The Wild Rose – from harvest to hydrosol

Harvesting wild rose petals is not for the impatient. It is something that requires a willingness to move slowly, deliberately. A wild rose has just five petals, and they are small – maybe the size of your thumbnail. They grow in large, unruly brambles thick with thorns and bustling with bees.

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In the time it takes to pluck enough of these tiny, delicately fragrant pink petals for a small run in my distiller, I could harvest enough cultivated roses for twenty distillations. But there is an ancient, unadulterated beauty to the wild rose. They are as they’ve always been – unkempt, uniquely beautiful and designed by nature.

The wild rose also requires your full commitment – their petals wilt quickly, so on harvest day I know I will be up late running the distiller. On this day, I spend four hours hiking the Boise foothills – patiently plucking and searching for the next bramble.

As the sun drifts closer to the horizon, I decide to fluff up my admirable little harvest of wild petals with a few heirloom roses I keep in my garden. Their fragrance is more robust and heady than the flirtatious wild rose, but together they create an intoxicating bouquet.

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The entire distillation process takes perhaps three hours. Once the distiller is set up on the back porch, there’s little else to do than settle in with a book and wait. I monitor the water in the cooling tower from time to time – adding ice chips if it becomes too hot, which scorches the hydrosol and gives it an aroma like cooked artichokes.

A rose’s fragrance is more than just a pretty smell – it indicates the presence of beneficial properties such as linalool, citronellol, nerol and other constituents known more broadly as terpenes. These botanical compounds provide us with myriad benefits – they trigger a relaxation response in the mind and elevate your mood; help soothe and heal topical irritations; soften and rejuvenate skin cells; provide mild antimicrobial benefits; and much more.

Hydrosols are a wonderful way to apply these benefits to your skin. Another, more concentrated way is with essential oil – but a rose does not give this up freely. A single drop of rose essential oil takes around 60 flowers to produce (and a distiller much larger than can fit on my porch). So, for the purposes of Anthea Skincare, I focus on extracting the flower’s benefits in the form of hydrosol and rely on organic essential oil producers like Eden Botanicals to complete my Rose Simple Cream.

As I sit on my back porch, reading and monitoring my distiller with a glass of rose´ (it seemed only fitting), the air is softly fragrant with my blended wild-heirloom rose distillate. It is at once unruly and refined – a striking coalescence of wild redolence and cultivated elegance.