With vibrant blooms, velveteen petals and a primordial perfume, roses transcend mere floral status. They seem to spring from the realm of the divine. Greeks and Romans believed they 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 petals, rosewater, essential 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. 60,000 blooms are needed to produce just one ounce of true “otto” rose oil. Otto is the process of steam distilling crushed petals. The “absolute” method, which processes the flower with solvent, can also produce rose oil. 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 could cultivate feelings of well-being, balance and harmony. It is considered to be effective aromatherapy for anxiety and depression.
Rosewater—a byproduct of the distillation process—has merits of its own. In the Middle East and Europe, rosewater commonly adds flavors to sweets. Yet its astringent and toning properties make it as much of a treat for skin as for the taste buds. Rosewater can reduce redness by soothing enlarged capillaries just below the skin’s surface. It cleanses and refreshes dry, sensitive skin safely and gently. Rosewater’s antiseptic quality can fight mild eye infections when used in eye washes.
Though considerable amounts of rose petals are processed into oil and water, petals left to dry can be crushed and brewed as tea. Rose petal tea may soothe mild sore throats and open blocked bronchial tubes, making it especially useful for treating colds and flu. It can produce cooling effects on the body and reduce fevers along with associated rashes. As 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. Packed with antioxidant flavonoids and Vitamin C—a higher concentration than any citrus fruit— these berry-like can defend against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Their tart, cranberry-like flavor, makes them perfect for 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. They can relieve 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, they 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.