The History and Healing Properties of Roses


Roses come in such a vast variety of colors, shapes, sizes and petal formations because they have stood the test of time. There are rose fossils which date back 30 million years found across America. Since then, roses have been used in foods, medicines, cosmetics, ritual, and perfumery and have become a symbol for beauty worldwide.

The Greeks, Persians, and Romans, employed many kinds of rose as medicines. The botanical name of the Wild Rose, rosaceae canina reflects its use by the Romans to help treat rabid dog bites. In 77 CE, the Roman diarist Pliny recorded thirty-two different medicinal uses of the rose. The Chinese use the flowers as a qi or energy stimulant and blood tonic to relieve stagnant liver energies. They are also used for digestive irregularities or with motherwort for heavy menstruation.

There were dozens of varieties of native roses in North America at one time. The Native Americans learned how to use whatever grew in their region, as a medicine and, in cases of emergency, as a food. The leaves, petals, hips, and roots were widely used for a variety of conditions, including colds, fevers, diarrhea, influenza, and stomach troubles.

Roses continued as folk remedies and official medicine until well into the 1930s, when the tincture of the Apothecary’s Rose was prescribed for sore throats. Roses became a part of pharmaceutical enterprises in the 1930s with the discover of vitamin C. Linus Pauling argued that massive doses of vitamin C could cure the common cold and rosehips gained popularity due to their high content of this nutrient, making it extremely popular as a vitamin C source during World War II. Because of fresh citrus shortages, the British government looked to rose hips as a substitute and organized the harvesting of as many rose hips as possible in England.

Roses have been known throughout Ayurvedic and natural medicines to be have astringent, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and diuretic properties. But, until fairly recently, there was little to no scientific evidence to support these claims. In 2005, a study conducted in Taiwan was done on the effectiveness of rose tea to help relieve some of the symptoms of menstruation, namely cramping. Published in the “Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health”, the study examined 130 adolescent women in Taiwan who drank rose tea over a period of six months. This led to less cramping during menstruation, as well as relief from the psychological stress associated with cramping during periods without any adverse side effects or safety concerns. Researchers suggested that drinking rose tea was a simple, safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of menstruation.

In a different study in 2013, scientist studied the anti-mutagenic properties of roses. Anti-mutagenic compounds block mutagens, which increase mutations in genetic material, some of which cause cancer. They found that “passion” rose cultivars had the most anti-mutagenic properties, due to their high anthocyanin content. The same study also found that the anthocyanin content of the raw rose petal and rose petal tea remained stable, meaning that heating the petals for tea or syrups didn’t effect the beneficial compounds.

A 2014 Study compared a natural shampoo made with Rose petal extract to chemical shampoos as treatment for Scalp Seborrheic Dermatitis. The Rose petal extract shampoo was found to perform equally to the medicated treatments. Then, in 2015, there was a study that examined the anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties of Rose Centifolia extract. In rats, the anti-inflammatory effect of Rose water was equivalent to the prescription drugs in the test, creating precedence for Rosa Centifolia to be a potential treatment plan for arthritis and inflammation.

The unifying features of the modern rosaceae family are woody, thorny stems in dark green topped with a minimum of five delicate teardrop-shaped petals. The base of the bud becomes the fruit of the plant after flowering; the rose hip. From there the rose varies greatly by petal number, color and petal texture. While throughout history we have used all portions of the rose, now we mostly use rose oil (maceration and steam distillation of petals and sometimes leaves of mostly roses of the the Damascus variety), Rosewater (which is a by-product of the steam distillation of rose oil) and the petals and hips (which are used for making tea or food).

Rose essential oil is used, along with carrier oils such as almond or grapefruit, to treat various illnesses like hemorrhage, liver problems, nausea, fatigue, ulcers, asthma, dehydration, and bacterial infections of the stomach, colon, and urinary tract. This oil is also widely used in aromatherapy to bring positive thoughts, spiritual relaxation and feelings of joy, happiness and hope. It also is a known aphrodisiac and used in some cultures to help stimulate desire. The oil extracted from rose hips can also help reduce scar tissue and stretch marks due to its tissue regeneration properties. This includes the fading of stretch marks, surgery scars, and fat cracks associated with pregnancy and delivery. Much of this is due to the antioxidant activity of rose essential oil, which spurs on the healing processes of the skin.

Always Healthy Living cites that…

The anti-inflammatory quality in rose has shown to protect against P. Acne, and also makes it a strong candidate for treating other inflammatory skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.

Rose water is an effective astringent that reduces swelling of capillaries beneath the skin. Rose water benefits include nourishing the scalp and improving hair growth. It is medicinally used as an antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory product. It is also used to treat dry scaly skin, dermatitis, and eczema. Rose leaves are used in preparing rose water from the Persian variety. Rose water prepared from rose leaves brings relief from constipation, clears blood, and soothes the mind. In addition, it is used on the treatment of measles and chicken pox.

Rose petal tea is efficient in cleansing the gall bladder and liver, and it helps improve bile secretion. As well as its high vitamin C content, rose tea contains a large amount of polyphenols, along with several other antioxidants like quercetin and ellagic acid. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants which are well known for their ability to repair cellular damage and protect the body against serious illnesses including heart disease, bone weakness and cancer. Rose tea also helps in alleviating mild sore throats and bronchial infections. The tea cools the body and reduces fever-related rashes. Rose tea is considered to be a safe drink, and no adverse side effects have been reported. Despite its safety, some experts warn that you should limit the amount you drink to a maximum of 5 cups per day because consuming too much vitamin C can have certain adverse effects (dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or headaches).

All roses have benefits, but some roses are more beneficial than others (discussed above in relation to the Damascus and wild roses, but there are countless benefits to many varieties). Foraging and growing one’s own roses can open the door to cultivating your own health. Petals can be turn into teas. Syrup is the classic way to preserve hips. Resist the temptation to pick the hips off the numerous, showy, cultivated roses in parks and gardens. They reportedly have substantially less Vitamin C in them, and will potentially have been sprayed with pesticides. There is little to no risk in using and consuming rose hips and petals.

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“Common Herbs for Natural Health” by Juliette de Bairacli Levy