As a symbol of strength in softness, true love and heartbreak, beauty, purity, mystery, friendship, celebration, and even death, the rose covers all the bases of the great human experience. And beyond her vibrant symbolism, the food and medicinal uses of rose seal in her reign as the Queen of the Flowers.
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Is there a plant, an herb, or flower more entangled with human history than the rose? I honestly can’t think of one.
I think it’s safe to say that we’re obsessed.
Yet, for most of the world, when we think of roses, we think of the perfect single-stem red rose. Not many of us think of the wild rose, the grandmother of them all, the wild and free predecessor to all the tens of thousands of hybrids we have today.
The wild rose is where it all started.
Facts About Rose
It feels a little silly to introduce rose, but as I mentioned above, not many of us think of the 5-petaled wild rose.
Here are some quick facts to get you acquainted:
- According to fossil evidence, it’s possible that the rose is 35 million years old.
- There are over 30,000 rose cultivars that have been bred for color, size, shape, and all kinds of other characteristics. The rose family tree is exceptionally branched and quite complicated.
- True wild roses are single (as opposed to compound, having layers upon layers of petals) and have exactly 5 petals. They’re mostly pink, although some are more white-ish, while others lean more towards red. They all have many yellow stamens. Their stems are thorny and waxy, and the leaves are pinnate with 5-9 leaflets each.
- The flowers mature into a fruit called a hip, that’s filled with bristly hairs and many seeds.
What’s in a name? That by which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~Juliet to Romeo
from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
- The wild rose is known by many different common names, names that mean different things in different places. To some, the wild rose is pasture rose or prairie rose or dog rose, and to others, it’s eglantine, sweetbriar, or scotch briar.
Rose as a Food
As a food, rose is a potent antioxidant. Its fruit, the rose hip, is famously known for being exceptionally high in vitamin C, thus the tart taste. Fresh off the rose bush, hips can have more vitamin C by weight than oranges.
And while the vitamin C content begins to wane drastically after the hips are picked, and then further degrades with heat or drying, there are plenty more beneficial phytonutrients (such as anti-inflammatory antioxidants) that make them completely worth adding to your diet. The medicinal uses of rose far outweigh their actual nutritional benefits.
Rose petals, however, are mostly water, but they do contain some nutrients like vitamins C, A, and E, as well as other minerals. But what they might lack in nutrients, they make up for in other health-promoting phytochemicals, such as terpenes, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.
Nutrients and phytochemials aside, rose petals are also incredibly aromatherapeutic. Their sweet, soft, and floral smell is enough to calm anyone’s nerves.
The Medicinal Uses of Rose
First and foremost, rose is for all matters of the heart. And while all roses possess medicinal qualities, the rose perhaps most used in medicine is the wild rose, of which there are over 100 species worldwide.
Rose for the Heart and Emotional Health
Just as rose is a flower of love and an ancient symbol of the emotional heart, it’s also an herb used to support the physical health of our hearts as well.
As mentioned, even the scent of rose can have calming effects, putting our hearts and minds at ease. One study found that smelling rose oil prior to surgery, reduced the rate of preoperative anxiety.
Studies have shown that just smelling a rose can result in a measurable decrease in blood pressure and the rate of breathing, as well increased blood oxygenation.
Consuming rose hip tea has also shown beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Rose for Sensuality
One simply cannot speak of rose without thinking of love. And naturally, thoughts of love also often lead to thoughts of sensuality. Accordingly, rose has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac.
As an aphrodisiac, rose is a blood mover, a pelvic decongestant that helps to decrease stagnation, bringing warmth and movement to our pelvic regions. In doing so, we naturally feel more open to the sensuality of our human experience.
Rose for Pain and Inflammation
For centuries, rose has been used as a gentle astringent to help tighten and tone inflamed tissues. The high bioflavonoid and antioxidant content of roses makes them great anti-inflammatories and a sweet antidote to the chronic inflammation that plagues us modern day humans.
Rose water, an infusion of rose petals, can be used as a safe and effective anti-inflammatory eyewash, acting to tone the tissues and shrink capillary inflammation.
Rose hips have been used successfully in the treatment of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. And unlike many non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, rose hips have no adverse side effects.
Rose petal tea is a traditional remedy for diarrhea, again helping to tone, tighten and soothe gastrointestinal tissues.
Rose for Wound Healing
The medicinal uses of rose also include would healing. Due to rose’s astringency, high content of antioxidant phytochemicals, and its slight antimicrobial properties, rose can also help to speed up wound-healing.
Whether internal or external, inflamed and painful wounds can benefit from rose.
Wild Roses vs. Cultivated Roses
While wild and cultivated roses can both be used in food and medicine, the wild rose is typically more potent.
Most wild things are, aren’t they?
But you can use wild and cultivated roses interchangeably. The rule of thumb is: the more fragrant, the better.
And be very careful of where the roses are coming from when using them in food and medicine. Most roses from the florist, unless they are specifically organically grown, are heavily laden with chemicals…emphasis on the heavily.
How to Prepare Rose
There aren’t many ways you can’t use rose, especially in medicine. Its sweet scent and many medicinal gifts are useful in so many different food and medicine preparations.
Common preparations include rose petal honey or vinegar infusions. Rose petal tinctures (alcohol infusions) and teas are lovely.
It’s also common to see rose in body oils, lotions, creams and salves for its alluring and calming scent, as well as its anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relieving), and astringent properties.
On the other hand, rose hips can be nibbled on fresh (just beware the bristle and seeds inside) or prepared in a number of ways. Rose hip syrups and vinegars are common preparations.
Rose hips also have a long history as a traditional food and you’ll find recipes for rose hip jam all over the internet.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know rose a bit better. The many medicinal uses of rose make it a lovely plant to have in your life, not to mention all the ways you can use it in food.
You might also enjoy these recipes with rose:
- Cinnamon-Rose Pear Upside-Down Cake (vegan & gluten-free)
- Lemon Rosemary Tart with Rose Hip Jam (vegan, refined sugar-free, & gluten-free)
- Anti-Anxiety Herbal Tea with Rose Hips
The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns at all, it’s always a good idea to check with your health practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if taking any prescription medications.
- Moore, Michael. (2013). Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press.
- de la Forêt, Rosalee. Monograph: Rose. Learningherbs.com