Roses: Worth the Thorns?
“The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change: Yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”
– Paulo Coelho
Roses, the flower beloved for its beauty and feared for its thorns. The hallmark of anniversaries, weddings and Valentine’s Day, the rose is universally celebrated as the queen of flowers. Coming in a variety of shades, shapes and sizes, can roses be more versatile than they are beautiful? Let’s see if this thorn-covered flower is spikey for more than just vanity reasons!
Historical Uses of Roses
Just like today, our ancestors cultivated and used roses both for their delicate petals and unique scent. Going back to Roman times, the city’s wealthiest citizens would cultivate roses for cosmetic purposes and as an additive to baths, floors and even as confetti! I can’t think of anything more luxurious than a room full of rose petals, the scent filling the space as delicate petals fall from the ceiling. The Romans knew luxury better than any other civilization. In some cases, this luxury-loving quality got the better of them and they planted roses instead of food!
Roses are mentioned in the mythology of many cultures around the world. The Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian and even the Native Americans all have myths about roses. Usually rose myths can be separated into two categories: beauty/love myths, and myths about thorns, though these two can be used interchangeably and coexist within the same myths. For example, nearly everyone knows Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. Who else could embody the raw femininity of roses like this sex goddess? But, interestingly enough, she’s attributed to creating both the red roses that symbolize physical love and white roses that symbolize innocence. I definitely don’t think about Aphrodite being innocent at all but maybe, like this goddess, roses can be more than one note. After all, what is the rose without the thorn?
More than a Pretty Face?
But can roses really be more than just a really pretty flower? When we explored the uses of lavender, I already knew lavender had inherent properties which help people to fall asleep but, roses? They’re pretty and everything, but beyond that, I feel they don’t have much utility. My mom loves roses, purple ones to be exact, so I appreciate their fragrance and appearance, but I have no experience beyond that. I like ‘rose’ essential oil mixed with other scents for aromatherapy. (I’ll explain the quotation marks in a second.) I like bath products that contain roses. I even bought a whole package of those soap rose petals to throw in the bath once, and I did come out feeling like a queen. Powerful. Alluring. Kind of sexy? So I know roses have a provocativeness to them -- but healing qualities, we’ll see!
The Highest Price Tag
So, why did I put rose in quotation marks earlier? Turns out the rose essential oils I’ve been using all my life are not really rose essential oil! Rose is an indescribable scent; it's delicate and sultry, captivating but not overpowering, simple but also has incredible layers and undertones to it. In short terms, it is very hard to capture the scent of roses without shelling out the big bucks! Most of us who have purchased ‘rose essential oil’ have never actually purchased rose essential oil, but an amalgamation of various floral scents combined to be rose-esque. That’s a real mouthful but it’s true, rose is one of the most expensive essential oils in the world -- but, why?
According to experts (which I am not) it takes sixty thousand roses to make a single ounce of rose essential oil. You read that right, not sixty or six hundred but sixty thousand roses for ONE SINGLE OUNCE of rose essential oil. The consequence of this bulk processing is that pure rose essential oil and products that use pure rose essential oil are very expensive.
The Scent Profile of Real Roses
Roses have one of the most complicated scent profiles of any flower with between four hundred and five hundred and forty individual elements that contribute to its overall scent. That’s a lot of smells! But what does pure rose essential oil smell like?
I decided to sample the Organic Rose Essential Oil from Visagenics. At first it smells very floral -- exactly how you’d expect the queen of flowers to smell, but not generically floral. This scent is distinctly rosy, like someone shoved a whole bouquet of roses under my nose. It is immediately distinguishable and indescribable, almost as if silk had a scent. I would say the top notes are: floral, citrusy (not lemon but deeper citrus), kind of spicy and honey-like. It’s sweet but a rich sweetness and has black pepper undertones. This particular essential oil is also powerful, making my entire bathroom smell like a rose garden after applying a single drop to a cotton ball.
But are roses and rose essential oil just a really nice scent?
The Health Benefits of Roses
Beauty is in the Eye
According to some research just looking at roses can induce both a physiological and psychological response that reduces stress. In the study by Song et al, (2017) participants who viewed roses experienced “a significant decrease in oxy-Hb concentrations in the right prefrontal cortex” which is a chemical that is attributed to stress. Similarly, participants noted they felt increased feelings of comfort and relaxation as opposed to the control group. Apparently just looking at roses can be an incredibly powerful experience.
Roses in Aromatherapy
Earlier I said that rose essential oil contains between four hundred and five hundred different scent components, but what does that mean for you?
Decrease Anxiety and Stress - Similar to lavender, inhaling rose essential oils can decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. Combining these two scents makes them doubly powerful! One of my favorite night time combinations is 2 drops lavender, 2 drops rose and 2 drops vanilla because it’s a sweet and relaxing scent combination.
Antibacterial and Antifungal - Rose essential oil has both antibacterial and antifungal properties and highest quality oil can be put on skin to treat certain fungal ailments.
Skin Benefits - Real rose essential oil can be mixed into face cream to create that ‘rosy’ complexion. It can also diminish the look of acne scars and help to promote a clear, even skin tone.
Roses for Cosmetic Uses
Roses have a long history of being used in cosmetics both today and in the past. Fresh roses can be turned into a facial toner when combined with water a.k.a rose water. Rosehip oil, an oil derived from the fruit of roses, is incredibly nourishing and can make the skin soft.
Roses for Consumption
When used for medicinal purposes, you should only harvest the petals and the fruit (or rose hips). The leaves and roots of this plant are useless for medicine. Rose petals, like rose essential oil, are mildly antibacterial and antifungal; but unlike rose essential oil, you can consume roses directly. Either fresh or dried roses have a vaguely floral, slightly bitter taste that tastes great when combined with a sweetener like honey.
When added to honey you have a throat coat medicine that is delicious and can fight off certain infections.
When dried and used for tea, dried roses have mild anti inflammatory properties that are good for ulcers and support urinary health.
Rosehips, or the fruit that comes from rose plants, are incredibly high in Vitamin C which aids in increasing immunity. You can also turn rose hips into a sweet jelly to add on cookies or scones! Absolutely delicious!
Just a Pretty Face?
Roses are useful on the table and have been shown to decrease stress just from being in their presence. But despite roses being absolutely beautiful they are useful beyond just as a gift to your sweetheart. The essential oil, though expensive, has major health benefits within aromatherapy and used topically for skin conditions. Similarly, fresh and dried roses can be consumed for their anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties and rosehips can be eaten for their high amounts of Vitamin C. Roses are a pretty face and so much more!
If you’d like to try the rose essential oil I tried you can find it here: Visagenics.com
If you’d like to read about the health benefits of lavender as well, check out: “Lavender - Sleep Master or Good-Smelling Lie?”
Chrubasik, C., Duke, R. K., & Chrubasik, S. (2006). The evidence for clinical efficacy of rose hip and seed: a systematic review. Phytotherapy Research, 20(1), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1729
Mahboubi, M. (2016). Rosa damascena as holy ancient herb with novel applications. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 6(1), 10–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2015.09.005
Mohebitabar S, Shirazi M, Bioos S, Rahimi R, Malekshahi F, Nejatbakhsh F. (2017). Therapeutic efficacy of rose oil: A comprehensive review of clinical evidence. Avicenna J Phytomed, 7 (3): 206-213.
Nayebi, N., Khalili, N., Kamalinejad, M., & Emtiazy, M. (2017). A systematic review of the efficacy and safety of Rosa damascena Mill. with an overview on its phytopharmacological properties. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 34, 129–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2017.08.014
Song, C., Igarashi, M., Ikei, H., & Miyazaki, Y. (2017). Physiological effects of viewing fresh red roses. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 35, 78–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2017.10.001