With vibrant blooms, velveteen petals and a primordial perfume, roses transcend mere floral status and seem to spring from the realm of the divine. Greeks and Romans believed roses symbolized Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love; the aromatic oil was used to anoint British monarchs at their coronations; and the Catholic rosary was named for the rose hips once used to count prayers.
More than just a thing of heavenly beauty, roses have far more pedestrian uses for average mortals. Modern medical science, since the seventeenth century, has recognized the myriad health benefits of roses—down to their voluptuous hips. All forms of the rose, including rose petals, rosewater, essential rose oil and the curvy seed pods called rose hips, have transformative effects on mind, body and spirit.
Essential rose oil is both precious and rare, considering that 60,000 blooms are needed to produce just one ounce of true “otto” rose oil. Otto is the process of steam distilling crushed rose petals. Rose oil can also be yielded by the “absolute” method, which processes the flower with a solvent. Though absolute processing requires far fewer roses and costs less, some believe it contaminates the oil with traces of solvent.
To reap the greatest therapeutic benefit, choose the otto form. You can find this fragrant nectar infused into perfumes and lotions or used in its pure state for aromatherapy. Often associated with love, the scent of rose oil is thought to cultivate feelings of well-being, balance and harmony. It is considered to be effective aromatherapy for anxiety and depression—as well as to heal a broken heart.
Rosewater—a byproduct of the distillation process—has merits of its own. This delicate elixir is commonly used as a flavoring for sweets, especially in the Middle East and Europe. Yet its astringent and toning properties make it as much of a treat for skin as it is for the taste buds. Rosewater is thought to reduce redness by soothing enlarged capillaries just below the skin’s surface. It cleanses and refreshes dry, sensitive skin safely and gently. Rosewater can also be used as an ingredient in eye washes; its antiseptic quality fights mild eye infections.
Though a considerable amount of rose petals are processed into oil and water, petals that are left to dry can be crushed and brewed as a tea. Rose petal tea may soothe mild sore throats and open blocked bronchial tubes, making it especially useful for treating colds and flu. It is also thought to have a cooling effect on the body and reduce fevers along with associated rashes. A mild diuretic, rose petal tea is often recommended as a digestive tonic and thought to restore balance in the gut.
Hips Don’t Lie
Rose blooms are so spectacular that we may feel a certain sadness when they fade. No need for melancholy: the passing of the flower gives rise to rose hips. These berry-like fruits are packed with Vitamin C—a higher concentration than any citrus fruit—and antioxidant flavonoids known to defend against cancer and cardiovascular disease. With a tart, cranberry-like flavor, rose hips can be made into jams and jellies, crushed into tea, ground into medicinal powder or reduced to an essential oil.
Studies of patients suffering from osteoarthritis show that consuming rose hip powder reduces inflammation and eases stiffness and pain in the joints. As a tea, rose hips have similar benefits as rose petals, including relief for colds and flu, digestive distress and urinary tract infections. As an oil, rose hips promote tissue growth and collagen production, making them especially effective to treat burns and eczema as well as mature, aging skin.
First cultivated in Persian gardens, utilized for cooking by the Incas and revered by the Egyptians, roses possess an ancient beauty and symbolism. Yet with such wide-ranging benefits for contemporary discomforts and diseases, it’s clear that the humble rose is a viable antidote to the thorns of modern life.