Fragrant scent of sub-Balkan fields

Rose picking is a beautiful ceremony which starts before sunrise

The rose picking ceremony starts before dawn, and it is mostly women who take part in it.

Every spring at this time of the year rose picking commences in Bulgaria - a beautiful, albeit labour-intensive ceremony of collecting flowers of the oil-bearing varieties Rosa Damascena and Rosa Alba. The lands, located at the mountain foothills, with abundant rivers, mineral springs and sandy soils, offer the best climatic conditions for the cultivation of these flowers. The Valley of Roses embraces the sub-Balkan fields near the towns of Karlovo and Kazanlak and the region around the town of Strelcha in the Sredna Gora Mountains.

The ancient authors evidence that roses were brought to the Balkans from Persia during the campaigns of Alexander the Great. One of the species, probably Rosa Damascena, was mentioned as the “aromatic Thracian rose” cultivated in these lands from the 1st to the 4th century. In Roman mythology, the origin of the rose and its deep red colour are associated with goddesses Diana and Venus, while a Persian legend tells how Princess Nur Djihan, who loved taking a warm bath with rose petals, saw that the flowers left oily spots while floating in the water. She realised that this was natural rose attar.

In Bulgaria, rose oil production is a centuries-old tradition whereas cultivation of this demanding flower is a long and labour-intensive process. Rose picking lasts for about 20 days (from end-May to mid-June) as the flowers have to be processed without delay in a 24-hour cycle. It takes 3-3.5 tons of red or 5-6 tons of white oil-bearing rose petals to yield one kilogram of rose oil. Rose picking is done manually, it starts at dawn when the flowers are awash with dew because in the afternoon the concentration of rose oil decreases sharply.

The flowers must not to be in full blossom to preserve their oil-bearing qualities intact. The Bulgarian essential rose oil is extracted through water distillation of the rose blossoms and is also known as 'rose attar' - a precious ingredient in many perfumes and other cosmetic products. Apart from cosmetics, rose attar is used in medicine and aroma therapy. Rose oil contains over 300 substances but the therapeutic properties of only about 10 of them are studied. During the most productive years, Bulgaria used to produce up to 70% of the world's rose oil which was exported to France, Germany, the US and Japan.

The rose fields, beautiful nature and fragrant air are a magnet for tourists during the rose picking season which is full of fresh mood and smiles. On the first Sunday of June, in two of the rose-producing regions of Bulgaria - those of Plovdiv and Stara Zagora, traditional Rose Festivals are also organised, in which the most beautiful girl is chosen as Queen of Roses while all guests are gifted with a small flask of rose oil.

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