There are many recipes from Italian ‘books of secrets’ (e.g. Isabella Cortese, Alessio Piemontese, Notandissimi Profumi) and from still room manuals that require acqua rosa or rosewater. If you want to make this at home there are two methods that I have tried and will share with you in this post. Of course, you could always buy food grade distilled rosewater from an international market. One brand I have used in the past is Cortas Rose Water which is derived from using Damascene (Rosa damascena) roses that would have also been popular in our period of study.
Rosewater smells good and, when made from organic roses, it is edible. It is a central ingredient for making historical cold cream, hand-washing waters, bathwater enhancer, perfumes, and lip stains. You can use it by itself on a linen cloth to soothe dry skin and puffy eyes. It also makes a wonderful modern toner and can be used as makeup setting spray.
The methods I have used to make rosewater at home are the infusion method and the stovetop distillation method. If you have a still/alembic for making perfumes and such you should use it! I don’t have one, so I looked for a way to do it without an alembic.
Rose Infused Water
The simmering method does have a period origin. In this recipe from Askham’s Herbal printed in 1550 he writes:
Rose Water. Some do put rose water in a glass and they put roses with their dew thereto and they make it to boile in water, then they set it in the sune tyll it be readde and this water is beste.
I enjoyed the company of a bouquet of organic roses for a few days before plucking the petals to make the rosewater. I put the petals into a colander and rinsed them to get rid of seeds and dirt. Then I placed the petals in a large pot and cover the petals with water. On high heat (with the cover on), I brought the water to a boil and then allowed the roses to cool gradually for the next hour. I strained out the petals, placed the water in a large jar, and stored the rosewater in the fridge until needed.
Stovetop Distilled Rosewater
For this method I made a hydrosol from rose petals, which is as close as you can get to distilled rosewater without a still. It is comparable with rosewater made with an alembic in our period of study:
- Pick your organically grown roses and rinse them (I watered them before picking).
- Gently pull the petals off and put them in a glass bowl until you have 3-4 cups worth.
- Take a stock pot and place it on the burner.
- Take a small glass or metal bowl and place it in the middle of the stock pot.
- Pour 2 cups of water into the pot around the bowl (not into the bowl).
- Place the rose petals into the water around the bowl.
- Place the lid on the pot and bring the water to a simmer.
- Have a couple cups of ice ready on the side.
- As soon as the water simmers invert the lid of the pot and place the ice cubes on the lid.
- Wait about 10-12 minutes and check.
- The bowl inside the pot should have a good amount of clear liquid – rosewater.
- Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool.
- Keep the resulting rosewater from the bowl in the fridge.
- Strain the simmered water and rose petal mixture to use in your bath 🙂
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Manniche, Lise. (1999). Sacred Luxuries: fragrance, aromatherapy and cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Pare, Ambroise. (1921). Life and Times of Ambroise Pare 1510-1590. Hoeber, Paul (tr.). New York.
Pointer, Sally. (2005). Artifice of Beauty. London: The History Press.
Rohde, E. (1922). The Old English Herbals. London, UK: Longmans, Green, and Co.