Updated: Feb 1, 2021
There is no more ultimate, or well-known symbol of love than the rose, the Queen of Flowers. The letters of the word 'rose' can even be rearranged to spell Eros, the God of Love - a mere coincidence?! It has been inspiration for poets, artists and lovers alike for centuries, something that my favourite physician, Nicholas Culpeper, seems rather irked by, according to this somewhat unromantic observation - "What a pother have authors made with Roses! What a racket have they kept?", and stating that he "(holds) it altogether needless to trouble the reader with a description" of the rose, as it is so familiar to all.
And indeed it is. The rose has been used symbolically throughout the ages by many cultures and civilisations. As well as its medicinal uses being recognised, it is a flower that represents every aspect of life, from purity to passion, love and grief, the bloom of youth and life to the withering of age and death. This contrast is seen in its physical appearance - from its delicate, perfect flower and heavenly sweet perfume, to its vicious, protective and snaring thorns. An example of this dychotomy is found with the ancient Romans, who used roses extensively in their celebrations and festivals, yet also at their funerals. It was also believed by the Romans that anything said 'under the rose' was deemed to be top secret, and similarly in the Middle Ages, a rose hung above a meeting place meant all who attended must swear to secrecy.
Fossils of roses have been discovered from 35 million years ago, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, roses are the oldest species of plant to be grown as decoration. Flowerweb states that "the world’s oldest living rose is believed to be 1,000 years old. It grows on the wall of the Cathedral of Hildesheim in Germany and its presence is documented since A.D. 815. According to the legend, the rosebush symbolises the prosperity of the city of Hildesheim; as long as it flourishes, Hildesheim will not decline. In 1945 allied bombers destroyed the cathedral, yet the bush survived. Its roots remained intact beneath the debris, and soon the bush was growing strong again"(https://www.flowerweb.com/en/article/195137/15-Amazing-Facts-about-Roses).
It is also one of only three flowers mentioned in the Christian Bible.
Although there does not appear to be a record of when rose essential oil was first produced, there is documented evidence that rose petals were being distilled in Iran from the 9th century - and to this day it is of such significance that it is the country's national flower. Rose water was initially the only product extracted from roses, before the oil was 'discovered' - this story may explain how -
"The most romantic tale of the origin of rose attar has to be the story of the Emperor Djihanguyr, who ordered the fountains and canals in the royal gardens to be filled with rosewater to celebrate his wedding to the princess Nour Djihan. When later walking through the gardens with her husband the princess noticed an oily residue had collected on the surface of the water. She ran her fingers through the scented water and was delighted to find that a fragrant oil clung to her hands. From then on the Emperor had it produced and bottled as a tribute to her." (https://persianrose.co.uk/the-healing-properties-of-rosewater-and-rose-oil/). Here again we see the link of roses with love.
Rosewater from Persia was prized by the Caliph of Baghdad, and from 810BCE, the province of Faristan was required to give him an annual tribute of 30,000 bottles of the exquisite elixir. Today is still used extensively in delicious Persian foods, drinks and desserts - certainly for flavouring, but this perhaps derives from its historical herbal uses in helping with digestive problems, so many Iranians add the powder of dried petals to yogurt and have as a side to meals. (https://www.actahort.org/)
A Royal Connection
The rose has lofty associations - it was the symbol adopted by royalty in England, the Tudor rose combining the red rose of the house of Lancaster with the white rose of York, and was adopted as the national emblem, signifying the uniting of the two warring families and the end of the great tussle for power, the War of The Roses, in 1487.
As well as being the national flower of Iran, in 1986 the rose became the national flower of the US, and four individual states have chosen the rose as their official flower - Georgia, Iowa, New York, and North Dakota.
Yes yes yes, but what about the oil?
No other flower has quite the same impact, or creates such a sense of bliss upon inhaling its scent, something we all seem to do with our eyes closed, so as to be transported, and fully absorb ourselves in its wonder. For those few seconds, it puts us truly 'in the moment'. Upon inhalation, rose essential oil relaxes, helps calm anxiety, lowers blood pressure and helps with sleep. It is an effective antidepressant, and comforting in times of grief. Cooling in nature, rose oil dispels conditions of heat such as inflammation, irritability and hot flushes. Used extensively in skin care, it is a prized and precious oil for all skin types.
According to Battaglia, "floral oils have a strong affinity with the emotions, our psyche and the female reproductive system". It is an oil that supports women through the many stages of their lives - it balances hormones, helps with menstrual issues, increases sexuality, helps alleviate back pain associated with pregnancy, and is cooling for hot menopausal conditions. The flower is also given to symbolise love. Battaglia says flower oils "have a strong affinity with the Fire element", whose main organ is the heart. It is unsuprisingly associated with the heart chakra, but also the sacral (sexuality) and the crown (spiritual connection).
It takes about 70 roses to make one drop of essential oil, which accounts for its high cost, as well as the very specific, labour-intensive way they need to be picked and processed. But it is worth the trouble, to preserve this most sublime of scents. So yes - a rose with any other name WOULD smell as sweet, now go out and smell the roses, for this Queen of Flowers truly lives up to its name.
Battaglia, S. Aromatherapy and Chakras. 2020. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Battaglia, S. Aromatree. 2019. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Battaglia, S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 3rd Ed, Vol. 1, 2018. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Culpeper, N. Culpeper's Complete Herbal. 2019. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.