People will give and receive many roses this month in celebration of Valentines Day. While the rose is a symbol of love, it is so much more. And while we celebrate with flowers that are not native to our country, I would like to take a moment to recognize the wild variety of roses that are.
The herbalist Juliette De Barclay Levy once said of the rose, “Love is like a rose, and roses are not made within days. Years are needed for full development, and each bloom has a slow unfolding.” While she was referring to the garden rose, she used the wild roses that grew in regions where she traveled for medicine, and felt the wild roses were as special and reflective of love as the well-tended ones from gardens.
While we take great pleasure in roses that are grown in and native to other countries, we forget that the wild roses native to our country are strong and bold, in both beauty and medicine. Perhaps best of all, they are wild, and therefore require little extra care from us. To add them to your garden takes far fewer resources, and you can enjoy the energy and medicine of something that is native to America.
Regions and namesake
There are about 35 species of wild roses native to North America. They are found in the western and southwestern mountains and high deserts, the northeast, the south – and there is even a variety native to southwestern Indiana and Illinois.
The name rose is derived from the Greek, rodon, meaning red. Red was the color of the ancient Greeks roses, and myth says that the rose was born of the drops of blood shed by Adonis.
As we know, there are many colors of roses. The un-hybridized wild roses are typically pink in color. They have names such as Rosa acicularis, the genus translates as “needle like” in Latin, Rosa woodsii ,named after Joseph Woods, a student of roses from the early 1700’s, Rosa gymnocarpa, Rosa arkansana, and Rosa californica.
Flower, Leaf and Fruit Preparations
Flower, leaf, and root preparations of wild rose have been used for centuries by American Indians. A decoction of root and bark was used internally and externally as an analgesic for muscular pain. The roots and leaves were made into a wash for sore eyes, and a poultice of leaves chewed was applied to bee stings. As a tea internally, the flowers and leaves were specific for sore throats and diarrhea. This tea was also drunk as a spring and blood tonic, to lessen labor pains, and lower fevers. The flowers and leaves were applied to wounds to aid healing, and slow excessive bleeding.
Spiritual uses of the plant were common as well. The tea of rose branches was drunk to protect from bad spirits and ghosts, and a dwelling was sheilded by placing the branches around the perimeter. In burial ceremony the branches were used by the shaman to sweep the ground where the body would be lain to rest.
Today, we find use for wild roses much the same way the American Indians did. The flowers and leaves have been found to have anti-viral properties. Use of a tincture or tea of wild roses for colds and flu can help fight the virus and act as a diaphoretic to lower fevers. The astringent nature of the plant lends itself well to bouts of diarrhea, sore throats and as an eye wash for redness and inflammation. Wild rose tones the tissue and shrinks capillaries. It is also antiseptic and great for cuts and scrapes.
Wild rose is also a nervine tonic, meaning it soothes and strengthens the nervous system. It has been used to calm the nerves, and to lift depressed spirits when the heart is especially imbalanced.
Wild rose is often thought of as a medicine for women. There is no reason men cannot benefit from its nature, but it does lend itself well to the realm of women’s health. The calming nature of the plant along with its ability to move blood make it a great emmenagogue. This is probably why it is so effective in aiding the birth process, relieving the anxiety due to hot flashes and birth, and bringing on menses.
It has also been used for centuries by the Mayans for healing after birth. A vat of plants, including rose, would be heated. The new mother would sit on a chair with a hole in the seat, tarped from the neck down while the vat of steaming plants was slipped underneath. The effects of the rose were to speed the healing process, act as an anti-inflammatory, draw out any excess afterbirth and sooth the emotions of the mother. Later, rose was also used as an aphrodisiac after the healing process had taken place.
Rosehips, the fruit of the plant, have been considered a highly nutritious food. And they make an excellent tonic for the heart as well. Due to their high content of ascorbic acid and bioflavoniods, rosehips have the ability to strengthen capillary walls, encourage connective tissue repair, and support kidney function due to their diuretic effects.
The nature of the wild rose is prickly and sweet at the same time. Spiritually and emotionally, it is indicated for fear and shock. It is protected by its thorns, and reminds us that sometimes we can also protect ourselves by being a little prickly. Secondly, lest we get lost in that, it demonstrates the allure of sweetness.
Just as love is like a rose, so are we. We take a while to develop into our true selves. The wild rose is an excellent companion along the way.