Roses are one of the most recognized flowers in the world. There are multitudes of varieties grown in many regions with a wide range of color and scent combinations. Roses have been used as symbols, medicine and even currency. Although distinctive for their perfumed scent and showy flowers, roses are also well known for their healing properties.
The History of Roses
The oldest rose fossils have been found in Colorado, interestingly enough, dating back to over 35 million years ago (“The flower expert” n.d.). The oldest societies thought to cultivate the fragrant flowers are located in Northern Persia, or on the Caspian sea. Various types of roses were spread across Asia minor to Greece, whose colonists brought them to the shores of Southern Italy. In fact, the word “rosa” comes from the Greek word “rodon”; meaning “red”, according to Grieves (Roses, n.d). They were considered the most sacred of flowers in Ancient Egypt, and are mentioned in ancient texts from China and Mesopotamia.
As the Romans reclaimed many things from the Greek culture to build their own, roses too became an integrated part of Roman life. The petals were strewn on the floors and floated in goblets of wine as a luxury of the rich. Whole flowers themselves crowned both blushing brides and grooms, as well as gracing the heads of gods such as Cupid, Venus, and Bacchus. Many celebrations saw roses being brought into the decorations.
It is believed that the crude distillation of roses for the oil was originated from in the late 7th century AD, and spread to the provinces of later in 14th century. Iran was the main producer of rose oil until the 16th century and exported it to all around the world (Boskabady).
Indeed, these examples are just a few of the many places roses were used. Many societies including the French, Dutch, Indians and Bulgarians, learned to cultivate roses for perfumes, wine flavoring, medicines, tarts, confetti, flavoring, teas, jellies, and syrup. Rosewater became so popular in Europe during the 17th century that quantities of it were used as barter and legal tender. Napoleon's wife even kept a large garden of the popular flowers at Chateau de Malmaison, which became the source of botanical paintings on the subject done by Pierre Joseph Redoute.
Rose gardens have recently found themselves extremely popular, as there are many public places to visit that are planted with these flowers. They are grown all over the globe, except in the arctic and antarctic regions.
There is a strong bond between Iranians and this plant. Its popularity is not only because of the medicinal effects but also is due to holy beliefs about it. People call this plant Flower of Prophet Mohammed (Gole Mohammadi), because they believe its nice aroma reminds them of prophet Mohammad (8).
At the present time, this plant is cultivated in Iran (especially in Kashan), Bulgaria, Turkey, and Morocco for preparing rose water and essential oil. Turkey currently leads as the top producer of rose oils and the Netherlands is the top producer of plants or petals. Because of the low oil content in R. damascena and the lack of natural and synthetic substitutes, essential rose oil of this plant is one of the most expensive ones in the world markets (Boskabady). In Addition to Rose oils and water, roses can also flavor things such as sorbet, honey, or vinegar.
Etymology and Origin
According to Grieve (Roses, n.d) there are over 10,000 species of roses in the world! The sheer amount of variations which bear the name “Rose” makes defining the beautiful flower difficult, if not almost impossible. Below we will look at the specific anatomy of Rose damascena, more frequently known as the “Damask Rose” which is the rose most commonly used in healing and aromatherapy.
Roses are vascular plants, Ferns and Ginkgos share this label with roses. Their binding elements are the development of embryos, apical cell growth, and differentiated stems and leaves. Roses are also dicots, meaning they share a class with peas and other similar plants which start their lives with two “baby” leaves, and develop flowers with petals in multiples of three. Rosales is the name of the order that further separates roses from every other plant in those two categories. In this group there are also such things as prunes, or cherries, which contains small and medium sized shrubs or trees grown for their flowers or fruit. The family name to which Roses belong is Rosaceae, which according to USDA plants (n.d) contains 72 genera. Finally we arrive at the Genus Rosa, which exclusively contains all the different species of roses.
Rosa damascena (Rosah-dahm-askeena) is one of these species, which has its own characteristics that sets it apart from other types of roses. These characteristics include a strong wonderful scent, a semi-double flower with vibrant pink petals that bloom during the summer, elliptical leaves with gently serrated edges, and a light green stem which is covered all over with small prickles.
The reproductive cycle of the Rosa damascena or Damask Rose is similar to any plant with perfect flowers. What does this mean? Each flower contains both male pistols and a female stigma. Bees are the primary pollinators of roses along with other insects which are attracted by the smell. Once the pollen is carried to the stigma it travels down a “pollen tube”. In a process called “double fertilization” the pollen tube connects sperm with the ovum
The fruit of the rose is called the rose hip, it develops after the flowers start to wither. It disperses the seeds mainly through birds who are attracted to the hips (usually once shriveled by frost, as that makes them sweeter) as a source of food. The seeds pass through their digestive tracts unharmed.
Roses by the Color
Roses are often now considered symbols of love, especially when they are red. A quick internet search will reveal that there is a meaning associated with every other color as well. They are given as gifts, especially on holidays such as Mother's day and of course, Valentines Day.
Red Love, Beauty, Courage and Respect, Romantic Love, Congratulations, "I Love You", "Job Well Done", Sincere Love, Respect, Courage & Passion
Red (Dark) Unconscious beauty
Red (Single) "I Love You"
Deep Burgundy Unconscious Beauty
White Purity, Innocence, Silence, Secrecy, Reverence, Humility, Youthfulness, "I am worthy of you", Heavenly
White (Bridal) Happy love
Pink Appreciation, "Thank you", Grace, Perfect Happiness, Admiration, Gentleness, "Please Believe Me"
Dark Pink Appreciation, Gratitude, "Thank You"
Light Pink Admiration, Sympathy, Gentleness, Grace, Gladness, Joy, Sweetness
Yellow Joy, Gladness, Friendship, Delight, Promise of a new beginning, Welcome Back, Remember Me, Jealousy, "I care"
Yellow with Red Tip Friendship, Falling in Love
Orange Desire, Enthusiasm
Red and White Given together, these signify unity
Red and Yellow Jovial and Happy Feelings
Peach Appreciation, Closing the deal, Let's get together, Sincerity, Gratitude
Pale Peach Modesty
Lavender Love at first sight, Enchantment
Orange Enthusiasm, Desire, Fascination
Black * Death, Farewell
Blue * The unattainable, the impossible
Single - any color Simplicity, Gratitude
Red Rosebud Symbolic of purity and loveliness
White Rosebud Symbolic of girlhood
Thorn-less Rose "Love at first sight"
Roses by the Numbers
A single rose of any color depicts utmost devotion
Two roses entwined together communicate "Marry me"
Six Roses signify a need to be loved or cherished
Eleven roses assure the recipient they are truly and deeply loved
Thirteen roses indicate a secret admirer
Roses in Literature
Shakespeare is especially famous for his mention of them in his play Romeo and Juliet. “....Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” Juliet laments from her balcony. Roses have been completely adapted into our expressions in such phrases as “rosy cheeks” and they are still being used often as a metaphor for love and romance. There are countless examples of roses being used in such a way in books and poetry. Roses, and their fictional thorns, are a beloved symbol of the ages.
Medicinal Properties and Effects
These hips have high levels of vitamin C in them as well as traces of vitamins B, E, and K; as such they are gathered by people to use in teas, wine, syrup, jam, and other sauces, once they are boiled. The primary use of the Damask rose is for oil or rosewater. Studies are being done as to their use to help menstrual cramps. The tea is also good for astringents according to Bremness (1988), and the oil can be used during massage to aid circulation and sooth tension.
Several pharmacological properties including anti-HIV, antibacterial, antioxidant, antitussive, hypnotic, anti-diabetic, and relaxant effect on tracheal chains have been reported for this plant (Boskabady, National Institute of Health).
The most therapeutic effects of R. damascena in ancient medicine are including treatment of abdominal and chest pain, strengthening the heart, treatment of menstrual bleeding and digestive problems, laxative, and reduction of inflammation, especially of the neck. North American Indian tribes used a decoction of the root of R. damascena plant as a cough remedy to ease children’s cough. Rose oil heals depression, grief, nervous stress and tension. It helps in the reduction of thirst, healing old cough, special complaints of women, wound healing, and skin health. Vapor therapy of rose oil is helpful for some allergies, headaches, and migraine (Boskabady, National Institute of Health).
Several Pharmacological studies have been performed on R. damascena to evaluate their effects on the central nervous system (CNS). The effects of this plant on CNS are extensive. Ethanolic extract of the flowering tops of R. damascena has been shown to possess potent effects that are hypnotic, anticonvulsant, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, analgesic effects, and nerve growth.
It has also been shown that R. damascena has wide spectrum antimicrobial activities. Essential oil, absolute and hydrosol are important products that showed these effects.
The R. damascena similar to many aromatic and medicinal plants exhibits antioxidant properties. Sources of natural antioxidant are primarily phenolics compound that are found in all parts of plants such as the fruits, vegetables, seeds, leaves, roots and barks.
A rose by any other name, be it Damascus or carnia, smells wonderful. There is no wonder they have been so cultivated and cross bred by humans for well over a hundred years. Through processes such as grafting and pruning, we may be losing some valuable and delicious hips, but we have gained such beautiful variety it is difficult to complain. Hopefully by reading this you have gotten a little more insight as to what a rose really is, and all that it can offer to us.