Roses as Medicine for Body and Soul

“Won’t you come into the garden?
I would like my roses to see you.
                                           Richard B Sheridan 1751-1816

How and Where Rosa Grows

Rosa canina

“A rose must remain with the sun and the rain
or its lovely promise won’t come true”
                                    Ray Evans (b. 1915), U.S. songwriter

More than 150 distinct species of roses flourish in their respective environments in locations around the world, from China and Japan, through parts of India, Europe and North Africa, and across North America from Canada to New Mexico.

Some species thrive in moist environments, while others grow in rocky, dry soil.   Some roses survive in shade, whereas many require a sunny location.   Species of the genus Rosa have been identified almost everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, as far north as Alaska and Norway and as far south as North Africa and Mexico. Fossilized plants over 30 million years old can be linked to modern rose species.

All other roses are descended from these 150 wild species roses. Two different roses can combine very easily to produce a rose that has some of the characteristics of both parents but an identity of its own. Hybridization frequently happens in nature, with bees and other insects being the carriers of the pollen, but the process has been developed to an intricate art by modem hybridizers. Because of their efforts, there are now more than one thousand different kinds of roses.

The Chinese were probably the first to cultivate roses 

Roses had been under cultivation in China for over 2,000 years before they were introduced to the European market in the late eighteenth century.   We have the Chinese to thank for all of the perpetually blooming roses that exist today.   The West was introduced to roses from China in 1752, and thus began the hybridization and cultivation of almost every modern-day rose.



The ancient Persians established a flourishing trade in precious attar of roses, a fragrant oil distilled from rose petals – considered so valuable that rose oil and rose products were used as currency.




In 1796, Empress Josephine of France created a garden at the Chateau Malmaison that contained plants from all over the world, including an extensive rose collection.   So beloved were her roses, that she employed a botanical illustrator, Pierre-Joseph Redoute, to record the detail and beauty of her most favored flowers.



Reine des Violettes (France 1860)

The Old Roses – those having been identified or hybridized before 1867 – are the roses that I now prefer to grow in my gardens.   These roses, being closer to the species, are much more durable, adaptable and vigorous than tea roses, and much more fragrant, as well.  The deep colors offer nutrients and healing constituents along with the spiritual and emotional effects of their pervasive fragrances and energetics.

Rose Medicine in Contemporary Herbalism

Rosa is considered a relaxing nervine and nerve strengthener, liver relaxant, pelvic decongestant, digestive tonic, hormonal balancer and an anti-inflammatory and anodyne for muscles and uterine cramps.   It is considered cooling and astringent, very useful for sunburns, bug bites or other skin inflammation.   Rosa is renowned for strengthening the entire reproductive system:

Rose de Rescht (Persia, 1800’s)

Hormonal Balancing Remedy

Harvest leaf and flower buds just before they open.
Preserve with honey, or 1 part glycerin + 2 parts water
Infuse for 4-6 weeks
Dosage is 1 teaspoonful three times a day

Relaxant to the liver, Rose moves stuck energy and relieves tension.   As a heart-settling nervine, it is gentle enough for a baby.   The fragrance of organic Roses significantly decreases overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system.   Rose, taken internally as a tea, elixir or hydrosol, can also balance hyperimmune disorders and enhance immune function, making it useful for colds or flu type illnesses.   Rose is also strengthening and healing to the heart and circulatory system, as well as to the emotional heart.   Matthew Wood believes that Rosa turns down excitement in the limbic centers, and Kiva Rose considers it an emotional modulator, balancing both intense feelings and intense apathy.

Hansa Rose (Holland 1905)

Rose petals are high in nutrients, especially polyphenols, an important antioxidant.   All aerial parts of the rose can be harvested and used: buds, petals, leaves, twigs and hips.   Rose petals can be applied as bandages on wounds, as they are antiseptic, antibacterial and antiviral.  The flowers contain essential oil which includes citronellol, geraniol, nerol, eugenol, linalool, L-p-menthene, cyanin, gallic acid, and beta carotene.   The petals are considered  antibacterial, astringent and tonic.  Rose is considered a blood-mover, so is contraindicated during pregnancy.

Studies show that the leaves of Roses contain the same anti-inflammatory and vasculature strengthening antioxidants as the flowers/fruit.   Recognized as a primary medicine in Ayurveda, Rosa has been found to significantly contribute to the “good ” bacteria in our digestive tracts.

Kiva Rose, herbalist extraordinaire, is one of the the strongest advocates for the medicinal use of roses.   Her description: “It has an innate intelligence that gives it the ability to adjust the flow of the body’s varying energies and substances. It can calm heart palpitations, eliminate liver pains, reduce nervous tension or lessen menstrual cramps all depending on what the body needs. Traditional Western Herbalism and Ayurveda generally see the Rose as cooling while Traditional Chinese Medicine usually describes it as warming, and I think this has much to do with what properties the varying traditions ascribe to hot or cold. The reduction in inflammation is certainly part of the reason it is thought of as cooling, and the moving properties have to do with the warming aspect.”

Darlow’s Enigma reaching for the sky

Rose can be used in a myriad of ways, including:

wound healing
as a liver relaxant
pelvic decongestant
for hyper-immunity (allergies are an example)
as a relaxing nervine and nerve strengthener
for cardiovascular and emotional support
for digestive complaints
muscle pain and uterine cramps
sunburns, bug bites, rashes

Last summer, I made a liver support formula:

3 oz Dandelion
1 oz Schisandra berries
¼ oz White Peony Root
¼ oz Rose Petals
4 Tbs Rosemary powder

This formula proved effective for increasing energy, supporting digestion and resolving symptoms of overindulgence such as too much caffein or overeating.

Falling into my “Favorite Formulations” category is Rose Elixir.  Combining rose petals, honey and brandy, infusion time was about 8 weeks.  This remedy supports digestion, hormonal balance and offers emotional support.  Delicious.

Floral bath tea is something I experimented with last fall with my dried flower harvest:

2 oz rose petals
1 oz lavender flowers
1 oz calendula flowers
1 oz elder flowers
½ oz chamomile flowers

I used 2 oz dried blend steeped in a quart of hot water for at least 2 hours, sometimes all day.   I then strained the infusion into my bathwater.     Results were way more satisfying and noticeable than I had imagined.   Not only was the blend quite fragrant, but I felt the effects on and through my skin.   Floral baths are quite wonderful and have a lot of healing potential.  This blend is calming and makes skin soft!

The organic Rose essential oil from Alteya Organics, which is pure Rose Otto, is very fragrant and intense by itself.  To get a full-body effect, I formulated an after shower moisturizer as follows:

2 oz organic virgin olive oil
2 oz jojoba oil
1 oz rose-infused olive oil
1 oz calendula infused olive oil
6 drops Vetiver essential oil
9 drops Rose Otto essential oil

This formulation is quite heavenly, very fragrant, and a small amount goes a long way.   Very nourishing and moisturizing.   Therapeutically, Rose essential oil “clears heat and inflammation and helps restore the body’s yin energy.”  Emotionally, “Rose oil calms and yet supports the Heart, helping to nourish the Heart-yin and restore a sense of well-being.”   “. . .rose oil can touch the deepest despair, restoring the trust that makes it possible to love again.”

Lyda Rose and friends

 “Rose flowers were, and are still, much used for the emotional aspects of heart, they are particularly good for people who feel unloved or who have been abused.  Regular use of rose tincture alters the whole feeling of the body.”
                                                Christopher Hedley, UK Herbalist

Distilling roses into a hydrosol is one of the simplest ways to transform your fragrant rose petals into a very fragrant and healing flower water.  I usually infuse some of the rose petals for several hours prior to distillation.  For daily use as a toning complexion spray, it is rehydrating, balancing and fabulously fragrant.  Spray onto your hair or clothing as a gentle, organic perfume.  When my german shepherd was 14, he started having some problems with his eyes not producing enough moisture.  After trying it in my own eyes first, I felt very comfortable using undiluted rose hydrosol as his eye wash on a daily basis, and it kept his eyes clear and comfortable during his last years of life.

I’m sold out of Rose Hydrosol right now, but will be distilling more this summer.

Roses that I grow and recommend:

Darlow’s Enigma – very large rambler, single white very fragrant, blooms spring til frost
Rose de Rescht – small but dense and very fragrant roses, constantly in bloom
Hansa Rose – large, fragrant purple roses, reblooms, very hardy
Rosa Rugosa Rubra – super hardy, very fragrant, rose hips, 6′ wide x 6′ tall
Apothecary Rose – fragrance, rose hips, historical significance, some shade
Lyda Rose – single rose with intense fragrance, everblooming
Souvenir du Dr Jamain – fragrance and deep purple color
Rosa Moschata – fragrance, vigor and rose hips, white single roses, blooms Aug-Oct
Angel Face – one of the few hybrid roses I grow.  Lavender color and amazing fragrance
Rosa Glauca – beautiful bluish foliage, single roses, rose hips, arching  form, shade
Crown Princess Margareta – climber, very fragrant, re-blooms all summer

Crown Princess Margareta blooming in October

If you are considering any of these roses, I recommend looking them up on a garden blog to find out what other gardeners have experienced.  A great place to order all of these roses (and many others) is Heirloom Roses – all plants are on their own roots, which makes for a much more durable and healthy rose bush.  Lots of info at this site about each rose and about growing roses in general.  If you live in a zone where you have cold winters, order roses that are zoned for 1 or 2 zones lower than yours for added durability and strong return each spring.

Angel Face after a rain

Don’t forget to feed your roses.  Compost, manure, Age Old Grow, Mycorrhizal fungi and Glacial Rock Dust are all super helpful for roses.  Feed several times throughout the season. I often apply Mile Hi Rose Food during the spring and summer.  This is a blend of blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, kelp and other ingredients that roses thrive on.  Roses also love Epsom Salts!  Put 1/4 cup around the base of the plants in early spring and again later in the summer.

I’m heading out to the garden!

Blessings to you and your roses,

Rosa rugosa rubra


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About Sarah Wadleigh

I am a Clinical Herbalist, Organic Gardener and Nutritional Consultant for people and companion animals. I live in Madrid, New Mexico with my wonderful husband, two little dogs and a big cat. My practice revolves around helping people create health through whole-food nutrition, nutritive herbs, lifestyle and self-awareness. With more than 20 years of experience as an animal nutritional counselor, I offer consultations to improve the health and well-being of our four-legged friends, as well as their humans. We can work together via Skype, in person,or over the phone. Let's create health for ourselves and our animal companions! Contact:
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2 Responses to Roses as Medicine for Body and Soul

  1. Miriam says:

    You are truly amazing…better than an encylopedia…I LOVE reading your posts…I probably won’t be growing roses…but now I feel I might be able to with all of this information..Wow…you so rock!…

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