Rose has been with me all through the year, from the sun-kissed days of winter to the rain and gales of summer and beyond. She has brought great happiness, not just to me but to everyone who has stooped to smell her perfume or breathed in the scent of her many products before tasting. Everyone she has touched has stopped, smiled and complimented her. She has been a wonderful ally.
I have two major rose varieties in my gardens. The apothecary’s rose, rosa gallica and the David Austin old English rose, WilliamShakespeare. While the former has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, to use the latter is probably a surprise to most rose growers who don’t automatically gather their roses for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
Roses have always been a harvested garden crop. In medieval times, three major roses would have been grown – apothecary’s rose, also known as the Red Rose of Lancaster, the white rose (rosa alba semi-plena -the white rose of York) and the damask rose (rosa damascena). Their ruling planets were Jupiter (red rose), the moon (white rose) and Venus (damask rose).
Rose petals were used historically to treat diarrhoea, bronchial infections, coughs, colds, chest complaints, nervous tension and lethargy. The distilled water was prescribed for eye inflammations, to refresh the spirits and to strengthen the heart. Rose oil was applied to chapped skins and Gerard said that roses would “staunch bleeding in any part of the body”.
The scent of rose has been used to perfume everywhere from churches (using scented oil in incense burners before the altar) to rooms (in pot pourris) to individual bodies as part of a floral water, a lotion, cream or massage oil. The petals can also be eaten in salads, crystallised or made into syrups, jams, jellies or vinegars. Rose water (a distilled essence of rose) has been used to flavour confectionary (notably Turkish delight), jellies, sauces and both sweet and savoury dishes.
The Catholic rosary was originally named because the beads were made from rose petals. It is a long and somewhat tedious process according to Henriette Kress, who told me that she wouldn’t consider making another set after her original one, unless she really wanted to make one for a friend. Her method can be found here. She recommends taking out your rose beads when you need love, gentleness, courage or some prickliness.
Henriette believes rose petals to be calming and mood-lifting, helping with anger and frustration and giving you courage to defend your opinions and boundaries so that you can like yourself and others more. She recommends rose petals for menstrual irritability either in the form of a tea or a bath. The tea can also be used for menstrual cramps or irregular menses. This comes from rose’s decongestant action in the female reproductive system. Rose has also been used to treat impotence in men and can ease heart palpitations.
Avicenna was the first person to make rose water in the 10th century. He used rose jelly to cure anyone who spat blood (usually a sign of TB or other serious illnesses). Anne MacIntyre gives a account of the many different myths about roses in her wonderful book, The Complete Floral Healer. She very kindly stepped in at the last minute to provide a herb walk during my festival in September and had everyone spellbound as she talked about the plants she encountered in the Sanctuary.
My favourite part of her talk was about the rose. I had not heard before that according to Eastern traditions, when a soul knocked at the door of the next world and all material things had to be left behind, only the red rose was allowed to accompany that soul over the threshold because it was considered to be part of the spiritual realms.
Annie fell in love with the scent of the William Shakespeare rose, telling us she often prescribed her patients to smell a rose three times a day to help improve their overall health. This is such a simple and effective idea I have started using it with other heavily scented plants such as rosemary in an attempt to support others in helping themselves.
Annie also writes about the energetic properties of rose. She says, “The red rose increases confidence in those feeling insecure about their sexuality and who suffer from feelings of shame or timidity about their bodies. It help you to open up to love and bring your desires into action.
“The white rose is quietly inspiring and strengthening, renewing energy and joy in oyur life. The white rosebud can be given to infants and children to help them grow up, keeping a sense of heaven on earth.
“The wild rose is the remedy of independence. It is traditionally said to mean ‘pleasure and pain’ as it brings pleasure to the eyes and heart when found blooming in the wild, but pain from its sharp prickles if you try to pluck it. Wild rose warms the heart and softens the emotions, engendering an easy-going feeling to enhance sensuality.”
I really understand what she means about the wild rose. In my part of the world, this is the dog rose (rosa canina), although I have come across both the briar rose (rosa rubiginosa) and rosa rugosa growing wild in Northumberland; briar rose around a former children’s TB sanatorium near Morpeth and rosa rugosa on the coal-filled cliffs and sand dunes opposite St Mary’s lighthouse, Whitley Bay.
Gathering dog rose petals means time to be by myself, to study how the flower buds open, how the petals fall or are blown away by strong breezes and how the buds grow in clusters of up to eight or more. This is revealed more fully when bright red hips form in autumn, when I found some bushes by Olton canal only producing single berries, whereas those in my Sanctuary and surrounding fields had groups of between four and eight.
Rosehips also reveal the different species of bush. Apothecary’s rosehips are so small as to be almost non-existant, leaving wild rosehips to be the one of choice for collecting, but even those are different shapes and sizes. The largest I have ever found were in the Friary field last winter and I’m looking forward to seeing if they grow to such size again. Cotswold rosehips seem the usual shape and size, but the canalside ones are small and round, leading me to wonder if they were rosehips at all if I hadn’t been sure of their identification through their leaves.
I throw rosehips into most syrups and cordials and quite a few other concoctions because of their high vitamin C content. Looking at some of their other properties – strengthens the lungs in fighting infections, wards against colds and coughs, helps to fight infection in the digestive tract and helps re-establish normal bacterial population of the intestine when it has been disrupted by antibiotics or faulty diet – they seem the ideal support food or drink for winter.
My daughter has been suffering from recurring infections in her wisdom tooth which the dentist has suggested might come from a lack of fruit and vegetables in her diet, so I gave her one of the rosehip syrups to take home with her and take a spoonful every day.
My stocks of dried rosehips have all been used up so this autumn I have been gathering large basketfuls to replenish my empty larder jars and make some rosehip syrup for the first time. The bags of hips are still drying in my hot cupboard and although the syrup was made, it seemed to produce very little juice from a large number of hips, so I may try again later in the winter when the hips are softer and sweeter.
I have made many potions from rose this year as well as drying several bags of petals despite appalling weather conditions when harvesting. Tinctures, vinegars, tonics, syrups and elixirs have all graced my shelves along with a newcomer - the rose double infused oil. I was also really pleased to be able to put up another batch of Kiva Rose Hardin’s, “Burns Honey” as my bergomot flowered again this year after restocking the plant last spring.
With the rose oil I made a simple rose cream with rose tincture and beeswax. The inspiration came from Leslie Postin’s blog and she, in turn, used Lucinda Warner’s recipe from her blog. We made it as part of last Saturday’s “Oils and Salves” workshop. I’d never had any success with creams before so I was somewhat anxious about the outcome, especially as I could not obtain either a rose hydrosol or any glycerine and when I went to look for my last piece of cocoa butter in the larder, it hid!
Simple Rose Cream
8 fl ozs Apothecary’s rose petal double infused oil
1 fl oz Aloe vera gel scraped from the inside of three large leaves
5 fl ozs Apothecary’s rose petal tincture
1oz grated beeswax from the beekeeper who lives in the next road.
We measured out the oil and heated it in the top of a double boiler with the grated beeswax, stirring gently with a wooden spoon until it melted. This liquid was then poured into a large plastic bowl which was suspended inside another bowl of cold water and the oil was again stirred until it was almost cool. I used a stick blender to emulsify the cooling salve as the tincture and aloe vera gel were slowly poured into the mixture. The blending continued until the cream was thoroughly emulsified. It looked pale and fluffy and was very slightly pink in colour.
The scent was very subtle but I was very impressed with the result. If you wanted a stronger smelling cream you could add drops of rose essential oil or a fragrance which pleases you. We put the cream into some recycled jars my sister had gifted me the previous weekend.
What really delighted me was the fact that I had made and grown all the ingredients myself except the beeswax, which I had collected on foot.
The other great success this year has been rose elixir. When my daughter shut her finger in a door earlier this year and called for “Mother’s Emergency Service”, I dosed her with rose elixir while I bandaged her damaged digit. She was soon calm and sufficiently restored to go off to give her piano lesson followed by a shift in the hotel where she then worked.
At the beginning of September I was asked to provide a medicinal herb demonstration in the kitchen garden at Calke Abbey. Many of the volunteers on duty that day came to see me and waxed so poetical about the stress relieving effects of the rose elixir that the organiser came and sat down with me for a good twenty minutes. She asked if she could take the elixir away with her as it made her feel so much better!
Rose has been a wonderful ally this year. She is a perfect companion teaching me close observation whilst providing a calm and unhurried world in which to inhabit. Although I shall choose another ally in the coming months, I know rose will always be at my side.