The Therapeutic Realm of the Rose
9 Mar 2005
by Brenda Pollock-Smith, HHP
"The rose distils a healing balm
The beating pulse of pain to calm".
—Sir Thomas Moore, Odes of Anacreon
Beyond the evident beauty of the rose lies an eminence of healing. The therapeutic realm of the rose is recognized worldwide and throughout human history.
While most famous for use in perfume, roses also possess an ancient tradition in materia medica. Rose “absolute” is extracted by solvents from cabbage roses (Rosa centifolia) and not considered a true essential oil because toxic traces of solvents remain. Rose absolute is significantly less expensive than steam distillation extractions and is used by the perfume and cosmetic industry. Rose “otto” or “atter” (rose oil) - steam distilled from the Bulgarian damask rose (Rosa damascena) is considered to be the finest quality therapeutic essence.
Ancient doctors recommended rose water to treat upset nerves and extracts of rose petals for heart and kidney disease. In 17th Century England, physicians prescribed the extract of the rose for its astringent properties, for headaches and tired eyes. Rose hips, due to their high vitamin C content are highly praised for their restorative value. The attar of roses is the essential component for most therapeutic applications. Today, there are remarkable scientific studies confirming the antiviral property of several essential oils, rose oil being one of them. Modern day herbalists, aroma therapists, ayurvedic physicians and holistic practitioners continue to tap into the chemical compounds of the rose for curative means.
While the science of healing with essential oils is ancient, the rise of chemistry and pharmacology in the 16th century reduced the practice of using essential oils to “folk remedies” or “superstition”. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that French chemists began a revival of exploration focused on the healing properties of essential oils. Rene-Maurice Gattefosse researched essential oils in dermatology and coined the word ‘aromatherapy’ in 1928 after healing his own burnt skin with lavender oil.
The vapor from essential oils stimulates the human olfactory nerve which is the only nerve in the body that directly contacts the environment and connects directly to the brain whereas all of our other senses involve several nerve and synaptic junctions before reaching the brain. The olfactory nerve stimulates the limbic system of the brain processing emotions, motivation, desires, appetites and memories as well as the endocrine glands which regulate hormone levels. (Other methods of application are used with essential oils but for the purpose of this article we will address inhalation methods only.)
Rose lovers fall even deeper in love with the rose when they learn how the principle constituents of their fragrant blooms can benefit their life and health. The main component of rosa damascene is monoterpene alcohols (citronellol). These monoterpene alcohols react easily with acids to form new chemical compounds, esters. In plants, esters are powerfully aromatic. Of all plant essences, steam distilled Bulgarian rose oil is considered the strongest anti-depressant known when inhaled, twice per day. The high ester content in aromatherapy is used for their balancing and antispasmodic effects. Esters also act as fungicides. Geranium oil is the closest cousin to the rose in relation to its therapeutic properties (and much less expensive). Some potential benefits include:
- Medicinal properties: Antidepressant, antiphlogistic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, astringent, sedative, tonic
- Physical: Nausea, headache, menstrual tension. Skin: broken capillaries, aging, mature skin, eczema, mouth infections, wound healing, old scars
- Emotional: Helps ease insomnia, nervous tension, post partum depression, grief/sadness, stress related conditions, poor memory. Encourages feelings of well being.
- USE WITH CAUTION DURING PREGNANCY, consult your doctor before using.
The method of extracting true rose oil from what the Greek poet Sappho fêted as “the queen of flowers” is very expensive. A single rose blossom contains approximately 0.02% essential oil. Consequently, it takes about 60,000 rose blossoms to produce one ounce of oil – ten thousand pounds of rose blossoms to produce one pound of oil.
Rose gardeners can create their own therapeutic spa experience right out of their own gardens:
~Be Indulged Rose Bath~
Pour boiling water over a cup full of fragrant rose petals and infuse in a closed bowl to preserve the atter of the rose for two or more hours. Pour the infusion with the petals into the bath. Options: Add beetroot juice to intensify the healing properties or add one cup of pure cream for extra moisturizing. Inhale and enjoy…
The rose engages us with her physical beauty while offering her very essence as a tonic for a variety of ills. So, the next time you stop to smell the roses, take delight in knowing you are treating yourself to a wonderful mini therapy as well as experiencing a sweet moment of bliss.
And just when we thought we could not love her more….
Brenda Pollock-Smith, HHP