The rose is widely recognized as the inimitable symbol of beauty and love. Its lush petals, majestic arrangement and vivid colors, particularly the classic red rose, evoke sensuality and romanticism, making it a popular ornamental flower and age-old subject of reverence in art, literature, and mythology. The rose is also a highly valued herb in traditional and modern herbal medicine.
Rose hips, the fruits of the rose, are significantly high in vitamin C, and can be consumed raw or as teas, beverages, syrups, and jams. The petals can be made into a tea and used to help treat stress, depression, PMS, the common cold, nausea, and as an aphrodisiac. The oil of rose can be applied topically to regenerate skin and treat inflammation and wounds. And, of course, the rose’s sweet fragrance is a staple in aromatherapy, used to relieve anxiety and depression and promote feelings of well-being.
Herbalist, writer, and teacher Robin Rose Bennett, founder of Wisewoman Healing Ways – Herbal Medicine and EarthSpirit Teachings, believes that roses can help us connect to the energy of the earth, as well as our own courage. I spoke with Robin about why she chose to focus on this particular flower in the context of finding our courage and optimism. I imagine that the essence of rose itself spoke through her since she drank a rose tincture tea throughout our conversation.
“The rose is a very multilayered medicine that works on many system in the body,” Robin explains, “but if I wanted to net it down to one reason, it’s because rose is truly the flower of love. If we don’t come at the challenges facing us from a place of love, we’re not going to get very far. Simply opposing what we don’t like feeds the polarity that is ripping us apart.”
While the rose may primarily invoke feelings of soft sensuality, don’t forget their thorns. “It’s not just a Valentine’s Day teddy bear, it’s also a grizzly bear,” she says, “and helps us have fierce love.” It’s this fierce love that is key to how the rose can help us be effective at moving through our current times with courage and optimism.
On the topic of rose’s physical nourishment, Robin emphasized its effect on the kidneys. “In its infusion form, rose is strengthening to the kidneys,” she says. “In traditional Chinese medicine, kidneys are thought to hold jing, our life force essence.” She adds that roses are also a “profound medicine for the nervous system. It’s incredibly rich in bioflavonoids, which improve the integrity of our connective tissues.”
The rose has been used symbolically since ancient times in myths, religion, art and literature. It’s featured in Greek and Roman mythology as well as the religions of Christianity and Islam, and has played muse to poets such as Shakespeare, Blake, Rilke, and Dickinson. When I asked Robin about what, if any, mythological symbolism of the rose inspired her, she recounted a personal anecdote which perfectly shows that mythical resonance is not a relic of the past — the rose’s poetic symbolism can still be found in full bloom today.
“I was walking in Brooklyn one day with some students, and we had an ice storm,” she recalled, “and there were these roses in the bushes, buds and open blossoms, totally encased in ice. They let the ice encase them and they stayed as beautiful as they were before. It’s symbolic of roses as a medicine of strength, love and beauty.”
Her final thoughts on this image sum up how the rose can teach us to move forward in a positive way:
“If you simply observe nature, you see that rose is very much about opening. We need to open new parts of ourselves.”