It is believed that the first rose was taken from the Middle East to Bulgaria in the 16th century. Rosa Damascena is considered to produce the highest quality rose essential oil. The majority of local pickers have been part of the rose harvesting industry for generations, inheriting the skills of family members over the years. The locals of the area have been involved in the harvesting and distillation of rose essential oil for over 300 years. Originally, wood fired heated copper stills named ‘Kazans’ were used to produce the oil. Nowadays, most distillers use stainless steel stills and automatic control systems, ensuring efficiency in process and improved quality control.
Harvest occurs only one month per year, between May and June.Bulgaria is blessed with steady rainfall in Spring, ensuring roses receive continuous sustenance until harvest. New rose fields are planted by hand every year in November, and require 2 to 3 years of growth before the flowers are considered mature enough for distillation. Each bush will produce around 40 flowers and each bloom has 30 petals. The harvest is a labour of delicacy and efficiency. The rose blossoms are picked by hand with the first light of dawn before the day becomes too hot and the oil contained within the petals starts to evaporate. The rose is suitable for distillation as long as its centre is bright yellow. Once it has turned brown, the quality of the petals has been lost. Because the life of a rose petal is so short, they are transported to the distillery for extraction as soon as they are picked. On average, a picker can harvest between 30-40 kg of rose flowers per day.
Bulgaria traditionally produces between 2 and 2.5 tons of rose essential oil each year. Often referred to as ‘liquid gold’, it takes around 4 tons of rose petals to produce 1 kg of pure rose essential oil.
The freshness of the flowers, the quality of the water used and the distillation process itself determine the final quality of the rose essential oil produced. Our distilleries use their own pure water source, and stainless steel stills in their distillation facilities.
The rose industry is mostly generational, and is crucial to the local economy. The majority of pickers live locally and in gypsy communities. Several rose growers and distillers are known as fair employers and offer employees a range of benefits including help with health insurance, housing and community support. This is crucial in preserving the rose industry and ensuring highly skilled pickers every season. As with any weather dependent industry, rose picking is subject to climate change and unforeseen environmental events.
The rose essential oil industry in Bulgaria is nearing what we can call a closed-loop system. From the picking to the distillation and exportation, the environmental and community impacts are taken into consideration. Most distilleries use natural gas, which is both cost efficient and least impactful on air pollution. The standard rose petals to water ratio is usually 1:4, however some distillers use 1:1. As a general rule, all that is left after the distillation process is mushy rose petals. Instead of being thrown away, they are repurposed into organic fertiliser. Some distillers have their own irrigation system, and engage in periodical replanting and rejuvenation. The University of Bulgaria is also currently experimenting using rose petals in food products such as biscuits and cakes.