“The red rose whispers of passion, And the white rose breathes of love; O, the red rose is a falcon, And the white rose is a dove.”
John Boyle O’Reilly
The ever beautiful and enchanting rose has been the world’s most romantic and beloved flower since the dawn of time. According to fossil evidence, it dates back at least 35 million years. Humanity has been working with this elegant flower for food, medicine, ritual, ceremony and pleasure for at least 5000 years. Our love affair with this sacred flower extends from continent to continent and appears in mythical tales, literature, poetry, art, and films.
The red rose, as you might imagine, translated to true, deep and passionate love. The pink conveyed joy and admiration and the white, grace, innocence and purity.
Roses have been widely cultivated and celebrated for thousands of years, appearing at almost every major celebration, including weddings, births, graduations and funerals. It is so miraculous that simply being in her presence and inhaling the fragrant scent can bring much needed healing.
Rose is endowed with many great healing benefits for body, mind and the spirit when gazed upon or worked with topically and internally. Old time healers knew to offer this plant for help healing heartache, grief, melancholy, as well as for various concerns of the lungs, the reproductive system, and restoring the nerves.
Let’s find out more about this brilliant flower and how she enchants.
The Rosa Genus
The rose is a woody perennial flowering plant in the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae. The Rosa genus has over 150 species spreading throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The flowers of most species have five petals. Each petal is divided into two distinct lobes. Beneath the petals are five sepals.
In the fall when the petals drop, a beautiful hip appears which offers unique medicinal virtues of its own.
The word rosa comes from the Greek word rodon (red), and the rose of the past were likely a crimson red color, as described in the tale of its springing from the blood of Adonis.
Garden cultivation of roses began some 5,000 years ago and the birthplace of the cultivated Rose was likely Northern Persia, on the Caspian, Sea. They were grown extensively all throughout the Middle East and were thus used in all kind of celebrations, for medicinal purposes, and as a source of perfume. This sacred flower was likely shared across Mesopotamia to Asia and all the way to Greece and Southern Italy. The Romans became particularly fascinated by the flower and the nobility established large public rose gardens in the south of Rome.
Rose Throughout History and Legend
Many cultures became enchanted by the rose. Legends concerning it are intertwined with Gods, and Goddesses, the Buddha, Brahma, Cleopatra, Vishnu, Cupid, several Popes, the Crusaders, St. Francis of Assisi, Mary Queen of Scots, St. Vincent, Venus, Zephyrus, Aphrodite and many more.
It is said that the word “rose” originated when Flora, the Roman Goddess of Flowers, was struck by Cupid’s arrow and, unable to properly pronounce the word Eros, said “ros”. From this, the word “rose” became a synonym for Eros. In both Rome and in Greece it became the symbol of vitality, love, beauty, sensuality and the abundance of nature. Another story shares that the god Zephyrus loved Flora so much that he changed himself into a rose because the Goddess had no interest other than flowers. When Flora saw the rose, she kissed it and thus fulfilled Zephyrus’ wish.
The tradition of giving roses in the name of love dates back to the late 17th century, during the reign of King Charles II of Sweden, who became fascinated a new practice and art in Persia called floriography, the language of flowers. Courtiers began spreading the teachings throughout Europe. This nonverbal language focused on one’s ability to communicate using flowers without saying any words at all. The practice carried on through the centuries and peaked during the Victorian era, a time when the open expression of feelings was not considered proper in polite circles of of society.
Ancient Hindu writings tell the story of the God Vishnu, the protector of the world, and Brahma, the creator of the world, arguing about which flower was the most beautiful. Vishnu believed in rose’s superiority while Brahma, who had yet to see a rose, revered the lotus as the most beautiful. When Brahma finally saw the rose he soon agreed that the rose was the most supreme and enchanted of the flowers.
The Birth Of Venus – 1485, Sandro Botticelli – Galleria Uffizi – Florence, Italy
“The voluptuous Romans of the later Empire made lavish use of the blossoms of the Rose. Horace enjoins their unsparing use at banquets, when they were used not only as a means of decoration, but also to strew the floors, and even in winter the luxurious Romans expected to have petals of roses floating in their Falernian wine. Roman brides and bridegrooms were crowned with roses, so too were the images of Cupid and Venus and Bacchus. They were scattered at feasts of Flora and Hymen, in the paths of victors, or beneath their chariot-wheels, or adorned the prows of their war-vessels. To the Romans the Rose was a symbol of pleasure and the companion of mirth and wine.” (“A Modern Herbal” by Maude Grieves)
According to the ancient Greeks, the rose was created by Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. White roses were said to have sprung from the sea foam which surrounded her as she rose up out of the sea. In another tale Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, was mortally wounded when hunting a wild boar. Aphrodite rushed to his side and from the mixture of his blood and her tears grew a superb, fragrant, blood-red rose.
Rose’s Many Medicinal Gifts
This flower is a luxurious, sensual and powerful aromatic healing plant. It is described as a cooling herb and refrigerant, as well as an alterative (moves the blood). It is also a powerful agent in relieving congestion of the blood and for soothing inflamed surfaces. Rose can help soothe a sore throat and help bring down a fever. It is calming and soothing to the nervous system, helpful for respiratory infections, a diuretic and a wonderful antibacterial immune ally.
Rose uplifts the mood and alleviates depression, and is antispasmodic, aphrodisiac and slightly sedative. It is anti-inflammatory internally and helps with rheumatic complaints, as well as a gentle emmenagogue helping regulate and balance menstruation. It also soothes the stomach, helps stimulate healthy digestion and eases a nervous stomach caused by anxiety or stress.
Working with Rose Petals, Leaves, Bark, and Hips
The petals, leaves, bark and hips are all worked with medicinally. It contains nicotinamide, organic acids, pectin and tannins which makes it a wonderful astringent and tonifying herb. The Rose hips are very rich in Vitamin C as well as Vitamins A E, B-Complex vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Much of the nutrition is found in the skin of the hip, which can be made into tea, jams and syrups. Roses also provide antioxidants and flavonoids.
Rose’s exceptionally uplifting and supportive effects make it useful in relieving acute trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, heartbreak, as well as chronic stress and fatigue. It helps allay summer heat and irritability and goes beautifully in tea blends for the feminine cycles whether menstruation or menopause.
Rose water applied topically can also treat headaches and relieve eyestrain and heat in the eyes. In Ayurveda, rose is said to enhance the spirit of devotion, prayer and love and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where the heart is believed to be both a physical organ and the seat of consciousness, the rose is said to have a powerful affect on the spiritual state of one’s heart and is thus considered a shen tonic: a medicine for the spirit.
Rose’s Many Forms
One may work with rose in a great many ways as a tea, tincture, an elixir, a honey, a vinegar, as a supplement, essential oil, floral hydrosol, a flower essence and more. Rose petal tincture is often used in heart formulas while red and pink rose petals go beautifully in tea blends. I am particularly fond of rose and holy basil (Tulsi) which together make a supreme heart tonic. I also love to make glycerites of the fresh flowers of Rosa rugosa and centifolia. I have found it to be a powerful yet gentle remedy that gladdens the heart with its sweet taste and delicate flavor.
Rose essential oil, hydrosols and compresses also provide tremendous topical relief for inflammation and skin infections due to astringent and tonifying constituents.
Topically rose essential oil can soften skin, reduce premature aging, reduce inflammation and help move stagnant energy when used in acupressure/marma therapy. One can make use of the petals in so many ways to create all kinds of aromatic gifts, like rose waters, potpourri, skin care, or even a tea simply to inhale the sweet aroma and bliss out.
Rose Flower Essences
Each colored rose and species has slightly different gifts. Red increases confidence, white inspires, and wild for fosters independence. Rosa rugosa flower essence is particularly lovely flower essence. It raises negative vibrations and helps purify the heart/shen. The alchemy between Rosa rugosa and the sea enables allows the flower essence to balance out negative ions, help release grief and transmute negative vibrations into love and compassion. The petals are soft and can soften the heart. The thorns offer protection. The gift of this flower is deep and lasting and she is waiting to speak to your heart. Please consider working with this ancient and enchanting botanical in your life.
2 Rose Recipes
Glass jar with lid
Organically grown fresh or dried rose petals
Fill your jar with rose petals.
Fill the jar 2/3 full with honey.
Stir the honey with the rose petals.
Add enough brandy to cover the rose and honey.
Cover the jar and gently invert it and shake it several times to gently mix everything up.
Let sit for 3-4 weeks and agitate it daily if you can
Strain off the petals.
Store your elixir in a covered jar or amber glass bottle
If you want to avoid alcohol, you can make a simple herbal-infused honey using rose petals. The process is the same as the elixir, except you eliminate the alcohol and cover the rose petals with honey. This honey is soothing to a sore throat and helps nurse a broken heart.
Contraindications: Always check with your primary care giver is you are taking medications when you work with herbal medicine. Because of its emmenagogue actions, rose is thought to be contraindicated in Pregnancy.
Always work with organic or ethically wildcrafted roses medicinally. Many cultivated flowers are sprayed with fungicide/pesticide.
Ilana Sobo is an artist, community herbalist, and Ayurvedic Practitioner in the Greater New York City area. Ilana’s greatest passion is to help steward the plants of Gaia and do her part to share the love, magic and healing gifts the natural world brings forth to share. Please visit her at shaktibotanica.com to connect and learn more.
Photos by Ilana Sobo