A Brief History of Roses, And Why It's Imperative To Stop And Smell Them
"I see our individual and collective journeys, and like the rose bushes in the garden, they are magical."
What makes a garden a gift? Is it its ability to show transformation? The power to turn a blank space into a living painting, a place filled with magic? When we are obliged to meet the exhaustive challenges of everyday life, a blooming stem on your countertop can be a simple boost or a small reminder to buoy up. The single smell of a rose can be encouraging and uplifting – it can instill courage and a sense of well-being.
And what’s a garden without a rose?
“Rose bushes have personality. They speak to us and tell us so much. When they bloom, they love attention,” says Lynne Vinkovic, owner of Rose Lane Farms. Unlike any other flower, a rose’s colors, growth habits, and name are anthropomorphic. Like humans, roses are delicate, but have a penchant for adapting to numerous climates, making them an incredibly durable species. Slab a ton of concrete over a garden, and they’ll grow through it. Expose them to diseases and bacteria, and they become resistant. Now more than ever, I wish I was a little more like a rose.
First cultivated around 5,000 years ago in China, Roses have survived the test of time and space. In 300 A.D., they were found on tombs, the Bible, and classical literature. In Ancient Rome, a rose was synonymous with culture: the celebratory confetti during a party, the hallmark of gardens, and the key ingredient to perfume.
The cultural relevance of the rose makes it not only popular in landscape and industry, but also an ornamental emblem for various countries all over the world. The 150 different species (plus thousands of hybrids) of roses are found in a variety of colors, architectural dimensions, and fragrance. However, only a few dozen are commonly cultivated and mostly used for perfumery, medicine, and cut-flower farming. These common roses are classified into three main groups defined by the American Rose Society’s taxonomic system: heirloom roses, species roses, and modern roses.
Alexander Chee in his memoir, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, describes the magnitude of roses throughout recorded history and storytelling:
"We learn the rose was a bride given to Harpocrates, the god of silence; that there is a custom in northern Europe of hanging a rose from the ceiling above a table if what passed beneath it was meant to be secret; that the end of roses comes from the blood of Venus, whose feet were cut by roses as she attempted to protect Adonis from the rage of her husband, Mars. Or, per Theocritus, the red is the blood of Adonis himself. Or is it Cupid, who spilled a bowl of nectar while dancing, staining the rose red. Or per, Ausonius, is it Cupid’s own blood. Or it is the sweat of Muhammad, according to the Turks."
A rose’s use spans geological and spiritual boundaries. They are used in religious as well as medicinal and modern practices. Organizations worldwide are dedicated to the cultivation, enhancement and promotion of rose plants. Since the establishment of the Royal National Rose Society in England in 1976, roses have been inducted into royalty: a symbol of importance. Karine Gordineer, master herbalist and founder of Green Girl Herbs and Healing explains, “Roses were revered by the ancient Greeks as flowers of Gloris and Aphrodite as well as to Christianity as a symbol of Mother Mary. Medicinally they have been employed for healing by the Ancient Romans, Greeks, Ayurvedic traditions, Egyptians, and Ancient China. Truly a universally accepted plant mystic and medicine.”
A rose’s versatility expands far beyond its visual beauty. Most famous for their fragrance, roses have a hypnotic and aphrodisiac smell that attracts animals and humans alike. Because of their high oil content, roses are used in products from skincare to cooking. Every room in the house: a kitchen cabinet, a medicine kit, a cosmetic bag, most likely is a product of a rose.
Skincare owes its beginnings to the roses. In many complexion remedies, rose is an integral ingredient. When applied to the skin, products that have rose essential oil have a myriad of benefits: hydration, inflammation and wrinkle reduction, and minimization of scars. Rose oil is often a homeopathic solution to conditions such as rosacea and eczema. A spritz of rose water to the skin is used to uplift and energize.
In the world of aromatherapy, the inhaling of oil, or using essential oils as a skin tonic, transmits messages to the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls and influences the nervous system: it can control your emotions. These messages have an effect on biological factors such as stress, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and immune function. According to Gordineer, “Roses are uplifting to the heart and can aid in alleviating depression and depressed states of mind. Roses are a tonic for the heart, lowering blood pressure, while improving oxygen saturation levels.” Roses enhance the seductive experience.
The rose’s edibility comes from its flower: a blossom of the rose hip fruit, related to both blackberry and raspberry. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, rose tea made from the petals and fruit is used to calm. “Roses can assist us with symptoms of anxiety and nervous tension,” explains Ivonne. In addition, the tea is a treatment for colds and sore throats. In cooking, recipes that call for rose vary from chicken, to squash, to jam.
One of the facets of roses that sticks with me most is its maintenance. For a rose to be properly cared for, you must cut them off. Pruning rose bushes, however painful it might be to cut off what you’ve spent so long grooming, helps them to grow back stronger and faster. The rose embodies the paradoxical nature of life: sometimes if you love something, you have to cut it off to let it grow.
But they will blossom– just as I try to grow and watch my friends do the same. Now, when I look at tags of roses, I feel like I’m characterizing my friends: “Special Climber,” “Busy Bee,” “Carefree Spirit,” “Easy Does It.” I see our individual and collective journeys, and like the rose bushes in the garden, they are magical.
Roses have traversed the globe, recognized and beloved in nearly every country. They possess a depth and healing: an ability to open the heart - something desperately needed by humanity. Even if humans do not consciously recognize this fact, we respond to it all the same. Can we simplify the familiar accoutrements of daily life to a single blossom? Now more than ever, how valuable is it to REALLY stop and smell the roses?
Meet the Family
A queer, a writer, a producer, a poet, in no particular order. Los Angeles via New York. She/Her. More work can be found at @sorrymsjudson.