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Uses for the Damascus rose

For centuries, the Damascus rose (Rosa damascena) has been considered as being a symbol of beauty and love. The fragrance of the rose has been captured and preserved in the form of rose water by an ancient method that can be traced back to biblical times in the Middle East, and later to the Indian subcontinent. An Arabian doctor, Avicenna, is credited with the discovery of the process for extracting rose water from rose petals in the early 11th century.

Damascus roses were introduced into England during the reign of Henry VIII and were frequently displayed and scattered at weddings and festivals. Nowadays, they are popular in craft projects and as potpourri ingredients. They are used in wedding favours, gathered together in organza bags or favour boxes, and they replace the traditional Avola sugared almonds to make perfumed keepsakes. They are also used to decorate festive tables. They are also used as hair decorations when attached to hairpins.

The uses of the dried Damascus rose in beauty products are numerous. Soaking Damascus rosebuds in water for three or four days releases a rose essence which can be added to bath water or may be used to rinse hair after shampooing to leave the skin and hair soft with the fragrance of roses. As the gentlest of all astringents, rose water is often used as toner for fair and dry skin or as an anti-ageing product in facial creams. Damascus rose oil also has therapeutic properties that sooth the mind and helps with depression, nervous tension and stress.

Damascus roses are also used in cooking. Rose water and powdered roses are used especially in Indian and Arabic cooking. Rose water was sprinkled on almost all meat dishes, rose powder was added to sauces, yogurts and other desserts. Chicken with rose jam was a valued dish in Persian cuisine. Western cookery today does not make much use of rose water, but Mediterranean cuisine still favours it, especially in such delicacies as rose petal jam.

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