ode to rose: plant ally spotlight

Welcome to a new series of posts highlighting the many virtues of medicinal plants. I aim to focus mainly on plants native or naturalized to the Northeastern US bioregion, with a few exceptional exceptions. 

This month I introduce you to ROSE, a personal favorite whom I turn to again and again for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. The name Rose happens to be my paternal grandmother's name, and my middle name, but that's not why I'm partial to her. There is so much to say about Rose and perhaps there will be a part two in the future. Read on below for her many lovable attributes...

The rose distils a healing balm, the beating pulse of pain to calm.
— Anacreon, 5th Century BCE Greek poet
Rosa centifolia , image credit:  Wikipedia

Rosa centifolia, image credit: Wikipedia

Rose (Rosa spp.)

Message: you are divine

Offering: passion, beauty, love

Element & planetary affiliation: Water, Venus

Energetics: sweet, slightly bitter, cooling, moist, aromatic

Rosa canina , image credit:  Wikipedia

Rosa canina, image credit: Wikipedia

A rose is a rose...

Is there a flower with more poems written of it, more lore surrounding it, more feelings evoked by it, than the rose? Rose is the enduring symbol of beauty, romance, femininity, higher awareness, the cycle of life and death, impermanence, spirituality (the list goes on and on). 

Sappho, 6th C BCE Greek poet, called rose “queen of flowers.” I might go further to say rose is the goddess of flowers. Aside from her symbolism, rose is a medicinal treasure. Her scent has the power to turn us on, to lift us out of dark emotions, and soothe the spirit. Rose attar, or pure rose essential oil, is potent yet gentle medicine. It is precious in that it is extremely expensive and intensive to make – 60,000 roses are needed to make 1 ounce of essential oil!

Rose water is a much more accessible and probably equally effective form of medicine. It is most commonly known as a skin toner and as a flavoring in confections from the Near East. The color of the rose is indicative of its effectiveness in redness and inflammation of the skin – rose water or infusion can be applied topically to relieve rashes and burns.

There are other signatures that indicate the use of rose. Her prickles (not true thorns, despite what all the songs say) tell us that she has an effect on the blood – if a plant can prick you and make you bleed, it is likely useful for the blood. Taken internally, rose petal infusion cools and cleanses the blood. In Ayurvedic medicine, gulkand is a cooling summer treat of rose petals mixed with sugar (see recipe below). The slightly bitter aspect of rose lets us know that there is a carminative effect, easing digestive upset. According to herbalist Anne McIntyre, rose petals have the ability to help restore healthy gut flora.

Rose has an affinity with the heart and root chakras. According to herbalist Michael Tierra, rose helps relieve a “constrictive feeling of chest and abdomen” while it “harmonizes blood.”

Rose also has been used for eye complaints throughout history in many cultures around the world – from Native Americans to Asian Indians. Some have even claimed it helps correct far-sightedness. One way to relieve eye inflammation is to make a strong infusion of rose petals, then soaking a cloth in the infusion. Apply this to the eyes, re-soak and reapply for as long as possible. Keep doing this periodically over a few days until the inflammation is relieved.

More about Rose

Constituents and Nutrients
vitamin C, vitamins B, E, and K, essential oils, nicotinamide, organic acids, tannin, pectin

alterative, anodyne, anticatarrhal, antidepressant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, astringent, carminative, emmenagogue, immunostimulant, laxative, nervine, refrigerant, mild sedative

amenorrhea, colds, cough, depression, diarrhea, dysentery, dysmenorrhea, eye inflammation/irritation/soreness, fever, frigidity, headache, hemorrhage (esp. nose, uterus), infertility, insomnia, leucorrhea, mastitis, rash, skin inflammation, sore throat, sunburn, uterine congestion, weakness

Distinguishing Features
From The American Rose Society: “The true roses (genus Rosa) have stipules (usually attached to the base of the leaf), compound leaves, usually with an odd number of leaflets, often produce prickles (outgrowths of the epidermis at any point along the stem) but never true thorns (modified stems, specifically from the buds just above the leaves). They have 5-petal flowers (R. omiensis is an exception with only 4, and cultivated “double” roses have been selected by horticulturists, as desirable “freaks.”) And, unique to the roses, they produce “hips” as their fruit type – a sort of inside-out strawberry, which is a deep, bowl- or snifter-shaped structure formed from the hypanthium. Inside are the hard, angular objects that most of us refer to as “seeds,” but which are actually small fruits (achenes), each of which contains a single seed. Other examples of achenes are the so-called “seeds” of a strawberry or a sunflower. In each case, the shell is structurally a fruit, with a single true seed inside, attached to the achene at one end.”


  • Not recommended for high Kapha types [reference]
  • Some herbalists recommend avoiding during pregnancy due to its properties as an emmenagogue


Rose Infusion
Place a handful of rose petals and/or buds in a quart jar. For a refreshing summer cooler, cover with cold water and steep overnight. For a stronger tonic brew, use boiling water. Strain and enjoy!

Simple Rose Water
This is a simple version (not distilled) of a beautiful classic, from Rodale’s 21st Century Herbal.

  • 6 cups fresh rose petals (organic if possible)
  • 1 quart water

Heat gently in medium saucepan, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, steep for several hours. Strain out petals. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 month.

For a home-distilled version, go here.

Instant Gulkand
adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor

1 cup fresh rose petals
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp sugar*
2 tbsp dried rose petals

Grind rose petals with water to make a coarse paste. In a non-stick pan, add sugar and dried rose petals to this paste. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes on medium heat or until thick. Remove from heat, set aside to cool. Store in air tight bottle.

*You can use honey or your favorite sugar substitute as well.

Meditative Rose , Salvadore Dalí, 1958

Meditative Rose, Salvadore Dalí, 1958

Poetry & Lore

We lovers laugh to hear
“This should be more that and that should be more this”
coming from people sitting in a wagon tilted in a ditch.
Going in search of the heart,
I found a huge rose under my feet,
and roses under all our feet…

~ Rumi

The Rose Family
by Robert Frost

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose-
But were always a rose.

How did the rose ever open its heart
And give to the world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
Otherwise we all remain too frightened.

~ Hafiz

References & Further Reading

Hutton, Frankie, (Ed.). Rose Lore. http://www.roseproject.com/fhutton.html

Warner, Lucina (Whispering Earth blog). The Rose: Whisper of the Divine. https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2010/05/25/the-rose-whisper-of-the-divine/

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. 2008.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. 2009.

Graves, Julia. The Language of Plants: A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures. Lindisfarne Books. 2012.