Notes from the Apothecary

Notes from the Apothecary: The Rose



I’ve temporarily veered away from my series on trees as I was inspired to write about the rose. There are some beautiful rosa rubiginosa which have been flowering in the grounds of my son’s school for several weeks before I wrote this article, and they are so beautiful. (image left: rosa rubiginosa, source Wikipedia). My six-year-old boy has been enchanted with these gorgeous flowers, and I have had to plead with him not to pick them all as he decided ‘they are all for mummy’! Walking through Hamsterley forest we came across several varieties of wild rose, and again in woods local to where we live. So lovely, so sharp, potentially dangerous and full of mysticism and magic.

The Kitchen Garden

Growing roses can be done in a variety of ways. Bare root roses can be ordered and should be planted in the fall but ideally before the ground freezes. Roses can also be bought in containers and pots, and these plants will have foliage and maybe flowers on. These can be planted at any time of year apart from when the ground is frozen or too dry. Basically, avoid extremes and you should be ok. They like a good compost and manure is also ideal. Fertiliser can help.

Once you have your supply of roses, you can use the petals and hips (the red or orange seed pods) in a variety of ways. Dried, the petals are wonderful in potpourri or sachets to place in drawers for scenting. As well as being a wonderful natural perfume, roses petals also give a wonderful, unique flavour which can be used in desserts and sweets. Rose water is easily available at Asian food stores and is a simple way of imbuing your own food with the scent and favour of roses. A great example of this is Turkish Delight.

You mustn’t eat the hips raw as the seeds have fibres around them like little hairs, which are incredibly irritating to the throat. Cook and strain or press the hips to obtain the juices. Rose hips make amazing jellies, jams, syrups and tonics, and in Sweden are even made into a soup called nyponsoppa.

The Apothecary

Rose hips are very rich in vitamin C, however most recipes involve boiling the hips which, unfortunately, destroys some of the vitamin. Thankfully, they are so packed with vitamin C that even after preparing as syrup or jam, they still retain a reasonable amount, making them very useful as well as tasty.

Vitamin C is well indicated in boosting the immune system, so having some rosehip syrup in stock before the winter nights arrive is a great idea, to try and keep colds at bay. The vitamin is also thought to protect the cardiovascular system, the eyes and the skin. It is used by the body to help repair cells, so any rosehip product can be used when recovering or convalescing from any illness or injury.

Mrs Grieves tells us, in her Modern Herbal, that rose water (made from the petals) is used as an eye lotion (which makes sense with the vitamin C content), and that a cold cream is created by mixing oil of rose, wax and almond oil, and that this is very effective for chapped hands.

Culpeper believed rose petals were purgative and useful for fevers and jaundice. In fact, he seemed to have enormous faith in the healing power of the rose, citing its usefulness for joint ache, fainting and swooning, weak stomachs, infections, strengthening the heart, liver problems, sores in the throat and mouth, headaches and pimples, amongst other ailments.

In North American Indian medicine, the root of the plant has been used in a decoction as a cough remedy, particularly for children.

The Lab

Roses, the damask rose in particular, have been the subject of several pharmacological studies, in order to establish its usefulness in modern medicine. Interestingly, one of the effects it has is upon the central nervous system, including promoting sleepiness. It was found (in mice) to be possibly as powerful as diazepam. It may also have anti-depressant properties.

Some components of rose petals may even have analgesic effects, meaning they could potentially be employed as painkillers.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The rose hails originally from the Middle East, most likely from the area now known as Iran. In May, in the city of Ghamsar, there is an annual rose festival where the petals are collected and made into fragrant rose water. The damask rose is known as the Mohammadi rose or Mohammadi flower, and is sacred. Nothing is wasted during the process of making rose water. Even the left over petals are used as animal feed for livestock. The traditional process has been followed for thousands of years, although of course it is now also produced on an industrial scale, it is reassuring to know that the ancient traditions are kept alive in this way.

In western tradition, we view the rose as a symbol of love. The often red petals are symbolic of passion and the heart, although the thorns remind us of the perils of un-tempered lust. Cupid shot his arrows into a rose garden, trying to avenge himself upon a bee that stung him, and this is where the rose’s thorns came from. When Venus, his mother, walked through the garden, he pricked her foot upon the thorns, and her blood turned the roses red.

As a Celtic witch, red to me is the colour of magic and mysticism; a sign that something other worldly is happening. Red is a warning, an omen; the colour that makes us prick our ears up and pay attention. A sudden red rose in an otherwise green hedgerow is a clear sign that you should pause and look around, see what else you can see, or open up your mind and heart and see what you can feel; who is trying to contact you? Or it could simply be a reminder to connect to nature more often; to literally stop and smell the roses.

The scent of rose petals is particularly evocative and is useful in meditation, to help lull oneself into a state where the mind can wander unhindered.

As well as the associations with Venus and Cupid, roses are associated with Isis, and were also used in Egyptian funeral wreaths. In Hindu mythology, Vishnu and Brahma both eventually agreed that the rose was the most beautiful flower in existence, and the goddess Lakshmi was created from rose petals.

In Christianity, the rose represents the Virgin Mary, and the flower is referred to as the rosa mystica, or mystical rose.

The rose symbolises a yearning for perfection, but reminds us that nothing is perfect; even the most beautiful of living things has its thorns. It can represent balance, love, emotion, fire, passion, omens, prophecy and poetry.

Home and Hearth

Strew rose petals upon a freshly swept hearth to bring love and happiness into your home.

For positive magic, to draw something to you, use either very fresh flowers, glossy hips, or thoroughly dried petals. Wilting flowers represent something in flux or something dying; something coming to an end. This may not give you the intended result. In contrast, wilting flowers may be just what you need if you are looking to cut ties with something or someone, or to draw a line under a phase in your life. Let the rose wilt and die, then bury it away from your home or sacred space.

I Never Knew…

Rose bushes can live for a long time, and apparently the oldest living plant is in Germany, and is over 1000 years old.