Although its original name remains unknown, the rose that is now called rosa gallica officinalis** most certainly comes from the Caucasus region (Northeastern Turkey). Traces in this area can be dated as far back at 3200 years ago. This flower is indisputably the ancestor of all Gallic roses cultivated in Europe. It has survived through the centuries, adapting to hostile lands and poor soil conditions, resisting disease and extreme climate variations to become highly sought after for its aroma as well as its medicinal properties. Its migration towards Western Europe took place during the invasion of the Roman Empire. The legions were accompanied by naturalists who first acclimatized the plants to Italy. Its therapeutic properties were so sought after that colonist planted the roses throughout the empire. Specialist have dated the arrival of the rosa gallica officinalis** in the southern Brie region of France to the first century AD.
The Counts of Champagne, who reigned over the region at the time, discovered dishes sweeten by aromatic roses during the crusades in the Near East. Hedonists and clever traders, they intensified the plantings of the antique Gallic roses in the Holy Land and brought back other varieties such as the rosa damescana** yet never returned with the rosa gallica officinalis** that had already been cultivated in Provins for centuries. So much for medieval legends! The chalk and clay hills of the Brie region are an excellent host for this variety. Provins became the center of production of the rosa gallica officinalis** thanks to a phenomenon of local specialization characterized during the middle ages. The common name of the Rose of Provins dates back to this period permitting to differentiate this variety from other scented roses.
The rose trade became quite lucrative. Dozens of small shops offered dried petals, confits*, honeydew, rose water and vinegar, scented oils and fats, syrups and alcohols, nougats, cream-filled cakes, scented pillows, jewelry and flowered hats…etc. Today, only a few fragrant and succulent specialties subsist but the homeopathic use of petals and confits* has basically been forgotten.
The bush is quite low, approximately 70cm, only slightly bushy and frail looking. The leaves are a dull, pale- green and the blossoms are semi-double, pure fuchsia-pink colored. When grown in upper altitudes or in acidic soil, the coloration becomes more purplish. The blossoms grow solitary or in pairs at the end of the stems. The number of petals varies significantly from as few as ten to as many as twenty depending of the soil quality. The scent is very distinct, suave, spicy and deep. The bush is “non-remontant”. Flowering occurs in May or June depending on the amount of sun.
* Confit: from the French “Confire” (XII century) for the preparation of food using sugar for conservation.
** the XVIII century term for each rose variety.