Monday, March 18, 2013

Moroccan Rose Festival 2013

Morocco is famous throughout the world for its superb rose oil (known as rose otto from the Arabic itr, meaning perfume) and the Rose Festival in El Kelaa M'Gouna is a wonderfully perfumed event worth attending. But because the "valley of the roses" is some six hours drive from Marrakech and accommodation is limited, it is worthwhile making plans well in advance

rosa damascena

This year the festival takes place from May ninth to twelfth

The roses are not farmed in fields as you might see in the south of France around Grasse, but are simply hedgerow plants that bloom once a year. French essential oil producers descend on the area at harvest time and set up stills in the fields. Every year thousands of tons of petals of rosa damascena are distilled in the big copper pots. Rosewater is the main product, but it's the essential oil, in fact a byproduct of the process, that is so valuable. That's taken back to France and sold to perfume and cosmetic houses; it's extremely expensive. The retail price of just 3ml, or half a teaspoon, costs over 150 Euros. The essential oil is extremely difficult to find in Morocco, and simply isn't available in El Kelaa M'Gouna at all. But you can find rosewater and lots of pink face and body creams.

The Rose Festival attracts thousands of Moroccan but few foreign visitors

In countryside homes, it's not unusual to see whole rooms knee-deep in rosebuds and petals that are left to dry. Moroccan women use rosewater on their faces (it's great for combatting wrinkles!), and the dried buds can be mixed with ghassoul (clay) in facial and hair products. It's also used in flower water shakers at celebrations, and spice merchants add dried buds to ras el-hanoot, used in cooking.

Rosewater from El Kelaa M'Gouna is available everywhere in the Fez Medina and is very cheap (around Dh10 for a 200ml bottle). Moroccans make their own rosewater at this time of year, when you can see shops selling nothing but rosepetals, and small zinc stills are widely available.

Hundreds of rose products are available
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon
Additional text: Helen Ranger

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David Bennett said...

How interesting - how many stills do you think there are set up by the hedgerows? Are we talking hundreds?

Sandy McCutcheon said...

David the commercial extraction by the French is done in portable laboratories in huge container trucks. They normally start pre-dawn and have the harvest being processed in a single day. It is considered the finest rose oil for the French perfume industry. The Moroccans get what is left and in any one year almost every Moroccan housegold will have their own still for rose and orange flower water. The small home stills would run into hundreds of thousands.