Roses have always been a source of inspiration for people through the ages, be they artists, writers, poets, lovers or gardeners. It’s lucky then that there is such a wide variety to choose from; but the Desi Gulab has an extra special place in the homes and gardens of India.
It is grown not only for its beautiful, very fragrant, red or pink flowers, but also the production of rose oil or attar. It is an edible rose, the petals of which can be used to enhance and decorate dishes. Its highly scented petals are used for the production of gulkand, a rose petal preserve, that is not only used as a jam, but also to make delicious, cooling drinks. The petals of this lovely rose retain their sweet fragrance even when dried and so are ideal for making pot pourris.
The Desi Rose is thought to be a close relative of the Damask Rose which originated in Persia and was used to make attar. Many historians believe that the rose was brought to India in the 10th century by Muslims. There are also records from the 17th century of British ships carrying live plants from China to England or France. These ships would stop for refueling in Kolkata, where the plants were cared for at the Botanical Gardens in Howrah before continuing their journey. It is believed that a few samples were kept in the gardens from each shipment.
Ancient Sanskrit texts mention the distillation of rose water, and the Buddhist monk, Nagarjuna also described the process of distilling rose water in the 8th to 9th century. The origins of this lovely rose can be left for historians to debate and discuss, but for rose lovers, one thing is certain, no garden is complete without the presence of the beautiful Desi Gulab.