The seasons have always been a huge source of inspiration for me. When summer fades to autumn, or when winter warms into spring, these transitions are one of the most exciting times of the year. For it is during these shifts in our surroundings that I find my mind is the most inspired, bursting with all manner of ideas of what I could potentially create that will capture the essence of the season at hand. Arriving in Greece at the beginning of spring has left me especially inspired by the abundance of flora consuming every corner of our village. Wisteria blooms waft through the evening air, honeysuckle vines sweeten the breeze, and rose bushes tumble from almost every plot. . .flowers are a way of life here.
We have two little old neighbors that are both named Tasoúla. . .and it just so happens that each of them practice the daily routine of gathering damask roses to place in jars to make sun-distilled rosewater, known in Greek as ροδόσταμο (ro-DOH-sta-mo). Depending on what region of Greece you are in, the types of flowers collected and used to make blossom water will vary. Here in our village it is all about roses, but not just any rose, specifically damask roses – which are renowned as the most fragrant of roses and are used exclusively for making sun-distilled rosewater here in our village.
There are two methods practiced here on the island to extract the essence of the roses: one consists of loosely packing rose petals in tulle, securing the bundle of tulle & roses into a glass jar with a lid and then placing the jars in the sun to distill. The more time consuming method (and the ancient way that women used to practice) consists of threading the individual rose petals onto a string, hanging the rose petal garlands in glass jars with lids and then placing the jars in in the sun. Either method is successful at producing sun-distilled rosewater, but the garland method is believed to be superior as the rose petals get more even exposure to the sun and, therefore, produce a more consistent end product.
Each Tasoúla was more than generous in sharing everything they knew about making rosewater with me, even giving me tulle and rose petals so that I could document each process to share with you all. I was only able to make a small amount of rosewater because I do not have access to my own damask rose bush and any bushes that I happened to come across on my daily walks were already claimed by someone (of course!) Which leads me to the point that making sun-distilled rosewater is a process that is done over the course of many days. It becomes a part of your daily routine, especially if you are fortunate enough to have access to a very fragrant rose bush. It is a simple process that requires nothing more of you than taking a bit of time to gather roses each morning while they are at their peak fragrance and then letting the sun do the rest of the work.
The uses for rosewater are endless – a quick google search for rosewater will yield all manner of inspiration. Here on the island rosewater is primarily used for αμηγδαλοτά (ah-meeg-da-lo-TAH), a traditional Greek almond flour cookie, which I hope to eventually share the recipe for here on the blog. Rosewater also makes for a beautifully fragrant perfume and is considered a mood enhancer. When used as skincare, rosewater helps balance the skin’s PH, can reduce redness and irritation, tighten pores, and helps cool & soothe hot skin.
In the meantime, if you have access to some very fragrant roses, (you are especially fortunate if you can find damask roses), I would encourage you to give sun-distilled rosewater a try! It is a beautiful process that yields an exceptional traditional ingredient that will add the most lovely floral essence to whatever you make with it.
I have a recipe that uses our freshly made sun-distilled rosewater that I am working on publishing to the blog very soon. . .so stay tuned! And if you have any favorite ways to incorporate rosewater into your recipes, I would absolutely love to know!