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Rose de Provence

( Originally Published 1933 )


French Rose

Rosaceae Shrub

The bushes came to me from France by special permit, too, although they are now obtainable in the United States. This rose is an ancestor of the hybrid perpetual roses, and with the damask rose is the principal rose used for perfume. The bush is low, two to three feet high when in flower and growing taller later in the season. It is short in comparison with other rose species.

Branch. The branches are light green and thorny, with small thorns of a light green color shaded reddish.

Leaf. The leaves are compounded into five leaflets, each sharply serrated, dark above and lighter below, and there are sharp little pricks along the midrib on the under side.

Flower. The flowers blossom from the middle of June for about ten days, and then not again all season. The sepals have much divided margins like a compound leaf. The petals are all crushed together in the bud and are a deep reddish-rose color, and show their stamens and pistils, which makes them look almost single, but they are semidouble, having about fifteen petals. They smell a little of pine when fresh and strongly of roses when dry. They are very hardy in my garden and have grown into the hedge behind.


I grow them exactly as I do the damask roses.


This applies to all of the old roses. Much has been written about how the Romans imported roses from Egypt for their grand parties, and how the petals carpeted the floors of the banqueting rooms, and rose water played in the fountains. The aesthetes of those days slept on mat-tresses stuffed with rose petals, and the sturdy Romans, no longer quite so sturdy, bathed in rose wine. Pliny says the rose petals were charred and used as cosmetics for eye-brows, and that the dried petals made into a powder were sprinkled on the body after the bath to check perspiration.

Avicenna is said to have been the first to extract the oil from roses by distillation. In Arabic Spain the clothes of the Emirs were rinsed in rose water. The rose was on Charlemagne's list, and is in every herbal. To the Greeks it was a symbol of love, beauty, and happiness, and said to derive its red color from Aphrodite's blood. It is also the emblem of silence, whence the expression, "sub rosa"; and the Mohammedans thought it holy.

The rose de Provins was introduced into Provence in 1254 by Thibault, Comte de Champagne, and at that time the commerce of dried rose petals, conserves, syrup, and honey of roses began and they were considered products of great value.

The roses were in American gardens quite early. Mrs. Logan's "Gardener's Calendar" mentions white, monthly, and sweet briar roses. Prince lists the Damascena red, Damascena white, and large Provence rose in 1790. In an article on tea in the Virginia Gazette of January, 1774, a recipe is given for a tea of "Red Rose bush leaves, and cinquefoil which recruits the strength, mitigates pains, and inflammations, and is beneficial to consumptives and feverish people, healing wounds and serviceable in spitting blood."

Before the war the center of culture for the damascena roses, where the finest attar of roses was produced, was Kezanlik in Bulgaria. For miles the land was given over to the culture of this plant and the fragrance when they were in blossom was said to be almost overwhelming. There the soil is sandy and porous, and slopes toward the south, and the bushes were planted close together to form hedges, in long rows with six feet between the rows, and were renewed every five years. A rose plantation was established near Leipzig in 1886 to furnish rose oil, but the cold climate was not favorable. At Grasse a fine oil is obtained from the roses.


Medicine. The Rosa gallica is mentioned in all editions of the pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1920. Rose petals are mildly astringent and carminative.

Perfume. In France the attar of roses is extracted by enfleurage, but in Bulgaria through distillation. One drop of rose oil will perfume one quart of water. The essence of rose is present in practically every perfume, and the dried petals are in every potpourri.

Food. Rose water and rose petals enter into many recipes, for the flavor of roses gives a smooth, sweet taste, and blends in well with other condiments. Crystallized rose petals are of Oriental origin and pleasant to behold as well as to eat.

At Nanking, according to Bois, "Les Plantes Alimentaires," a rose is grown for eating, which seems to be a variety of the Rugosa rose. The dried petals perfume not only teas and drinks, as is commonly done in other parts of China, but bakers use a large amount for their cakes, and brewers prepare a kind of liqueur of roses.

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