This article first appeared in our Consumer Revolution issue of My Green Pod Magazine, released on 19 Dec 2019. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
The Bulgarian rose (Rosa damascena) is known as the queen of the roses and one of the world’s most incredible flowers; it opens the heart and invokes love and inspiration, but is most famous for its healing and beautifying properties. Cleopatra and Michelangelo knew well of its secrets and used rose water daily.
A recent revival has seen countless new rose-infused skincare products hit the shelves, but many are ‘rose-based’ and enhanced with artificial essences and aromas. Traceable ingredients and organic certification are crucial if you want to get the full scope of benefits from this amazing flower.
Likewise the distillation process is key to retaining the rose’s purity and, consequently, its therapeutic clout; while rose absolute is distilled using a chemical process, rose otto is extracted using steam, making it a ‘true essential oil’. Known as liquid gold, organic Bulgarian rose otto is the rarest and most precious essential oil in the world.
Valley of Roses
Rosa damascena thrives in the microclimate of Bulgaria’s Valley of Roses; the area is sheltered by two mountain ranges and the favourable soil conditions produce an abundance of extremely potent roses.
Given the demand for rose otto and rose water, growing these beautiful flowers was a natural career path for Daniel Kolev’s great-grandparents, who were born in the area. Over a century later the family business continues, and the knowledge handed down over the generations continues to inform the way the company is run.
‘Purity has been a family value for as long as I can remember’, Daniel tells us. ‘Today there is more reason than ever to uphold it; the land and Earth have provided for us for generations and we have enormous respect for Her. Organic and Earth-friendly agriculture has always been our only option.’
Traditional organic beauty
Towards the end of the last century the company – now Alteya Organics – began to develop its own skincare based on traditional beauty recipes, and today it’s the only fully internationally certified organic skincare manufacturer in the region.
As a fully integrated business it does everything (literally) from the ground up – from planting and harvesting the roses to distilling the raw ingredients and manufacturing the finished products.
‘Obtaining a rose water, or a rose otto, which keeps its full scope of therapeutic quality is an art in itself and that is not an exaggeration’, Daniel tells us. ‘Everything matters in this process – the way of growing, the time of harvesting the rose petals and the specifics of the distillation process.’
Producing rose otto is extremely labour-intensive; each milligram requires 50,000 individual petals – roughly 1,500 flowers – of the bounty harvested annually between May and June.
During this period the roses are flowering abundantly; they are picked by hand, on a daily basis, in the dewy morning as the sun starts to ascend.
If the rose petals are not picked on time, they tend to fade with the heat of the day and their potency gradually diminishes. ‘There is no danger of over-harvesting’, Daniel explains; ‘the real challenge is to harvest all the available petals on time every day during the harvesting campaign.’