Rose lovers have long lamented that modern roses, while big and gorgeous, cannot match the fragrance of old-fashioned roses. Unless you take special care in selecting modern roses for their perfume, you may be in for disappointment. Also, while most modern roses may provide continuous blooms and unusual colors, they are not the same as the large, extravagant rose shrubs lavishly covered with blooms.
Old-fashioned roses usually produce only one spectacular spring bloom, most often on a large shrub. It is not unusual for an old shrub rose to reach five feet in height and five feet in diameter and produce literally hundreds of flowers at bloom time. With large rose shrubs, you can collect basketfuls of flowers for rose water or potpourri all at once.
Roses Historically Used for Making Attar of Roses
Old roses are often noted for their fine perfume. Historically, the roses that have been most used for the production of rose water have been the centifolia rose and the damask rose. The damask rose (Rosa damascena) was cultivated in Bulgaria, Persia, and India for making otto (a.k.a. attar) of roses because it is highly fragrant. The variety of rose cultivated in Provence for this purpose is the centifolia rose (Rosa centifolia).
Centifolia roses (sometimes called “cabbage roses”) and damascena or damask roses, of which there are many varieties, would be fine choices for richly perfumed garden roses. Moss roses, which are a kind of centifolia, would be an excellent choice as well. Many of the old garden roses have a damask or centifolia heritage.
The Rosa damascena, grown for the production of attar of roses, is often given the name Kazanlik when offered for sale by rose growers. All the damasks and centifolias, as well as many other types of old garden roses, are known for their fine fragrance.
Damask Rose Cultivars
Some excellent damask roses include:
- La Ville des Bruxelles
- Jaques Cartier
- Hebe’s Lip
- Madame Hardy
Of these, I think my favorite is Madame Hardy (the white rose shown above). I love it for its rich fragrance, heavy-textured petals, and its perfectly formed blossoms.
Centifolia Rose Cultivars
Some fine centifolias include the Rosa centifolia herself and centifolia varieties, such as Tour de Malakoff, Fantin Latour, and The Bishop.
Since the moss roses are merely a centifolia “sport” (kind of like a mutant) with beautiful mossy-looking sepals, they too are richly fragrant. Some may remember Grandma’s “Moss Rose” china pattern, with its representation of “moss” covered buds.
My favorite moss roses include:
- Alfred de Dalmas (Mousseline)
- Chapeau de Napoleon (Crested Moss)
- Henri Martin (the nearest to red of the moss roses)
- William Lobb (Old Velvet Moss)
I am partial to Chapeau de Napoleon with its unusual mossy sepals, and Alfred de Dalmas for its daintiness.
Other Roses Noted for Fragrance
There is no need to limit yourself entirely to the damask and centifolia roses. Some other old roses known for their sweet perfume are:
- Madame Isaac Pereire: A raspberry-purple rose said to be one of the most fragrant of all roses
- Souvenir de la Malmaison: A sweet-scented continuous bloomer
- Comte de Chambord: A continuous bloomer with a rich scent
- Reine des Violettes: The so-called “blue” rose
How to Make Rose Water
Questions & Answers
Question: Can Knockout roses be used for rose water?
Answer: I have grown Knockout roses, but I can't remember anything about their fragrance.
As long as it has a fragrance, you can make rosewater from any rose. The strength will vary, depending on the strength of the rose's scent, and you might need more petals from a rose with a light fragrance.
If you like the scent of Knockout roses, you will like the scent of rosewater made from them!
You can make rosewater from any rose, but the fragrance will be the fragrance of that particular rose. Some roses have little to no fragrance, some have a light fragrance, some have a more complex fragrance, and different varieties have subtle differences in their fragrance. For example, the Damask Rose fragrance is subtly different from the Centifolia Rose fragrance.
Question: Can we use any rose for rose water? The water I tried at home became redder than usual.
Answer: Yes, any rose can be used, but many of the old roses are more fragrant (and prolific) than most of the modern roses.
Question: what roses did you use to make rose water and potpourris?
Answer: Many fragrant rose varieties are mentioned in the article. My favorite to use is probably Madame Hardy.
Question: What roses tend to have less of a floral scent and more a sweeter aroma? (Or one that would go well as a cooking ingredient for its taste and not so much its scent)
Answer: Roses are mainly used in cooking in the form of rosewater. Rosewater--as with rose essential oils, attars, absolutes, and concretes--is typically (or at least commercially) made from the same rose varieties, which are the centifolias and the damasks.
I am not sure what you mean by "less of a floral scent and more a sweeter" aroma. I have occasionally smelled flowers that, to me, seemed to have a "sugary" or candylike scent. I have one iris like that. (The scent of iris flowers notoriously cannot be preserved. I have never tried this myself, but one of my friends tells me that attempts to extract the fragrance from iris flowers by any and all means, results in something that smells like old girdles.)
I am tempted to suggest that you try using other flowers, like violets--but flowers are inherently going to smell floral.
If you want a sweet (sugary?) aroma for cooking, I think maybe what you are after is the smell of carmelized sugar.
© 2013 Sharon Vile
Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on January 28, 2019:
Most modern roses were bred for qualities other than fragrance,and some are almost scentless, though some are fragrant.
If your roses have a nice scent, they should be fine.
The centifolias and damasks are known for their fine, strong fragrance, and they are also preferred because these old-fashioned roses normally grow into large bushes with a single short blooming season. This means that a mature rosebush will be covered with dozens of flowers that can all be gathered at once.
Naveen N on January 25, 2019:
Can we use any rose for rose water,I also tried rose at home but it is too red than usual
Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on January 22, 2018:
It would be interesting to look into the chemical composition of rosewater made from different rose varieties. Some of the modern roses may have valuable chemical components. But few, if any, can match the old damasks and centifolias for fragrance.
Robin Goodfellow from United States on January 22, 2018:
Interesting article. I wrote about the Health Benefits of Roses, and talked about the benefits of rose water. However, I didn't think the kind of rose actually mattered; I just always thought you could use any rose and everything would be fine.
Janean Overman from Virginia on August 01, 2017:
Great information. Well written and in depth hub. Thanks for sharing.
Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on January 10, 2017:
I have never looked into roses from the angle of skin benefits, so I did a bit of searching. The key thing for choosing rosewater for skin benefits seems to be how a particular product is produced.
That is, some rosewaters are produced by the distillation of the petals, so that they contain water-soluble plant compounds. Some other rosewaters are simply rose essential oil mixed with water. https://khlorisbotanical.com/library-post/rose-wat...
I had a look at the offerings of some of the online suppliers of ingredients for soap, body care, and cosmetics (New Directions Aromatics, Essential Wholesale, Brambleberry, Bulk Apothecary, and Mountain Rose). The only company offering rosewater claimed to be made by steam distillation is Mountain Rose Herbs. https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/rose-wh...
But I notice that their R. damascena hydrosol is not claimed to be produced through steam distillation. https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/rose-hy...
Cecilia on January 10, 2017:
Hello, I have a question, in terms of skin benefits, are there any specific roses with the most benefit beside fragrance?
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on February 11, 2015:
Lovely information on this hub!