Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bathe yourself in roses

Roses as herbal medicine
It's easy to fall in love with roses. They offer us beauty and can be an effective source of herbal medicine. This article looks at the many ways we can use roses for our health and beauty. From wild rose salad dressing to decadent facial cream to wild rose petal mead... read on! 

The exotic beauty and alluring smell of roses has enthralled humans for thousands of years. Roses have been found entombed with the ancient Egyptian pharaohs and were highly prized by the Greeks and Romans. 

The Chinese started cultivating roses around 5,000 years ago and in the late 18th century these roses spread to Europe where they were further hybridized.

Josephine, Napoleon's wife, adored roses and strived to grow every known rose species in her gardens outside of Paris. Many credit her for the popularity of roses today. In the late 18th century Europe the rose was so highly valued it was used as a type of currency.

Wild rose petals about to be infused with honey.
A special treat that is also wonderful for sore throats. 

Roses as medicine

Simply the scent and beauty of roses are medicine within themselves, however, the entire plant offers us a wide range of medicinal uses. 

Roses excel at cooling and soothing. I’ve personally seen it work wonders on muscle pain, wounds, sunburn and bug bites.

I generally add a small amount of rose petals to formulas for healing the intestines for people with leaky gut or an inflammatory bowel condition such as IBS or Crohn's. 

Rose petals are also a frequent part of formulas for a variety of women's health complaints from menstrual cramps to menopause complaints. 

When using roses for medicine I like to use all the parts. When the wild roses are blooming I harvest the petals, the rose buds, leaves and twigs. All of these can be dried or extracted into alcohol. 

You can also buy high quality organic roses from Mountain Rose Herbs

The Wild Rose is my most important plant ally, and one that I am continually amazed by. If there is a single plant who has provided me with the most healing, it is this one. My relationship with this thorny beauty deepens each year, and every season the briar teaches me more about boundaries, vulnerability and self-expression. This plant teaches raw, wide open love complete with scars, thorns and an abiding sense of self-knowledge. She teaches that beauty is a bone deep quality, one that we hold in every cell regardless of the pain we’ve lived through or the battles we’ve weathered. In hard years, her petals unfurl skewed and wrinkled but this doesn’t mar her attractiveness. Rather, they add to an already complex character and give her more of the strongly scented medicine she’s known for.

Kiva Rose, herbalist

Roses as food
The most common way that roses are used as food is by eating the fruit of the rose often called the rose hip. The hips are high in a multitude of nutrients, most famously vitamin C. 

Rose petals are also a fun way to eat roses. Like rose hips they are high in nutrients and especially high in polyphenols, an important antioxidant. Fresh rose petals can be made into jams, wines, honeys, vinegars, sprinkled on salads, and enjoyed in tea.

Now I know at this point some of you are wondering, “But if I don’t have wild roses, can I use the roses in my front yard?”

You certainly can use domesticated roses. First, you want to be sure that they haven’t been sprayed with harmful chemicals. Secondly, your best bet is to use roses that are aromatic. Roses that have no smell may not be as good for medicine or food, so use your nose to find the best roses.

And if possible search out your local wild rose. They like to live in moist habitats and usually grow in dense thickets. This can be along rivers, irrigation ditches, and riparian areas.

Using roses

When the wild roses bloom in June I harvest gallons of rose petals and then spend hours in the kitchen making luxurious herbal medicine. 

Some of these petals are made into a tincture. I use brandy or vodka as the menstruum. Adding a bit of honey turns this into a yummy elixir. 

Rose Petal Honey

Some of the petals are infused into honey - this is something I commonly give as a gift. 

Some are dried for teas. I love adding a large handful of rose petals to my daily nourishing infusion. 

Here's one of my favorite tea blends. I often give this as gifts. 

Tea for the Heart
one part rose petals
one part hawthorne leaves and flowers
one part linden leaves and flowers
one part lemon balm
stevia to taste

Blend together (I often make this in large batches). 
Steep two teaspoons in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes. Strain
Add honey to taste. 


You could also add 1 - 2 cups of this mixture to a quart of just boiled water, let steep for 4-8 hours,  and strain. This extended brewing time offers more medicinal benefits. 

Wild Rose Facial Cream

I love infusing wild roses into oil to turn into a luxurious facial cream. You can see my recipe for wild rose facial cream here. 

Rose petal powder is a great toothpaste!  

Rose petal toothpaste

Each year I also infused rose petals into apple cider vinegar. This can be diluted to use on sunburns (thanks to Kiva Rose for that tip!), or it can simply be used as a decadent and delicious salad dressing. 

One year I made rose petal mead. The resulting brew was absolutely priceless, such a delicate taste of wild roses. 

Rose Petal Mead

If you are unable to work with fresh rose petals you can buy rose buds and powdered roses at

The powdered roses from Mountain Rose Herbs are great for making pastilles for sore throats or you can use it in a variety of cosmetic products like facial scrub. I love dried rose petals and rose buds in my tea.

Botanically speaking...

Wild roses have five petals, five sepals, and multiple stamens.

Roses are famous for their prickly thorns but technically they aren’t thorns but prickles. True thorns are modified stems that always originate at a node. Prickles are growths on the epidermis or the outer layer of the stem. 

All wild roses have prickles and sometimes the placement of them can lead to identification of a particular species. As for me, I’ll probably keep referring to rose thorns, something about the word prickles just isn’t the same.

The leaves form leaflets that have an opposite growth pattern and serrated edges.


Wild roses are found growing north of the equator. There are an estimated 35 indigenous species in North America and historical records show they have been used for food, medicine, and tools by the first peoples of North America. The Okanogan of the inland Cascades in WA state ate the flower buds but not the hips and used the thorns for fish hooks. The Athabascan reportedly placed the thorns in the center of warts, which were said to disappear within a few days. All interior Salish used the baldhip rose species widely for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

In the modern world there are books and even whole social organizations dedicated to roses. They are grown all over the world and given as gifts as a sign of love and friendship. If they only offered us beauty it would be enough but these tenacious plants offer us food and medicine as well as lessons on protection and boundaries.

Wild Rose

Botanical name: Rosa spp.

Family: Rosaceae (Rose)

Parts used: petals, inner bark, leaves, fruit

Properties: cool/dry, astringent, anodyne, nervine, aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mood elevator

Used for: wounds, sunburns, love, broken heart, hot flashes, gum health, bug bites, food, rashes, pelvic decongestant (cramps and PMS), post partum sitz baths

Plant Preparations: Tea, vinegar, tincture, elixir, tooth powder, glycerite, rose water, honey, mead

Here's a video showing how to make your own rose petal water.

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