Many of us have fond memories of our mothers and grandmothers giving us herbal remedies as children. My grandmother used to give rosehip syrup to my mom and her brothers to increase their vitamin C intake and ward off seasonal colds. It’s a fond memory of my mother’s, and it makes me feel connected to past generations and traditional practices. These simple and accessible remedies are something we can still use today, helping us to be closer to nature and more in tune with our bodies and with the seasons.
Roses, one of the most common ornamental plants found all over the world today, are also one of the oldest herbal medicines and have a rich history of use. There are countless species of roses (Rosa) with varying Latin names, but all are in the Rosacea family. The common rose may have more subtypes than any other flower or herb. They have been purposely bred by people for thousands of years to produce a vast variety of colors, forms, and scents. Roses begin flowering in the spring and into the summer, forming the hip, or the fruit, after pollination in the fall. Dead-heading your roses will help to keep them blooming into the fall and will not reduce the number of hips that the plant later produces. The hips are prime for picking in autumn and so are therefore the focus of our November spotlight.
The hips are plump and reddish, containing fibrous seeds and have a tart, astringent taste. While they can be eaten straight from the bush, they are more pleasant-tasting when made into syrups, jams, teas or used as a baking ingredient. While the medicinal properties of each type of rose will vary slightly, all are edible and capable of being applied as herbal medicine both topically and internally.
Roses have long been associated with love and attachment in almost every culture. In Roman mythology, it represents Venus, the goddess of love, Cupid, the god of desire, and also Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility. In floriography, the Victorian language of flowers, roses stood for love and romance, as they still do today, but also for friendship, innocence, joy, thankfulness, or mourning, depending on their color. It was a common practice at this time to make an edible paste out of rose petals, to be given as a gift to loved ones with the hope of inspiring true and unconditional love. Traditional witchcraft practices also see roses as an ingredient used to inspire love and romance, as well as luck and protection. In Ayurveda, roses are said to balance the heart and mind. It seems an unlikely coincidence that so many different cultures and practices have used roses to represent similar meanings. And indeed scientific research has shown that rose can act as a nervine, meaning it calms the nerves and can balance hormonal activity, suggesting the roots of truth in these ancient and widespread ideas associating roses with matters of the heart.
Rose hips are high in antioxidants as well as vitamins C, B2 and E, malic acid, citric acid, and beta-carotene, as well as tannins, making it a slightly bitter and astringent herb. Research also indicates that rose can help regulate metabolism, also reflected in traditional herbal practices such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Ayurveda, the constitution of rose is cool/dry and is said to balance Pitta, the dosha that is associated with digestion and metabolism. Pitta represents fire, and so herbs that are cooling/ drying are said to balance this dosha. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the rose is associated with the liver and gallbladder and is said to have yin (female) energy. Rose is used to treat a variety of stomach, kidney, and urinary disorders. It aids in the release of fluid retention, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, fevers, immune function, and increased blood flow, which can aid in sciatica relief.
There are many topical uses for the humble rose as well. Rose is known to be anti-inflammatory, and the oil from roses also has antiseptic and antiviral properties. Rosehip oil can be used topically to reduce scars and stretch marks and to even the skin’s complexion. Rose hips, being astringent, have a cooling/ drying effect which can act as a lovely skin toner. Rose water is also known to be soothing and calming to the skin and is excellent for aging skin. Rose water is also a popular delicacy used for fragrance and flavouring edible treats.
Elegant and delicate as the rose may seem, it is always wise to be cautious when using herbal medicine preparations. Some people can be allergic to rose hips, while others may be sensitive to topical applications. There is evidence that vitamin C in rose hips can increase how much estrogen the body absorbs from its environment or medications. Certain medications can also interact with rose, including those that slow blood clotting, such as aspirin. As always, consult a professional before taking complementary medications if you are already on medication or have a known condition. Always use your best judgment when imbibing or applying anything. Herbal medicine is a powerful tool and should be approached with respect.
Rose Hip Tea
* Handful of rose hips, cut in half
* 2 cups water
Boil water on a stovetop and add rose hips. Let boil for 10 minutes or more. Simply pouring boiling water over as you would a normal tea will not allow the hips to release enough of their goodness. Cold tea can also be used as a facial toner, simply splash on after washing your face. If you wish to store the brew, do so in the fridge and toss after a week. I personally enjoy freezing the tea into ice cubes and rubbing the cube over my face for a cooling, toning facial treat.
Traditional Rose Hip Syrup
* 4 parts hips to 2 parts water (2 cups of hips requires 1 cup of water)
* 1 part sugar or honey (2 cups of hips/ 1cup water requires 1/2 cup of sugar)
* Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
Cut the hips in half as before. Add to boiling water and allow to boil for at least 20 minutes. Strain the hips before adding the sugar, then stir till completely dissolved. Keep refrigerated, should keep for approximately 6 months. Yum!