The Difference Between Damask Rose Essential Oil and May Rose Essential Oil

Pink Rose in Garden
Pink Rose in Garden, copyright Sharon Falsetto, All Rights Reserved

What’s in a rose (name)? As it turns out, quite a bit! Many people are familiar with rose, both as a plant and as a scent. However, there are many different species, hybrids, and cultivars of rose (some of which do not have an aroma). Here’s a quick look at the differences and similarities between two common types of rose essential oil: Damask rose, and May rose.

Botanical Profile of Damask Rose

Damask rose (Rosa × damascena) is actually a rose hybrid derived from Gallic rose (Rosa gallica) and musk rose (Rosa moschata). Damask rose is a deciduous shrub with pinnate leaves and pink to light red fragrant flowers. It may flower from summer through Fall, depending upon the variety.

Damask rose is considered to be part of the old garden roses (pre-1867).

Damask Rose Essential oil

Damask rose essential oil is also called by the name rose otto but check that Damask rose is the only rose contributing to this type of rose oil, as sometimes various species of roses are merged into one oil and called rose otto, as well. Damask rose essential oil is extracted from the rose petals by steam distillation. A minute quantity is produced so it literally takes thousands of rose petals to produce the aromatic deep, sweet, floral oil. Consequently, damask rose essential oil is very expensive.

Botanical Profile of May Rose

May rose (Rosa × centifolia) is also a rose hybrid derived from one known contributor, Damask rose, and various other species that are not fully documented. May rose, or Mai de Rose, also goes by the synonyms cabbage rose, rose Maroc, and Provence rose. May rose produces round, scented flowers, with numerous overlapping petals. It is usually pink in color.

Rose Absolutes

May rose is usually used to produce an extract, absolute, or concrete. Its aroma is often described by people as the aroma they remember from their childhood (indicating it is the more common garden rose). Note, however, that Damask rose also produces an absolute, so make sure you know which product (and species) you are purchasing.

Rose absolutes and concretes are generally used in natural perfumery whereas rose essential oil can be used in both natural perfumery and for therapeutic aromatherapy purposes. Absolutes and concretes use a solvent in the extraction process whereas essential oils are usually steam or water distilled.

Uses of Rose Essential Oil and Absolute

Rose essential oil is used in skincare, for stress, depression, insomnia, and for many women’s problems; the absolute is predominately used for scent purposes in natural perfumery.

Examples of Old Garden Rose Species (Specific to Aromatherapy)

Common Name Botanical Name Color Scent Other
Damask rose Rosa × damascena White to pink Highly fragrant, floral balsam, butter, scent honey. Ancient Syrian roots.
Cabbage rose Rosa × centifolia Pink to lavender Sweet and soft with green undertones. Hybrid of Damask and Alba roses.
White rose Rosa × alba White to pale pink Highly fragrant, rich, sweet, and floral.  
Apothecary rose Rosa gallica Red to purple Highly fragrant and sweet. Popular in the herb gardens of Medieval monasteries.
Musk rose Rosa moschata Ivory to white Highly fragrant, sweet, a touch of spice, and honey-like.  

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About the Author:

The author of this article has been working in the health care industry since the 1990s and in the aromatherapy industry since the 2000s. She is a UK-certified aromatherapist and a NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist®. She is both a published author and editor in aromatherapy, a consultant, a custom blend formulator, and a life-long herbal studies student. She is the author of Authentic Aromatherapy and the current chief editor of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal. She has taken the online Master Gardener short course series with the University of Oregon and is in her third year of formal herbal studies. Sharon works from her garden studio in Sedona, Arizona, where she gardens and distills plants from her own aromatic gardens, surrounded by natural fauna and flora on an original pioneer homestead property.

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