A Vil­lage in Bloom

The best rose­wa­ter in the world comes from the town of Gham­sar in cen­tral Iran


The Ira­nian town be­hind the world’s best rose­wa­ter

Just be­fore dawn in the Ira­nian vil­lage of Gham­sar, the sweet scent of da­mask roses is in­escapable. As the sun rises over the sur­round­ing moun­tains, fields of bright pink bushes are ser­e­naded by a dawn chorus of nightin­gales. I’ve come to Gham­sar for its famed rose­wa­ter fes­ti­val where each year, thou­sands travel to wit­ness go­lab-giri, the del­i­cate process that trans­forms roses into rose­wa­ter.

Roses are in­dige­nous to Iran, and the tech­nique of dis­till­ing their es­sen­tial oils into rose­wa­ter was likely de­vel­oped here, more than 2,000 years ago. It’s used to per­fume ice creams, baklava, and nougat, of course. In Iran it is also em­braced as a rem­edy for all man­ner of ail­ments, from in­sect bites to headaches to heartache. Rose­wa­ter from Gham­sar has a spe­cial spir­i­tual sta­tus too—it is used to wash the Kaaba shrine in Mecca, one of the most sa­cred sites in Is­lam.

Join­ing the farm­ers in their fields, I care­fully pull the petals off the flow­ers, be­ing sure to leave the buds in­tact on the stem. It’s early, but the at­mos­phere is cheer­ful. As we pile hand­fuls of petals into wo­ven

bas­kets, the farm­ers tease one an­other, singing melodic folk songs that have doubt­less ac­com­pa­nied the rose har­vest for gen­er­a­tions. The petals are then trans­ferred to cop­per stills, where they are sub­merged in wa­ter and gently sim­mered for sev­eral hours. The steam is col­lected and cooled back into liq­uid—the ba­sis of rose­wa­ter. Many dis­til­leries in Gham­sar pour it over a sec­ond batch of petals for a sec­ond round of sim­mer­ing and dis­till­ing. This adds ex­tra po­tency and scent to their fi­nal prod­uct, which is why, they in­sist, the rose­wa­ter made here is the best in the world. As I sit to en­joy my post-har­vest­ing break­fast of freshly baked flat­breads, thick slabs of clot­ted cream, and a hefty dol­lop of rose pe­tal jam, I couldn’t agree more.

In the town of Gham­sar in cen­tral Iran, roses are har­vested at their most aro­matic and dou­bledis­tilled into the world’s great­est rose­wa­ter.

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