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Damask rose

Category: Food



Introduction and description


Rosa × damascena, more commonly known as the Damask rose, or sometimes as the Rose of Castile, is a rose hybrid, derived from  Rosa moschata (native to the Himalayas) and Rosa gallica (native to central Europe). 

The flowers are renowned for their fine fragrance, and are commercially harvested for rose oil used in perfumery and to make rose water and "rose concrete".

Damask roses have always been associated with all things related to love, romance and adventure, but you don’t hear much about their healing potential or culinary uses.  And they have both.

The flower petals are edible. They may be used to flavour food, as a garnish, as an herbal tea, and can be found preserved in sugar in a product known as gulkand.

 As the food aspects of the Damask rose are quite fascinating, we have placed the full description in this food section, however, the observations showing the healing uses are shown in both this section and in an entry in the medicines section.

The Rosehips of Damask rose are also of interest and we have a section on Rosehips in general, which make a delicious food but have considerable healing potential.


crystalised damask rose petals, apricots, pistachios, and honey rice pudding

Although the Damask rose is a result of cross-breeding between Rosa moschata and Rosa gallica, it has the reputation for being more fragrant than either of the parent rose cultivars. 

In the middle of 12th century, Crusaders brought this rose back to Europe from Damascus (Syria) and this is how it obtained its common name.  it has been recorded and documented as “Rosa damascena” ever since.

These days Damask roses are cultivated commercially primarily in Iran, India, Bulgaria, France and Turkey.

Bulgaria and Turkey are the largest producers of rose oil from the different cultivars of Rosa × damascena. France and India also contribute significantly to the world market. Morocco, Tunisia and some other Middle Eastern countries have historically produced rose oil, but their modern contribution is now much smaller.

Kazanlak rose gathering

The town of Kazanlak in Bulgaria was founded in 1420. It is assumed by most historians that the cultivation of the Kazanlak Rose began around that period. Rosa × damascena, known in this region as the Kazanlak Rose, was reportedly brought to the area by a Turkish judge who brought them from Tunisia and cultivated them in his own fragrant garden.  It is now cultivated for commercial use in an area surrounding Kazanlak called the “Valley of Roses.” The distillate from these roses is sold as ‘Bulgarian Rose Oil”, and “Bulgarian Rose Otto”.

Turkish rose oil is sold as “Rose Oil”, “Turkish Rose Otto” and "Rosa Damascena Attar”, or “Ittar’ in similar languages. While there are still families who run their own small distilleries and produce what is known as “village oil”, the commercialization of Rose Oil as a high quality product is carefully regulated through a state-run cooperative in the Isparta region of Turkey. The Roses are still grown by the small family farms but the flowers are brought to one of many stills set up and regulated by the cooperative for distillation and quality control.


India has also developed an industry producing Rose Oil (both Rose Attar and Rose Absolutes) as well as Rose Concrete.

The city of Taif in Saudi Arabia is also famous for the cultivation of this flower, which is called "Ward Taifi".  There is also a history of fragrance production in Afghanistan (Kabul Province).

Iran's contribution is worth especial mention.  Very intensive research is underway in Iran on the medicinal value of roses.  We could have included hundreds of papers on their findings, all carefully carried out, to assess the potential of the essential oil to help with various problems such as depression, or difficult periods and diseases related to viruses and bacteria.  Dr Duke's analysis [see observations] show that the essential oil at least has very strong anti-bacterial and anti-viral capabilities, it thus remains for these researchers to find out which specific bacteria and viruses are combatted and how - internally or externally.  The anti-cancer effects look extremely promising.

It is interesting to note that a pattern seems to be emerging on the site that the Rose family of plants has considerable healing potential as a whole.



The Damask rose is a deciduous shrub growing to 2.2 metres (7 ft 3 in) tall, the stems densely armed with stout, curved prickles and stiff bristles. The leaves are pinnate, with five (rarely seven) leaflets. The roses are a light to moderate pink to light red. The flowers grow in groups. The bush has an informal shape. It is considered an important type of Old Rose, and also important for its prominent place in the pedigree of many other types.  The hybrid is divided in two varieties:

  • Summer Damasks (R. × damascena nothovar. damascena) have a short flowering season, only in the summer.
  • Autumn Damasks (R. × damascena nothovar. semperflorens (Duhamel) Rowley) have a longer flowering season, extending into the autumn; they are otherwise not distinguishable from the summer damasks.

A still popular example of R. × damascena is the Ispahan rose. The hybrid Rosa × centifolia is derived in part from Rosa × damascena, as are the Bourbon, Portland and Hybrid Perpetual classes.


The cultivar known as Rosa gallica forma trigintipetala or Rosa damascena 'Trigintipetala' is considered to be a synonym of Rosa × damascena.


Commercially, Rosa × damascena is cultivated in ‘hedge rows’ to help protect the blooms from wind and to facilitate ease of picking, but in ordinary gardens it is still a good idea to protect the bushes from cold wind.

Although roses are reasonably tolerant of soils and weather, they seem to grow best on well drained loamy soils with plenty of manure or compost worked in.  They do not mind heavy clay soils, possibly because it keeps the soil damp, they do not grow well when the soil is very dry.  We have some Damask roses growing against a south facing wall and they seem to love it.  Roses in general do better in full sun or at least a sunny position.


Roses in general suffer from all sorts of pests and diseases – black fly being a particular pest, but it also has problems with mildew and black spot on the leaves. According to the Companion planting experts, all alliums help with the repelling of insects and fungi.

It is worth mentionning that gathering the flowers for commercial use is still done by hand simply because it is essential not to bruise the petals.  It is very labor-intensive as it must all be done by hand including the stripping of petals. There are about twenty to forty days per year when harvesting occurs, depending on the type of Rosa × damascena cultivated in the region. The roses are gathered, then brought to a central location for steam distillation.



Gulkand is a sun-cooked preserve of Damask rose petals.  The slow sun-cooking concentrates the flavours of the Damask rose in a caramelized preserve. “Gul” means flower in both Persian and Urdu whereas “Kand” translates into sweetness in Arabic. As the process by which it is made is time and labour intensive it is a luxury item everywhere, including the countries in which it is made.  The seasonal nature of Damask roses coupled with the arduous process of sun-cooking and curing Gulkand also make it somewhat rare.  Gulkand is ‘cured’ over a period of 29 days with just Damask rose petals and candy sugar. This slow sun-cooking imparts depth & richness to the already concentrated floral, fruity and caramelized flavours.

Damask rose macaroons filled with rose petal preserve

Candy sugar is not the same as table sugar.  It originated in the Indo-Persian region and documented proof of production was first found in the writings of Arabic writers in the 9th century. Supersaturated sugar solutions are cooled down over several days to form large sugar crystals. “Slow crystallization imparts a very mild and soothing sweetness to these sugar crystals”.

Although it can be used in ice-creams or tarts, Gulkand is probably best savoured on its own, petal by petal, with plain tea.  And it is good for you.  There is documented proof that ancient Indian (Ayurvedic), Greek, Persian & Arabic (Unani) physicians prescribed Gulkand.  Ayurvedic texts which can be traced back to 900 B.C list Gulkand as a “Rasayana” which is Sanskrit for “tonic”. 

We have provided an observation which provides a bit more detail.

We highly recommend an hors d’oeuvre platter of tiny portions of Gulkand served on unsalted bread, toast, muffins, tea-cakes and scones followed by a round of Oolong, Earl Grey or White tea. Gulkand is the perfect culinary companion for tea/coffee lovers who are looking to infuse that exotic uplifting flavour to their teas & coffees. One can enjoy it separately on a scone as mentioned or simply replace sugar with a teaspoon or two of Gulkand.

damask rose petals on nougat with pistachios




in this case not 'jam' but Gulkand

Desserts and sweets

 Both Rose petal jam and if you are feeling lavish, Gulkand, can  be used to make a delicious variety of dessert dishes and sweets.


Shaking up a tall glass of plain Greek yogurt with a couple of tea-spoons of Gulkand (and optionally some ice-cubes) is one of the easiest ways to beat the heat in summer months! To incorporate a more “Lassi” like flavour to your shake, feel free to add accents of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg etc. as per your liking. Gulkand also goes well with other fruits like strawberries, bananas, peaches, mangoes etc. when blended and served as a smoothie.

both go extremely well as a topping to ice cream, or can be used to make ice cream.  As both are sweet, if you are making your own ice cream [with cream, egg yolks and whisked egg whites] then you have no need to add any sugar.

Both Gulkand and Rose petal jam can be used in ganaches & fillings for French macaroons and pâte à choux delicacies like cream puffs and eclairs. One can incorporate it into homemade biscuits, cakes and pastries to 'add that regal touch'.

I am afraid I do not know the origin of the following recipe.  It seems to be featured by numerous sites

Rice Pudding With Rose Water and Cardamom

⅓ cup pudding rice

2 quarts whole milk

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground cardamom

¾ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons chopped pistachios

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons rose water


Rinse the rice well, then combine with the milk and cardamom in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a bubble, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is very tender and the milk has been reduced by almost half, about 45 to 50 minutes.

This can also be cooked in the oven.

Stir in the sugar and 4 tablespoons of the pistachios and continue to cook, until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from heat, add salt and more sugar or a dash of ground cardamom if you like, then stir in the rose water. Serve room temperature or chilled, topped with the rest of the pistachios.


Damask rose Meringue Roulade with Rose Petals and Fresh Raspberries

There are numerous variations of this recipe using honey instead of sugar, for example.

Savoury dishes

 Damascus roses appear as one of the ingredients in the Moroccan spice mixture known as ras el hanout. Rose water and powdered roses are used in Persian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cooking. Rose water is often sprinkled on meat dishes, while rose powder is added to sauces.

Chicken with rose is a popular dish in Persian cuisine.

There are even recipes that incorporate Gulkand in savoury dishes as it adds just a small accent of rose and is said to enhance the overall flavour of the dish.


Whole flowers, or petals, are also used in the herbal tea "zuhurat".  There are many other teas also available that use rose petals or buds



Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Rose petal Jelly

6-8 large, fragrant rose blooms
Juice of 1 lemon
500g jam sugar with pectin

A homemade rose petal jelly will never match the intense rosiness of bottled rosewater, but would you want it to? Your preserve will be delicate, dreamy, delightful, and more true to the experience of sniffing the flower than if you use a concentrated extract.

What's important is the fragrance of the blooms: if their heady scent doesn't bowl you over, you'll struggle to get much out of them in the kitchen. Use any very fragrant roses, making sure they have not been sprayed or treated

Pick the petals from the roses and put them in a measuring jug: you should end up with about 500ml of loosely packed petals. Put them in a saucepan with 500ml water, bring to a simmer, cook gently for five minutes, leave to cool, then strain into a clean pan, pressing the petals with the back of a spoon to extract maximum fragrance.

Damask rose Yogurt Honey Jelly with Strawberries and Roses

Prepare some jam jars by washing them in hot, soapy water, rinsing, then standing them upside down in a very low oven. Meanwhile, put a saucer in the fridge to chill.

Add the lemon juice and sugar to the rose-scented liquid. Heat slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a rolling boil, cook for four minutes, turn off the heat and test for setting point.

Spoon a little jelly on to the cold saucer and return to the fridge for a minute. Push it with your finger: if it has formed a skin that wrinkles, the jelly is ready; if not, boil for another minute and test again. If you're unsure about the set, err on the side of caution. It's much better to end up with a soft, tender jelly than a tough, rubbery one.

Pour the hot jelly into the hot jars and seal. Use within a year, and refrigerate once opened.

Related observations