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A Rose by Any Other Name...

Susan Wittig Albert's Plant Mysteries
by Susan Wittig Albert
July 25, 2004

Late spring and early summer are often symbolized by one of the most beloved plants of all--the rose. And though twentieth-century rose-lovers might think of the rose as only a beautiful flower, people of earlier centuries and different cultures considered it an important herb, useful in many marvelous, mysterious ways. 
For ancient Egyptians, rose petals and rose water were scents that lifted the spirit. For the Greeks, rose flowers mixed with oils were recommended for uterine problems. Practioners of Ayurvedic medicine in India considered the rose cool and astringent, using the petals to treat wounds and inflammation and as a gentle laxative. Seventeenth-century English apothecary Nicholas Culpeper wrote, "Red Roses do strengthen the heart, the stomach and the liver, and the retentive faculty: They mitigate the pains that arise from heat, assuage inflammations, procure rest and sleep..." According to Jeanne Rose (Herbs & Things: Jeanne Rose’s Herbal), rose petal infusions have been used historically as a vaginal douche and to treat women’s menstrual complaints. And roses have been used in cosmetics of all kinds, from perfume to skin freshener to lip pomades. 
Twentieth-century American herbalists were not so impressed by the medicinal uses of the rose. While the flowers were cultivated for their beauty, their utility was disregarded. But this attitude changed in the 1930’s, when rose hips--the ripened fruit of the rose--were found to be a rich source of vitamin C. "Rose hips provide one of the best natural and freely available sources of vitamin C," writes David Hoffman, in The Holistic Herbal. He recommends rose hips to treat colds, constipation, and mild gall-bladder and kidney problems. A tasty way to boost your vitamin C: Pour a cup of boiling water over 2-3 tblsp of dried, chopped hips. Steep for 10 minutes, and drink. The tea is especially welcome at the onset of a cold, when the hot liquid helps to relieve congestion, cough, and itchy throat. Rose hip seed oil contains fatty acids, particularly gamma linoleic acid, that make it an excellent oil for the treatment of dry skin, psoriasis, and skin ulcers. Rosewater has long been used as the base for skin tonics, and the essential oil, used as a fragrance, quiets and calms jangled nerves. 
Roses are also good to eat! Uncooked rose-petal jam is remarkably easy to make. Gather 1 cup of fragrant red rose petals in the morning, before the sun’s heat evaporates the volatile oils. (And always choose unsprayed roses.) As you pick the petals, pinch off the white base (which contains a bitter substance). Put the petals into a blender with ¾ cup of water and the juice of 1 lemon. Blend until smooth, gradually adding 2½ cups sugar. Blend until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside, still in the blender jar. Stir 1 package of powdered pectin (Sure-Jell) into ¾ cups water and bring to a boil. Boil it hard for 1 minute, stirring. Pour the sugar/pectin mixture into the blender jar and blend until thoroughly mixed. Pour immediately into small sterilized jars with lids (such as small jelly jars). Let stand at room temperature for about 8 hours, until jelled. Store for about a month in the refrigerator, or freeze in plastic containers for longer storage. 

© 2000 Susan Wittig Albert. All rights reserved.

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