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3/11/2009
For the love of roses
For the love of roses

Roses and human beings share a special connection. For people across the world, rose flowers symbolize love, compassion and beauty. Believed by some reports to be more than 35 million years old, this ancient plant has blossomed into a flower of renowned reverence. Cleopatra’s bed was covered with fresh roses every day. Kings of England made the rose the royal emblem in the 13th century. It’s said that in the 17th century roses were used as legal currency.

At any point in history, those who have planted, watered, picked and nurtured the rose have experienced its raw beauty in its most natural splendor. Today their experiences can become yours, whether you breathe in the scent of fresh rose petals or feel the gentle touch of a wild rose cream on your skin.

FROM TURKEY WITH LOVE

In Turkey, amid the rolling hills of the Taurus Mountains and the glistening ripples of Lake Burdur in the Isparta province, lavender, apricot and olive trees surround the fragrant roses named Rosa damascena. These lush, bright-pink flowers healthfully grow in this diverse, natural environment, uncontaminated by synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and cared for with trusting hands.

Here in the valley of roses lives Hanife, a glowing woman who seems to never stop working, smiling and laughing. Every morning she rises at 5 to milk and feed the cows, prepare breakfast and send her 14-year-old son Osman to school. During the rose season from March to mid-June, she then leaves for the rose fields with her husband Ramazan. As the sun rises, Hanife circles through the rows of organic roses, quickly and knowingly plucking the flowers from the stem before the sun shines too brightly and evaporates the flowers’ essential oils. Hanife is among the collectors who work with the more than 350 farmers of the organic Weleda cooperative.

In 2003, Weleda developed a long-term partnership with the region’s farmers and rose oil producers for the cultivation of organic roses, a once-lost tradition here. Fifty years prior, people from industrialized nations had come with chemical fertilizers, pest control and the promise of increased crop growth and production. With the Weleda project, the farmers have returned to their roots, renewing their attentiveness to all of nature.

While the work is not always easy, the noticeable improvements in the health of the plants and the people make it well worthwhile. “You can tell which roses have been grown organically and which have not by the color of the foliage,” among other noticeable signs, explains local rose specialist Rauf Onal, with whom Weleda has partnered. “Our goal is to have healthy blossoms, healthy plants, healthy ground, healthy people and healthy products!” After a two-year conversion period from conventional to organic cultivation, these results are in full bloom. The collectors also feel the advantage. They know that what they collect will be purchased and are assured of a steady revenue and immediate payment.

After Hanife and the other harvesters have picked the roses, the blossoms are sent to the rose distillery owned by Hanife’s brother-in-law, Yussuf, in the village of Senir. For five years the distillery has been extracting the precious oil for Weleda, now the world’s largest purchaser of the ingredient.

Like the farmers and Weleda, Hanife has experienced the benefits of harvesting organic roses. “Since we changed to organic cultivation, the work is much harder, but it’s a great feeling to be healthy and free of artificial, chemical substances like poisonous insecticides,” she declares. From time to time she luxuriously stops to inhale the intoxicating fragrance of the petals. At noon, once the sun has fully risen over the fields, she returns home to care for her cattle, fields and garden. After school her son helps out while she cooks and cleans. In the evening she gathers with friends and family members, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, talking and enjoying the remainder of a beautiful day.

From Chile with love:

Chile is known as “the land of the south” in the language of the native Mapuche Indians. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it the “long petal of sea, wine and snow.” And a long petal it is. From the sparsely populated Pacific coastline south of Concepción to the Andes Mountains where the Mapuche live, the soft petals of the Rosa moschata (musk rose) plant prolifically grow in the wild. Likely brought to the region by Spaniards in the 17th century, the plant has spread, becoming the local gold. Resistant and uncontaminated by pesticides or other chemicals, the plants are naturally organic.

Unlike the fragrant rose flowers, the petals transform into bright red fruits known as rosehips, traditionally used for tea and marmalade. Over the past century, the plant has also become widely known for its precious rosehip seed oil, rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants and used by the Mapuche to treat scars.

In the “little south” between the Chilean cities of Los Angeles and Temuco, Maria and Caty, a mother-and-daughter team, can be found chatting and picking the wild rose fruits under the hot sun. Between February and March, the two spend their afternoons in the quiet countryside. Caty, 30, lives with her husband on a farm, where she grows her own food. Her mother Maria lives nearby on her own farm. They spend their mornings at their full-time jobs cleaning rooms in a hotel. During the rose season, after finishing their regular work, they go together to collect the wild rosehips by hand, sometimes using a comb to remove the fruits from their branches. “Collecting the rosehips is hard work,” Caty doesn’t hesitate to point out. “But we enjoy talking about the past and catching up with each other. It’s also a nice way for us to earn an extra income.”

Caty and Maria can each collect about four bags of rosehips in an afternoon, with each bag weighing more than 30 pounds. Each bag fetches about $10, adding up to an additional $200 dollars in one week—a welcome amount, considering that Chile’s minimum wage is close to $200 per month.

After a few hours of picking, when their bags are full, Caty and Maria return home to clean the harvested crop, removing little twigs and leaves. Once a week, a provedor (supplier) picks up their harvests and pays them on the spot. The provedor then delivers the valuable harvest to Puelche S.A., a drying facility. “We have about 50 provedors who bring us Rosa moschata from more than 600 collectors from as far as

eight hours away by car,” reports Moreen Weldt, the daughter of Eduardo Weldt, Puelche’s founder. “Annually, we process about 4,000 tons of fresh Rosa moschata,” says Moreen. “The rosehips are dried for 10 hours in the ovens. The machines can then remove the red fruit shells from the seeds without any difficulty.” From here, the seeds are sent to the city of Santiago, where they are cold-pressed through a certified organic process. Weleda, one of the largest purchasers of organic rosehip oil in Chile, uses about nine tons each year for its beautifying wild rose products.

Just as soon as the harvest has begun, the hot summer comes to an end, giving the rosehips time to regrow for the next year’s collection. But Caty and Maria are content from their hard work, looking forward to the next season of wild roses.