The rose through the ages

Ancient Romans used rose water as an air freshener in their homes, and, for all we know, maybe hanging from the rear-view mirrors of their chariots. And legend has it that the sails of Cleopatra's cedarwood ship were scented with rose water. In "Antony and Cleopatra," Shakespeare wrote "purple the sails, and so perfumed, that the winds were lovesick with them..."

Rose water was used to waft its scent over all kinds of activities, even manual labor. In the golden age of the caliphates of Baghdad, for instance, mosque builders mixed rose water and musk into the mortar, so that the heat of the sun would release the scent.

Rosewater was used during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as a remedy for depression, although no success stories are recorded. Because rose water was, and still is, considered to have anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties, it was added to the bath water and "handwater" for rinsing.

The Persians probably were the first to expand on the culinary potentials. They invented marzipan, a confection of ground almonds and sugar that traditionally was flavored with rose water. The Arabs borrowed the ingredient from the Persians, adding savory dishes to the repertoire. And with the migration of Islamic culture eastward, rose water was incorporated into the Indian culinary tradition.

Even now, in South Asian, West Asian, and Middle Eastern cuisine, food-safe rose water, preserves, petals and syrups are added to food as a flavoring in cooking, especially in sweets.


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