Roses aren’t just for romance! Offering many benefits for the body, heart, and mind, you’ll be amazed by the medicinal uses of rose.
A lot of plants may come to mind when you think of medicinal herbs. Chamomile, echinacea, and calendula are a few.
The list could go on and on, but one plant that likely won’t pop up in your top three is rose. After all, roses smell nice, and they look pretty, and I suppose the hips are useful. But that’s about it, right?
Though I used to think the same, I now know that roses are incredible in herbal remedies! I consider them must-haves in any home apothecary. Once you see the medicinal uses of rose, I think you’ll agree with me.
Can You Really Use Rose as an Herbal Remedy?
Years ago, as a budding herbalist, I was on the writing team for an herb company’s blog. My assignment one February was to create a rose petal chocolate bark recipe and discuss the medicinal uses of rose petals.
I was familiar with rose hips as an herbal remedy. But the petals? I doubted they had much herbal power to offer.
Armed with a large bag of fragrant, organic rose petals, I made a scrumptious chocolate bark that I could hardly stop snacking on. The unique flavor and satisfying texture of the rose petals quickly hooked me.
Between my research for the recipe post and my experience with the chocolate bark, I started to think that perhaps roses weren’t just for bouquets.
So I read more about roses in my favorite herbalism books. I watched how other herbalists used the plant and started experimenting more with the petals and hips in my own apothecary. Finally, I planted my own rose bush and completely fell in love.
Rose has become one of my favorite herbs. I infuse it in hot cocoa, add it to my tea blends, and even turned to it to help me process some difficult miscarriages. Now I can’t imagine my home apothecary without it!
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Basic Information on the Herb Rose
Botanical Name & Medicinal Varieties
When you want to know about rose’s botanical name, you’ll fall down a meandering rabbit hole that branches into topics like history, geography, hybridization, and even politics.
Rose’s genus name is Rosa, but medicinal roses could be a number of species. That’s why you’ll often see rose listed as Rose spp. You can use many different species in herbalism.
Some of the most common roses used in herbalism include
- Damask rose (Rose damascena)
- Cabbage rose (Rosa centifolia)
- Ramanas rose (Rosa rugosa)
- Apothecary rose (Rosa gallica)
- Dog rose (Rosa canina)
- Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora).
Generally speaking, the best medicinal rose species are heirloom roses that have been around for hundreds of years. If you can find fragrant, native plants that grow wild in your area, those are great medicinal species, too.
In my garden, I have a growing Rosa rugosa bush that I hope takes over the back of my garage. You’ll see photos of it throughout this article. I’m adding four more old-fashioned varieties to my garden this spring, too. I’m not kidding when I say rose has become one of my favorite herbs!
Description: What to Look for in Medicinal Roses
There’s a lot of variety when it comes to rose plants. Some are compact shrubs while others will climb 12′ up a trellis. You’ll usually find thorns on the stems, but not always. Flowers come in various colors and shades, and they might bloom once per season or many times.
There are some consistencies in the Rosa genus, though.
Roses grow on thorny shrubs or bushes, unless the thorns have been bred out of the species. They have compound leaves with 5-7 leaflets and might remind you of raspberry or blackberry leaves (the plants are in the same family: Rosaceae).
Historically, rose flowers had five petals, usually in some shade of pink, that surrounded a center of yellow stamens. Rosa rugosa, Rosa multiflora, and Rosa canina still showcase these simple flowers. Over time, roses were bred to have more petals in more colors until there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different roses today.
If you want to grow or choose the best roses for medicinal use, pick roses that are heavily scented. Many modern species and varieties were bred to emphasize color, bloom time, and thorn presence rather than the fragrance, so these recent rose additions have less medicinal value.
Parts of the Rose You Can Use
All parts of the rose plant have been somehow used in herbal medicine throughout history, including the root, bark, leaves, petals, and hips (or fruit).
Today, most herbalists focus on the petals and hips in their remedies. Some also use the leaves for astringent skin treatments. Rosehip seeds are pressed into rosehip seed oil, a common ingredient in facial products.
How to Harvest Rose Petals & Rosehips for Food & Medicine
When you want to harvest or forage for rose petals or rose hips, first be sure that the plant hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. Commercial roses, like those used by florists, are heavily sprayed with these chemicals, so they’re not fit for medicinal use.
That means you don’t want to dry your gorgeous Valentine’s Day red rose bouquet and try to make an herbal remedy with it. Always choose organic for your rose remedies or verify the plant wasn’t sprayed with pesticides.
To harvest rose petals, aim to pick them on a dry morning, after the dew evaporates, but before the summer heat sets in. Use them immediately if you’re making a fresh petal preparation. Otherwise, put them in a dehydrator on low or on drying racks in a single layer right after harvesting.
If you want to harvest rosehips, you’ll need to leave some flowers on the plant for most rose species. Rosa rugosa puts out hips even if you take petals, so it’s an exception.
Harvest the hips when they’re bright red, ideally after the first frost if you live where winters are cold. If the hips are large, split them in half and remove the irritating hairs and seeds from the center. You can enjoy rosehips fresh or dry.
If you don’t have a source for fresh rose petals or rosehips, you can find organic, dry options from Mountain Rose Herbs.
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Rose’s Herbal Actions & Energetics
Rose was quite popular during the Middle Ages and was applied in all sorts of situations ranging from fever to headaches to stomach upsets and even tuberculosis. It later fell out of favor, but recently more herbalists and scientific researchers are rediscovering its virtues.
- Rose petals are a well-respected relaxant nervine, so they calm the central nervous system. This can be particularly helpful during times of grief.
- It contains tannins, making it an astringent herb that tightens tissue both internally and externally. Energetically, rose is considered drying and tightening.
- The anti-inflammatory properties of rose calm inflammation in the body, which is why most herbal traditions consider rose energetically “cooling.”
- Rose shows some antioxidant activity, scavenging free radicals in the body and promoting overall health.
- Rose petals have been historically used to ease heart maladies, including both the cardiovascular system and physical heart, as well as the emotional heart.
- Rose hips are sour and nutrient-rich, aiding digestion and giving your body a dose of Vitamin C.
- Rose petals are often part of herbal aphrodisiac formulas, helping spark romance and ease tension.
- Rose essential oil, made from the petals, has been shown in research to provide analgesic, antianxiety, and sleep-promoting benefits.
How to Use Rose in Herbal Remedies
Ways to Use Rose Petals
Rose petals are simply a delight in both the kitchen and in your herbal remedies. If you don’t grow your own roses, you can find red petals, pink petals, and even whole rosebuds from Mountain Rose Herbs. You can use them interchangeably.
- You can make an herbal infusion with rose petals by steeping them in freshly boiled water while covered for 10-15 minutes. Rose petals have a very strong flavor that isn’t pleasant on its own. However, it’s very nice in blends with herbs like mint, holy basil, lemongrass, chamomile, or lemon balm.
- Fresh rose petals make a delightful herb-infused honey or glycerite. Simply add freshly harvested petals to a jar, cover with honey or vegetable glycerine, and allow to infuse for 2-4 weeks. Strain and use in tincture blends, teas, or even beverages. It’s heavenly!
- Fragrant, dry rose petals can also be tinctured at a 1:4 ratio in 50-60% alcohol. I recommend Culinary Solvent’s organic food-grade ethanol, diluted to your preference. (Use code “THRIVE” to get 10% off your first purchase.)
- If you have a painful skin burn or irritation, you can apply rose petal vinegar. Simply fill a jar with fresh (fill the jar all the way) or dry (fill it halfway) rose petals and top off with apple cider vinegar. Strain after 2 weeks and apply as needed.
- Rose-infused herbal oil can be a lovely addition to your skincare routine, as can a rose petal face mask.
- You can sprinkle rose petals on desserts, especially chocolate ones! Rose petals also work nicely in fruit preserves and salads.
How to Use Rosehips
The simplest way to enjoy rosehips is to eat them straight off the plant. This works fine for small hips, but if the rosehips are large, you might find the seed cavity hairs irritate your throat. In that case, there are many ways to use rosehips and enjoy their medicinal value.
- You can make an herbal infusion with rosehips, as well as add them to nutrient-rich herbal tea blends. If you want to make a simple rosehip infusion, pour 1 cup of freshly boiled water over 2 teaspoons of rosehips. Strain and enjoy.
- Rosehips make a delicious oxymel. Take dried, cut rosehips (these don’t have the irritating seeds and hairs) and place them in a jar, filling it 3/4 of the way up. Then, fill the jar halfway with raw apple cider vinegar and top off with enough honey to cover the rosehips. Stir to remove any air bubbles, and let the mixture infuse in a cupboard. After 2 weeks, take it by the spoonful for a sweet and sour nutritious treat.
- You can add cut rosehips to many kitchen recipes, even cooking them into oatmeal, baked items, and desserts.
- You can also get rosehip capsules, but carefully read the ingredients to be sure the capsules only contain rosehips and choose a reputable supplier.
But Wait, There’s More! Additional Ways to Use Rose
Rose’s medicinal uses don’t just stop with the petals and hips. You can also enjoy the leaves, essential oil, hydrosol (more commonly known as rose water), and rosehip seed oil.
Rose leaves are very astringent, so you have to use them carefully or they can be too drying or tightening.
The best way to take advantage of rose leaf is to make a strong infusion and apply it as a wash (called a fomentation or compress) to moist, open skin wounds. The rose leaf infusion will help calm inflammation, reduce weeping from the wound, and tighten the skin so it can heal better.
Rose essential oil is one of the priciest around because it takes around 50 hand-picked petals to make one drop of essential oil. But it’s glorious! Try it in blends that support sleep, calm anxiety, or nourish the skin. Rose essential oil is also safe to use around the most sensitive people, like infants and elders (always diluted, of course).
Rose water is more affordable than rose essential oil, but smells heavenly and offers some lovely benefits. It’s a steam-distilled hydrosol (not a tea, like some people suggest) and can be used straight on your skin. I use it as a toner, but you can also use it as a hair detangler, sunburn soother, and natural perfume.
Finally, there’s rosehip seed oil. Quality rosehip seed oil is cold-pressed from the rosehip’s seeds and is frequently added to high-end facial serums and moisturizers. It quickly absorbs into your skin, so you don’t experience any oiliness after using it.
Rose is safe for all ages, as long as you aren’t allergic to it.
As I mentioned previously, roses for florists and decorators are highly sprayed with harmful pesticides. If you want to enjoy the medicinal uses of rose, be sure to only choose organic or unsprayed roses.
Hopefully, after all of this, roses have crept up your list of must-have herbs like they did for me.
Such a lovely, multi-purpose plant has much to offer and brings tremendous joy to the garden and apothecary.
With petals and hips, hydrosol and essential oil, fragrance and beauty, roses aren’t simply bouquet ingredients. They’re beautiful medicine!