This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
By CHARLES G. WARNFORD LOCK.
This celebrated perfume is the volatile essential oil distilled from the flowers of some varieties of rose. The botany of roses appears to be in a transition and somewhat unsatisfactory state. Thus the otto-yielding rose is variously styled Rosa damascena, R. sempervirens, R. moschata, R. gallica, R. centifolia, R. provincialis. It is pretty generally agreed that the kind grown for its otto in Bulgaria in the damask rose (R. damascena), a variety induced by long cultivation, as it is not to be found wild. It forms a bush, usually three to four feet, but sometimes six feet high; its flowers are of moderate size, semi-double, and arranged several on a branch, though not in clusters or bunches. In color, they are mostly light-red; some few are white, and said to be less productive of otto.
The utilization of the delicious perfume of the rose was attempted, with more or less success, long prior to the comparatively modern process of distilling its essential oil. The early methods chiefly in vogue were the distillation of rose-water, and the infusion of roses in olive oil, the latter flourishing in Europe generally down to the last century, and surviving at the present day in the South of France. The butyraceous oil produced by the distillation of roses for making rose-water in this country is valueless as a perfume; and the real otto was scarcely known in British commerce before the present century.
The profitable cultivation of roses for the preparation of otto is limited chiefly by climatic conditions. The odoriferous constitutent of the otto is a liquid containing oxygen, the solid hydrocarbon or stearoptene, with which it is combined, being absolutely devoid of perfume. The proportion which this inodorous solid constituents bears to the liquid perfume increases with the unsuitability of the climate, varying from about 18 per cent. in Bulgarian oil, to 35 and even 68 per cent. in rose oils distilled in France and England. This increase in the proportion of stearoptene is also shown by the progressively heightened fusing-point of rose oils from different sources: thus, while Bulgarian oil fuses at about 61° to 64° Fahr., an Indian sample required 68° Fahr.; one from the South of France, 70° to 73° Fahr.; one from Paris, 84° Fahr.; and one obtained in making rose-water in London, 86° to 89½° Fahr. Even in the Bulgarian oil, a notable difference is observed between that produced on the hills and that from the lowlands.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the culture of roses, and extraction of their perfume, should have originated in the East. Persia produced rose-water at an early date, and the town of Nisibin, north-west of Mosul, was famous for it in the 14th century. Shiraz, in the 17th century, prepared both rose water and otto, for export to other parts of Persia, as well as all over India. The Perso-Indian trade in rose oil, which continued to possess considerable importance in the third quarter of the 18th century, is declining, and has nearly disappeared; but the shipments of rose-water still maintain a respectable figure. The value, in rupees, of the exports of rose-water from Bushire in 1879, were--4,000 to India, 1,500 to Java, 200 to Aden and the Red Sea, 1,000 to Muscat and dependencies, 200 to Arab coast of Persian Gulf and Bahrein, 200 to Persian coast and Mekran, and 1,000 to Zanzibar. Similar statistics relating to Lingah, in the same year, show--Otto: 400 to Arab coast of Persian Gulf, and Bahrein; and 250 to Persian coast and Mekran. And Bahrein--Persian Otto: 2,200 to Koweit, Busrah, and Bagdad. Rose-water: 200 to Arab coast of Persian Gulf, and 1,000 to Koweit, Busrah, and Bagdad.
India itself has a considerable area devoted to rose-gardens, as at Ghazipur, Lahore, Amritzur, and other places, the kind of rose being R. damascena, according to Brandis. Both rose-water and otto are produced. The flowers are distilled with double their weight of water in clay stills; the rose-water (goolabi pani) thus obtained is placed in shallow vessels, covered with moist muslin to keep out dust and flies, and exposed all night to the cool air, or fanned. In the morning, the film of oil, which has collected on the top, is skimmed off by a feather, and transferred to a small phial. This is repeated for several nights, till almost the whole of the oil has separated. The quantity of the product varies much, and three different authorities give the following figures: (a) 20,000 roses to make 1 rupee's weight (176 gr.) of otto; (b) 200,000 to make the same weight; (c) 1,000 roses afford less than 2 gr. of otto. The color ranges from green to bright-amber, and reddish. The oil (otto) is the most carefully bottled; the receptacles are hermetically sealed with wax, and exposed to the full glare of the sun for several days. Rose water deprived of otto is esteemed much inferior to that which has not been so treated. When bottled, it is also exposed to the sun for a fortnight at least.
The Mediterranean countries of Africa enter but feebly into this industry, and it is a little remarkable that the French have not cultivated it in Algeria. Egypt's demand for rose-water and rose-vinegar is supplied from Medinet Fayum, south-west of Cairo. Tunis has also some local reputation for similar products. Von Maltzan says that the rose there grown for otto is the dog-rose (R. canina), and that it is extremely fragrant, 20 lb. of the flower yielding about 1 dr. of otto. Genoa occasionally imports a little of this product, which is of excellent quality. In the south of France rose gardens occupy a large share of attention, about Grasse, Cannes, and Nice; they chiefly produce rose-water, much of which is exported to England. The essence (otto) obtained by the distillation of the Provence rose (R. provincialis) has a characteristic perfume, arising, it is believed, from the bees transporting the pollen of the orange flowers into the petals of the roses. The French otto is richer in stearoptene than the Turkish, nine grammes crystallizing in a liter (1¾ pint) of alcohol at the same temperature as 18 grammes of the Turkish. The best preparations are made at Cannes and Grasse. The flowers are not there treated for the otto, but are submitted to a process of maceration in fat or oil, ten kilos. of roses being required to impregnate one kilo. of fat. The price of the roses varies from 50c. to 1 fr. 25c. per kilo.