Eagerly, Zahraa Al-Sayed Ahmed (37 years old) awaits the season of harvesting the Damascene rose in her village of Qasrnaba in eastern Lebanon, to buy huge quantities of it and turn it into rose water, jam or rose syrup.
Her hands are immersed in roses, and she says, laughing, to Agence France-Presse, “When we say Sabah Al-Ward, this is the real Sabah Al-Ward,” while a sweet scent wafts around.
“There is nothing more beautiful than roses. Its harvest season is the most beautiful season in our village. Qasranba is the village of roses,” she added.
Neighboring Syria is the main source of this rose, whose cultivation dates back thousands of years, and it seduced everyone who passed through the Syrian lands, so it was transported to Europe by the Crusaders hundreds of years ago, and the French followed in their footsteps during the Mandate period in the first half of the last century.
The Damascene rose has a pungent, sweet scent. In addition to its use in the composition of perfumes, rose water is used in the East in the manufacture of sweets, as well as in perfuming mosques. In some countries, it is considered a lucky charm, especially in weddings. It is also used in natural medicinal preparations, cosmetics, and in the soap industry.
On the balcony of her house in Qasrnaba, Zahraa puts rose leaves in a large pot, and adds water to it to start the distillation process, in which she uses an old distillation machine that she inherited from her grandfather.
She is almost certain that there is a machine for distilling roses in every house in her small village, “be it big or small.”
“The rose water industry is part of our heritage,” she says.
And she adds, “We make distilled water from roses and dry its leaves to use in flowers, and we also make rose jam from it,” which is used to decorate Arabic sweets on a large scale.
Each kilo of roses produces only half a liter of rose water, which Zahraa keeps in glass bottles that she offers for sale.
“The rose gives hope”
In her family’s field in Qasrnaba, the smile does not leave the face of Laila Al-Dirani (64 years old), while she is preoccupied with carefully picking roses.
After harvesting, which lasts a few hours in the early morning, Laila and her family transport the sacks of roses to a warehouse in the village, where they sell their harvest from the season, which lasts only a few weeks.
Although the season is short, those few weeks are enough to make the village more like a beehive.
“The rose gives hope, the scene makes everything more beautiful, it relaxes the psyche and gives strength,” Leila told AFP.
“It’s nice to make rose water and work early, but the prices are no longer good in these difficult days,” she adds.
“It is the first time that we do not hire workers to help us, because the production is low and we cannot afford the costs…so we work with our hands,” said Hassan (25 years old), while helping his mother Laila pick roses.
And due to the economic collapse that has afflicted Lebanon since 2019, the family was not even able to provide the fertilizer needed to ensure an abundant season.
“The rose season and all seasons lost eighty percent of their value as a result of the crisis,” says the village’s mukhtar, Daher al-Dirani, after the prices of fertilizers, spraying materials, and even labor rose, while roses remained low in price.
However, despite the difficult circumstances, the rose-picking season, which yields two hundred tons, in Qasrnaba and the neighboring village of Tamnin al-Fawqa, is still a relief for the village families after a harsh winter.
“In difficult circumstances, roses helped people put food on their tables,” says Al-Mukhtar.