROWTH Shrub 3 feet (0.9 meters)
AVAILABILITY Still in cultivation
MORE INFO: Large, semi-double 3-4″ blooms (petals 12-18) of light red, opening to show a golden center, produced profusely on a nicely formed once blooming plant with grey-green foliage. Fragrant and shade tolerant. One of the antiquities of the Rose world. Used for medicinal purposes in Medieval times.
PERSONAL INFORMATION: This is one of my most favorite Roses. It produces lots of flowers even in poor growing conditions, it distils well for a lovely hydrosol and the petals have many uses in medicine; tea as a mild laxative, petals in jam, hips later in jam or syrups, petals infused in oil for creams and lotions and many other uses. This ancient rose is recorded as being in cultivation in the 800’s. (It was used as a medicine and perfume in the court of Charlemagne in the ninth century A.D.). Its petals were noted to retain their fragrance even when dried and powdered and for this reason, it remains the rose of choice for potpourris. It was also cultivated for its medicinal values. It is also commonly known as the “Apothecary’s Rose” and, more rarely, referred to as the “Old Red Damask” and “Rose of Provins”. They are heavy bloomers and most are very fragrant. Their compact size makes them suited for small gardens. Although Gallicas perform best in zones 4 to 8 where they go dormant naturally, they may also flower very well in zone 9 to 10 if you induce dormancy. Don’t fertilize them after the 1st of August. Remove all leaves left on the plant in December and for this effort, you will be rewarded with an abundance of beautiful blooms that your friends will enjoy each spring.


#7 Rosa moschata – The English Musk Rose is ancient and will grow 10-15 feet. It blooms once per year and the scent is heavenly pungent and fresh. The blooms can be picked for baths and to distill for hydrosol.
ORIGIN: Rosa moschata (musk rose) is a species of rose long in cultivation. Its wild origins are uncertain but are suspected to lie in the western Himalayas.
FORM…R. moschata is a shrub (to 3 m.) with single white 5 cm flowers in a loose cyme or corymb, blooming on new growth from late spring until late autumn in warm climates, or from late summer onwards in cool-summer climates. The flowers have a characteristic “musky” scent, emanating from the stamens, which is also found in some of its descendants. The prickles/thorns on the stems are straight or slightly curved and have a broad base. The light- or greyish-green leaves have 5 to 7 ovate leaflets with small teeth; the veins are sometimes pubescent and the rachis possesses prickles. The stipules are narrow with spreading, free tips. Small, ovate fruits called hips are borne, turning orange-red in autumn. The variety ‘Plena’ bears semi-double flowers, and a form with study name “Temple Musk”, found in the United States, bears more fully double flowers.
CONFUSION: This species has historically been confused with Rosa brunonii, a closely related, tall-climbing species from the Himalayas that bears flowers in late spring and which possesses a similar, musky scent. They can be distinguished in gardens by their season of flowering and by their differing growth habits.
CULTIVATION: It has been contended that no truly wild examples of the musk rose have been found, though it is recorded in cultivation as least as far back as the 16th century. It is important in cultivation as a parent to several groups of cultivated roses, notably the damask rose and the Noisette group, and is valued for its scent and for its unusually long season of bloom among rose species.
PERSONAL USE: I was able to grow this lovely Rose when I first moved to my house in San Francisco, before the neighbors planted a Redwood one one side and on the other side Eucalypts.  My Musk Rose entranced the neighborhood with its scent in the spring but the growing shade of the neighbor trees and the new foundation on my house which stopped good drainage of the soil slowly diminished my Rose until she was no more.


#8 Rosa polyantha Mlle. ‘Mlle. Cécile Brünner’
GROWTH: It has delicate, small, soft pink, sweetheart buds and blooms.    30 petals on a 2.5-inch flower and a sweet spicy fragrance. Almost thornless, shade tolerant and a cold climate rose bush.  Disease-free light green foliage. Height   2′-4′ with a mild peppery fragrance.
GARDEN: The sweetheart rose is a real sweetheart in the garden. While designated for the bush form, this nickname can easily be applied as well to its ‘Mlle. Cecile Brunner, climbing’ form. Pick the flowers for baths and to distil for a peppery hydrosol.
PRUNING: THIS well-known rose is an aggressive climber, but heavy pruning is considered a necessity. However, I have found that in San Francisco, if you prune too much you won’t get many flowers the next year as they bloom, on old wood. If you’d like these demure blooms on a more manageable shrub, Mademoiselle Cécile Brunner, bush form, the climber’s parent, reaches 4-5 ft.


#9 Rosa rubiginosa or R. eglanteria
Rosa rubiginosa (Sweet briar or Eglantine Rose; syn. R. eglanteria) is a species of rose native to Europe and western Asia. The name ‘eglantine’ derives from Latin aculeatus (thorny), by way of old French aiglant. ‘Sweet’ refers to the apple fragrance of the foliage, while ‘briar’ (also sometimes ‘brier’) is an old Anglo-Saxon word for any thorny shrub.
GROWTH:  It is a dense deciduous shrub 2–3 m high and across, with the stems bearing numerous hooked prickles/thorns. The foliage has a strong apple-like fragrance. The leaves are pinnate, 5–9 cm long, with 5-9 rounded to oval leaflets with a serrated margin, and numerous glandular hairs. The flowers are 1.8–3 cm diameter, the five petals being pink with a white base, and the numerous stamens yellow; the flowers are produced in clusters of 2-7 together, from late spring to mid-summer. The fruit is a globose to oblong red hip 1–2 cm diameter.
CULTIVATION AND USES: In addition to its pink flowers, it is valued for the scent of the leaves, and the hips that form after the flowers and persist well into the winter. Graham Thomas recommends that it should be planted on the south or west side of the garden so that the fragrance of wild apples will be brought into the garden on warm, moist winds.
In Tunisia, natural flower water is produced from its flowers. In Chile and Argentina, where it is known as “Rosa Mosqueta”, it can be found in the wild around the Andes range and is also cultivated to produce hips for marmalades and cosmetic products.


Roses discussed above.
#1 Rosa alba (Rosa damascena alba) – White Rose
#2 Bourbon Rose, R. x borboniana
#3 Rosa centifolia – Cabbage Provence rose or Rose de Mai

#4 Rosa chinensis viridis or viridiflora
#5 Rosa damascena (Rosa damascena forma trigintipetala or Kazanlik Rose)
#6 Rosa gallica officinalis – Apothecary Rose, French Rose or Rose of Provins
#7 Rosa moschata – The English Musk Rose
#8 Rosa polyantha Mlle. Cecile Bruner
#9 Rosa rubiginosa or R. eglanteria


Lea S. says, “When visitors to my garden ask me why certain roses can’t bloom year around I tell them they save all of their scent in concentration for the one bloom and that is one reason they smell so good.”

Sources: I am giving you these sources from the USA and must admit that I have had a difficult time to contact any of them. I have e-mailed with no response, called with no callback. So, I wish you the best of luck and hope if you do get any of the old heritage Roses from any of these companies, you will let me know. Also, there are very good sources in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, so investigate those areas as well.  ~

Please let me know of any success story.

B&B Nursery & Propagators, 2578 County Road I, Willows, CA 95988, ph./fax 530-934-2676, (951) 926-1134;

Cydney Wade, Rose Petals Nursery, 16918 SW 15th Ave., Newberry, Florida 32669, US, License# 48009500,
Phone number: 352-215-6399,

Flowering Shrub Farm in 40 Voorheesville Ave, Voorheesville, NY, … I heard good things about this company but have not been able to contact. Phone: 518-526-9978 try this number. (be careful as the names are confusing), only order the original antique rose not a namesake. 24062 Riverside Drive Northeast, St. Paul, OR 97137, (800) 820-0465  This is one of the best sources for some of the authentic heirloom Roses for the distillation of scent. Antique Rose Emporium, PH. 800-441-0002, 979-836-9051 Customer Service, 979-836-0928.  9300 Lueckemeyer Rd., Brenham, TX 77833

Rogue Valley Roses, PO Box 116, Phoenix OR 97535,, Phone (541) 535-1307. Seems to carry several kinds of ‘Kazanlik’ roses and the Autumn Damask and others. [or is the address 2368 Terri Dr., Medford, OR 97504?], Phone: (541) 535-1307

Roses of Yesterday and Today, 802 Browns Valley Road, Watsonville, CA 95076, (831) 728-1901,

 Vintage Gardens, 4130 Gravenstein Hwy. North 
Sebastopol, CA 95472 (the gardens and Roses are still here but apparently being overgrown with blackberry and abandoned but aided by the Friends of Vintage Roses). (707) 829-2035,

HYDROSOL: PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.
Patch Test:  If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64

Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California:
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992
Wikipedia has many resources for this information. See taxonomy, botany, and the individual Roses.

DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©
Hand carved container for Rose Oil




~ JR ~

11 thoughts on “Roses ~ Grown for Scent

  1. Thank you for such wonderful and in depth information as well as sources. I have been window shopping Rose varieties for my garden and this is a huge help!

    • Please do let me know if you order a true species rose and who from? I need to know the companies that are selling the real true species Roses with scent (not just Roses that smell good).

  2. Very useful! I feel even more certain now that the rose I want to start with is the Apothecary Rose (R. gallica). I have contacted Flowering Shrub Farm in NY and will post my response once my rose has arrived. I also loved reading about Bulgaria and the rose festivals. The stuff of dreams! Thank you for the excellent article.

    • The roses from Flowering Shrub Farm in NY are not yet for sale and I cannot place an order until they are posted available. The site and ordering are not user friendly but I have decided to make a note to myself are order a Rosa gallica from them none-the-less. I have found that some of the best growers are not necessarily the best business people. I will be watching for them to post sale availability.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful and thoughtfully written information on roses grown for scent. When visitors to my garden ask my why certain roses can’t bloom year around I tell them they save all of their scent in concentration for the one bloom and that is one reason they smell so good .. Is that true or am I romanticizing a notion?

    • It is like anything that is really good, nothing produces year around, everything has a season, even good Roses. Humans are so used to altering their environment that most do not even know or remember that Roses actually have a specific odor and that odor is seasonal and determined by weather and terroir.

  4. Pingback: Roses ~ Used As Scent | Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy Blog

  5. You could order them from Europe – David Austin Roses (Great Britain, they offer R. Gallica Officinalis, some albas and damascenas), Rose Barni (Italy), Rozen Lottum (the Netherlands). 🙂

  6. DO you have a good resource for first time rose growers? You list a few things like “know your soil”. I’d need to learn more on that. Thank you!

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