The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, July 13, 2009

Make your own rose water!

image from
The South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild is planning another Victorian workshop soon: Making Rose Water the Victorian Way! A rose-themed tea party, and some of the home made rose water, is also included. The tea and workshop will be held at a private home in San Jose, CA, on Saturday, August 8. Tickets are $20 per person; e-mail to R.S.V.P. or for details of location, menu, etc. Older girls are welcome to attend, if accompanied by an adult!

For some history behind this activity:

The Victorians and Edwardians were known for their love of roses, and used them for everything from decoration, to perfume, to flavoring for desserts. They were not the first ones to do this, however; they were following several centuries of history and tradition in their culinary and cosmetic use of fragrant flowers.

By the 19th century there were a few simple methods for making rose water. The simplest method is to obtain a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, fill it with fresh, clean rose petals, cover the petals with water, and fasten on the lid to the jar. Then, set the jar in the sun for several hours, strain out the rose petals at the end of the day, and use the scented water immediately or keep it in a cold place for a few days. To preserve it for a few weeks, you would have to add some spirits of wine or even some white wine vinegar, and make sure to keep it in a tightly closed glass container in the cellar, away from the sun and heat.

Another simple method involves making a rose infusion: fresh rose petals were washed and patted dry with a towel, then added to a pan of boiling water and allowed to boil for a short time; then the pan was removed from the fire, covered, and the rose petals were allowed to steep in the hot water for 20 to 30 minutes or more. When the water was colored, scented and flavored enough, the rose petals were strained out and the liquid was transferred to sealed, clean bottles or jars, and kept in a cool, dark place. Vinegar or spirits of wine would have been added to aid in preservation.

Some old recipes call for attar of roses, spirits of wine and various chemicals whose names are unfamiliar to us today. Attar of roses is, by the way, just rose essential oil, and spirits of wine is vodka, but some other items, like sugar of lead, might not be advisable to use even if it were available! Some recipes called for making rose water by distillation, using beakers, tubes, and other specialized equipment, practical only if you were part of a commercial rose water manufacturing effort back then, but doable today with minor modifications.

However you make it, homemade rose water should be kept in the refrigerator for best results, and will last from a few days up to a couple of months if prepared and stored properly. It can also be frozen and kept for several months, as ice cubes, sealed in a freezer bag. Use and enjoy your rose water the way our ancestors did!

How to make rosewater (distilling instructions)
How to make your own rose water (distilling instructions), by Annie Bond
How to make rosewater and living potpourri (infusing instructions)
How to make herbal cosmetics


Beth said...

This sounds like so much fun. I wish we had a tea society near my home. enjoy.

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

That's what I said to myself back in 2004 ... and then decided to start a tea society! If you can find the time to plan, publicize and host a tea party at least 4 times a year, you can do it! You can even set it up like a friend of mine does: she hosted the group until there were several members who were willing to host and plan, and now they take turns hosting and planning their tea parties.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)