A reader asked about rosewater. For Deepa: rosewater is a luxury product even in Morocco, one of the few countries in the world to produce and export rose oil. This is not surprising since it takes a hundred kilos of rose petals to produce only 25 grams of the precious oil. Gram for gram, the price of attar of roses, as the oil is sometimes called, can rival that of gold. Rosewater, a by-product of the distillation process, is famed for its healing properties, and is added to a bowl of water for washing the hands, or used on its own as a facial cleanser. It is also used in cookery, a few drops at a time.
In Morocco, most of the damask roses that are harvested for their oil are grown in the South-East, in the valley around Kelaa M’Gouna on the fringes of the Sahara. The smallish, soft pink flowers bloom in April. By May, all the petals have been picked, and the town celebrates with a harvest festival.
Damask, or damascene, roses originated in Damascus, in Syria, and it is thought that the cultivation of roses in North Africa began after the Arabs invaded and settled. Arab culture in turn had been influenced by contact with Persian and Indian traditions. Returning crusaders brought the bushes back to Europe and, over the centuries, breeders developed hardier varieties that bloomed in Northern gardens. Yet for intense, lingering fragrance, look for an authentic Moroccan product.