Plant Profile: Rosa gallica

Few plants evoke such voluptuous adoration as the rose. Their delicate petals – quietly opening themselves to the world then falling gently to earth – capture the temporal beauty of existence like no other, and their scent is (mostly) heavenly. They’ve been immortalised for thousands of years in art, poetry, song and prose and are one of the greats of the botanical world.

One of the greats of the greats is Rosa gallica. It’s thought to be one of the world’s first cultivated roses, originally found growing wild throughout central Asia. Apparently the ancient Persians and Egyptians started growing it, then it was taken to France, where it was named Rosa gallica. One of its common names back in the day was apothecary’s rose, as it was revered for its medicinal properties.

Fast forward a few thousand years and Rosa gallica got itself tied up in a bloody war in England – the War of the Roses. Apparently it was used as the badge for the House of Lancaster in the battle for the English throne, hence it’s other common name – rose of Lancaster. Jeez. It’s not all love and joy with roses, huh? There’s always a dark side.

Apparently rosehips (the fruit of the rose plant) are one of the best natural sources of vitamin C. According to The New Holistic Herbal (D. Hoffman), they’re an excellent remedy for infections and colds, and also help with constipation and exhaustion. All you need to do to make a decoction is to put 2 ½ teaspoons of cut rosehips into a cup of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

The rose, unsurprisingly, is credited for all sorts of powerful magical qualities, mostly revolving around that four letter word. You know the one, L O V E. Love. According to Cunningham’s Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs, roses are of the planet Venus, and their element is water. They’re feminine, of course, and have all kinds of apparent magical uses. Here are a few:

  • A tea of rosebuds drunk before sleep apparently induces prophetic dreams
  • Roses in the garden attract fairies and are said to grow best when stolen.
  • If you’re stressed, you can sprinkle rose petals around your house to help calm things down.
  • If you really want to attract love, make a necklace of rosehip and you’ll turn into a love beacon (apparently).

The following use for roses really takes the cake though… According to The Complete Old Wives Lore for Gardeners by Maureen and Bridget Boland, if someone has been playing with magic and accidentally transformed themselves into a donkey, all they need to do to return themselves to human form is eat roses. Of course, “if a donkey is seen eating roses it should, in charity, be left to do so, and not to be driven off until it is quite clear that it is only a donkey.”

On the Body
People have been pampering themselves with roses for centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to fill their baths with rose petals, and people have been putting them on their pillows, throwing them at newlyweds, and inhaling their sweet, sweet scent since noses were invented.

It’s not all about the scent and seduction though – roses are purported to have a range of useful qualities. Rose water is used to help calm inflamed skin, and rosehips are apparently loaded with antioxidants. Some suggest soaking rose petals in water for an hour or so, mixing with honey and using as a face mask to soothe and rehydrate skin.

In the Garden
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said the old bard a few hundred years ago. These days, this isn’t entirely the case. Some roses have lost their smell! Unscented roses are one of the great sins of plant breeding, if you ask me. But you didn’t.

Apparently the gene in roses the breeders tweak to increase disease resistance is not very compatible with the gene for scent. So, as plant breeders developed roses with increased disease resistance, they lost their scent. Oh dear. Many breeders, like David Austin, managed to nail the disease resistance AND scent, so it’s not all dreadful, but really, if you are growing a rose, it should smell.

In the Kitchen
Rose petals are entirely edible – there’s a bunch of different ways to use them in the kitchen. You can make jam, pickled or candied rose petals, rose and garlic chicken, rose and pistachio cake and much more. Get creative!

In Rhyme

The Rose Family

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose –
But were always a rose.

by Robert Frost