Bought rose essential oil is incredibly expensive because of the amount of roses it takes – 10,000 roses to fill a single 5ml (one teaspoon) bottle. There are two different kinds of rose essential oil, rose ottos, which are extracted through steam distillation, and rose absolutes obtained through solvent extraction.
Distilled rose oil (rose otto) is made in giant stills filled with rose petals and water, which are then heated and the steam collected. When the steam condenses it separates into rose essential oil and rosewater (rose hydrosol).
Making rose absolute essential oil is a complicated chemical process, but owing to the low temperatures the scent is more faithful to the original than rose otto. The petals are put into a solvent such as hexane (one of the constituent of gasoline) to draw out the aroma compounds, then vacuum processed to remove the solvent. What is left, a waxy mass, is mixed with alcohol to draw off the aromatic compounds, and then the alcohol is pressure evaporated to leave behind the absolute.
You can try making rose essential oil at home, either by steam distillation or alcohol extraction, and this can be fun to try, but remember that you may not get a very strong scent and will need at least 10,000 roses to get a teaspoon of rose essential oil! You will also need to use very strongly scented rose varieties.
To make a home-made distilled (rose otto) oil, you use the method of home-made flower hydrosol. Take a large pan and put a trivet on the bottom of it. Pack your rose petals around it and add just enough distilled water to cover them. Put a small heat proof bowl on top of the trivet. Bring the water to the boil. Now place a large heat proof bowl on top of the big saucepan and fill it with icy cold water and ice cubes. This will cause the rising steam to condense back into water droplets and drop back down onto the plate. (Add more ice if it starts to warm up.) Simmer for a while before carefully removing the pan from the heat, and taking out the small bowl – there will be some condensed liquid in it. Allow it to cool. As you tilt the bowl you might be lucky enough to find a few drops of rose oil amongst the condensed rose water. You might need a syringe to get these away from the rosewater, and you won’t have very much at all. At least you will have some rose hydrosol, the condensed water which is very useful. It may or may not smell very strongly. (This works much better with lavender flowers to make lavender hydrosol.)
For an alcohol (rose absolute) extraction, take as many roses as you can, and allow them to wilt and lose their water content. Fill a jar with the petals and cover them with the highest proof vodka you can find (at least 120 proof). Keep in a dark place for a week, shaking daily. Strain off the vodka. Add more dried roses to it and repeat. You can repeat this whole process several times and you will have to to get a strong scent. Eventually, strain off the final batch and leave the sealed jar to stand for a day or two and you will see some separation of the vodka and plant oils. Place the jar upright in the freezer very carefully without agitating it and so mixing them up again. Leave overnight. Vodka doesn’t freeze, but the plant materials will. Remove the bottle from the freezer and quickly skim off the plant material onto some cheesecloth stretched over a bowl. Pick off the frozen bits before they melt, and place them in a dark glass bottle. This is your essential oil. It may not smell very strong, or be very pure, and you won’t get much at all, but you will have made some! You can drink the rose vodka though.
If you want to make a rose oil, by far the simplest method is to make an infused rose oil. Simply pack a clean glass jar with strongly scented, lightly crushed, rose petals. Cover with a light oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower, and put in a dark place for a week, shaking daily. Strain the oil from the petals onto fresh petals, and repeat. Keep repeating this process until the oil takes on the strength of scent you would like. Alternatively, you can place the jar of roses and oil in a pan of hot water (taken off the heat), and leave it there until it cools. This will help the petals release their scent.
What do I use my infused rose oil for? It is very good to use in massage, very soothing for nervous conditions, makes a comforting tummy rub for painful periods, and is marvellous for the skin, moisturizing and hydrating. It is especially good for dry, mature and irritated skin, broken capillaries, redness and eczema. And once I have my infused oil I can incorporate it into salves, creams, soaps etc.
© Anna Franklin, August 2020