Rose Water Series: What Is Rose Water?
From adding a floral flavor to desserts, to cleaning the Kiswa (black cloth that shrouds the Kaba in Mecca) of the Kaba, rosewater is a common part of many cultures spanning across the Arab world, Turkey and central Asia. Its benefits are numerous, and its uses endless. Rosewater has been used over the centuries for treating skin and sicknesses, as a perfume, a moisturizer, and a flavoring. So what exactly is rose water and why does it play such an important role in many societies around the world?
For starters, rosewater is a simple composition made up of its namesake: rose and water. It is the result of steeping rose petals in water until the water soaks up the flavor and nutrients from the petals. In some cases, rosewater is prepared by steeping the entire rose in order to benefit from the nutrients in the stem and leaves as well. The Damask Rose is typically the preferred species of rose used to make rosewater. It’s name comes from its origin in Damascus, Syria. Scientists have said however, that recent DNA tests may indicate that the Damask Rose may have actually originated from central Asia.
Uses of Rose Water
Rosewater has been used in a variety of ways throughout various cultures over time. Primarily, rose water is commonly added to food and drinks, used cosmetically, and consumed for its medicinal value.
In food, it is added in water to give it a nice floral and refreshing taste, especially in the summer. It’s also added in many desserts like baklava, rice pudding, ice cream, cookies, and even cakes. Sometimes it can even be substituted in place of vanilla extract to give the cake a more floral flavor.
Rose water is also used in making jam, a popular breakfast item in Turkey, and can be mixed in with fruits as well. Rose water is also at times, made into a syrup by adding sugar and cooking it into a syrupy texture. This is actually how it is applied to desserts like baklava, katayef and kunafa - all very popular desserts in Arab world and are made especially during the holidays like Ramadan and Eid.
But in addition to food, it is also used as a cosmetic, particularly by women. It can be incorporated as part of a daily routine. Rose water has been sold as a perfume and has been advertised as a great substitute for the chemically filled perfumes typically sold everywhere. It’s also a great way to keep your skin fresh and healthy. Using a cotton ball to dab it on your face, usually after washing your face in the morning or before bed, is a good way to keep your skin looking and feeling young.
As I mentioned earlier, rose water is used across many cultures and has religious importance too. Not only is it special in Islam, but it is also importnat in Eastern Orthodoxy, Hinduism and Zoarastrianism. As part of the rose water blog series, I will talk specifically about rose water’s significance and history in Islam.
Benefits of Rose Water
Due to its popularity, a lot of research has gone into studying the benefits of rose water; and it should come as no surprise, there are A LOT! I will go over some of them here. Starting with the skin, rose water helps with:
- Soothing skin irritation, eczema and rosacea
- Reducing redness of the skin
- Healing wounds, cuts and burns faster due to its antiseptic and antibacterial properties
- reducing wrinkles (anti-aging)
Moreover, rose water also helps relieve headaches and improve your mood. According to a 2011 study, rose petal extract was determined to have antianxiety and antidepressant effects after it was seen relaxing the central nervous system system in mice. It also contains antioxidant and antiseptic properties (you may notice a theme here with many of our products like the sidr honey and black seed oil) that are used to protect against infections. Many medications contain the extract, especially in eye drops. A 2008 study indicated that rose water can help sooth and improve digestive issues and overall digestions.
How to use Rose Water
Rose water is to be used in very small amounts as it is very concentrated and only requires a little bit to go a long way. I sometimes add it when I drink a glass of water, but I add only 2-3 drops. The beauty of rose water is its subtlety. Too much of it can leave a bad taste, but adding just the right amount gives you that light, floral flavor to make whatever you’re consuming taste more refreshing.
It can also be added in many herbal or fruity drinks. Hibiscus is made into a very popular drink in Egypt and it is made cold. When making a pitcher of hibiscus tea, you can add between 1 tsp to a Tbsp of rose water as additional flavoring. The main theme here when using rose water, as I mentioned before, is that a little bit goes a very long way. Start off by using it conservatively, and add more as desired.
There are many recipes that allow for the use of rose water. Earlier I talked about using it in desserts. In many Middle Easter desserts, it is made into a syrup by cooking it with sugar. When making cakes however, replacing the small amount of vanilla extract, with the same amount in rose water, should suffice.
Outside of food, you can also easily add rose water to a spray bottle and use it either as a perfume, or if you’re allergic to Febreeze and other air fresheners (or just don’t like them), spray it in your home to freshen up the smell. For people, and women in particular, that are looking for more of a subtle perfume on certain occasions, rose water is a great substitute to the typical brands we use.
This is the first of a series of blogs on rose water that we will be publishing in the coming weeks and months. As it may not be familiar to many, we wanted to start off by explaining what it was and how to use it. But we also feel it is important to know the religious, cultural and historical significance of it as well. This is why we are working on a series that will do a deep dive into rose water’s importance in Islam, but also in specific countries and cultures like Turkey, Iran and parts of the Arab World. Stay tuned for more!