Lessons from the wild Roses.
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It was hot.
Sweltering middle-of-summer-in-Hobart kind of hot (incase you haven’t been to Hobart, this is kinda like middle-of-winter-in-Maine kind of cold - except the opposite) and I was walking home from a long day in the clinic.
This particular day had been pretty draining, as face to face healthcare work often is and I was tired, my head swirling with concerns for the clients that I’d seen.
As I came around the corner of the road I lived on I saw it there, hanging over a neighbors fence, the most glorious pastel peach rose in full bloom.
My feet stopped in their tracks.
I looked up the street, and down it, I peered over the fence and into the yard - the coast was clear.
Then I hesitated, like a mischievous kid weighing up how much trouble their next move might get them into - before I closed my eyes, stuck my nose right into that rose and took a long and satisfying sniff.
It was everything they’d always said about Roses.
Absolute bliss. Almost transcendental.
My worrisome day melted away, there was nothing but the heady rush of a sweet and earthy perfume.
I drank it in.
And there I was, at the grand age of 26, for the very first time stopping to smell the roses.
While all roses have the ability to open our hearts this post is about my work with
Rosa rugosa spp. in particular.
I sometimes think that if I had to choose just one herb to work with (as impossible as that might be) then that plant would be Rose.
Rose has so much wisdom to offer.
Rose is an ally for open hearts and intuition, for grief, for growth and safe blooming.
Rose literally brings us to our human senses, helping us remember our sensuality.
Rose and intuition
The Maine coast is the place where two of my greatest loves meet - Roses and the sea.
I can’t explain how magical it is to see wild Rosa rugosa spp. growing in sandy pockets along the shore - just that it's this herbalists dream for sure.
Over the past three years I’ve harvested Roses from the same place each summer, bringing gifts and making offerings, chattering away as I pick the flowers.
The way people perceive the messages from plants, from their intuition and from nature is unique to each of us.
For me it’s never been words that I ‘hear' through a meditation process.
It’s more of a knowing or a feeling that arises from my heart, which usually occurs to me when I grow, tend and wildcraft plants.
In the garden is where I learn what they like, how to care for them and what they are able to help with.
And in harvesting herbs by the coast in Maine I learned that even amongst the Rugosa roses there are distinct differences and qualities.
Three colours of Rosa rugosa that told me they each have different properties and uses to offer.
Elder rose - White rose - Rose of grief.
I call the white Rugosa, Elder rose.
There is a large stand of Elder rose at the place I visit, that stands tall over looking all the other roses, it’s clumped together, giving a sense of strength and solidity.
The white petals give this rose a sense of wisdom, of age and sincerity.
It occurred to me one day, that this rose, Elder rose, has grown tall, watching the tides roll in and out, the seasons come and go, the joy of summer and the lonely depths of winter.
This rose has seen it all and like an Elder, this rose knows how to hold you through the dark, through grief and sadness.
I use White Rose very intentionally, in situations where the heart is tender due to loss, despair and grief.
In miscarriage, death of a family member or beloved animal, where the heart is heavy and surrounded in darkness, Elder rose can guide you through.
The petals of Elder Rose don't dry so well in my experience and it doesn’t feel right to me to make tincture of Elder rose with anything harsh like pure alcohol, vodka or moonshine.
So I use Brandy, cinnamon and a little honey and make a Brandy-rose infusion.
(Be mindful - Too much cinnamon and you'll overwhelm the flavour of the Rose.)
Mid-life rose - Deep pink rose - Rose of nurturing.
The deep-pink Rugosa, fans out across the shore, growing interspersed with the lighter pale pink rose.
The deep pink of the petals is so vibrant and joyful to look at!
The growth habit and vibrant color of the leaves and petals speak to me of such vitality and nourishment.
And so I use the deep pink rose for matters of the heart concerning burn-out.
From doing too much, holding too much, spreading ourselves too thin.
From nurturing all our creative projects.
For tired parents and overwhelmed mid-lifers in the busy summer-time of their lives.
Deep pink rose brings us into our hearts and helps us to remember - to perceive the things that are really important.
Puts us back in touch with our 'true work’ and helps us court the process of unraveling our purpose.
Deep pink Rugosa dries easily and is a joy in tea during the winter.
Tincture or glycerite can also be made.
Young rose - Pale pink rose - Rose of initiation.
The pale pink Rugosa grows mixed in with the deep pink Rugosa, and I sometimes see a parent and child, a youth and adult together?
The pale pink rose feels gentle to me, more vulnerable somehow and so I use this rose in situations where starting something new is intimidating and you feel childish and uncertain.
Pale pink rose helps to cultivate that innocent-joy of beginners mind and heart.
It can be helpful when someone is just beginning their relationship with plants and healing, and is feeling afraid of letting old beliefs, identities or patterns shift.
Another major indication for pale-pink rose is where there has been childhood trauma that prevents healing and growth. Especially where relationship to sensuality and sexuality has been stunted or shamed as can happen in sexual abuse.
Pale pink rose is the rose to offer at first moon-time, first menstruation, to support the initiatory journey.
Pale pink rose is the plant for when you need a gentle hand-hold to move forward, a trusted friend to tell you that yes it's safe to come out now. This rose helps you feel okay about exploring your relationship with your intuitive, sensual self, even if it feels awkward and clumsy at first.
I feel like pale-pink rose medicine is best in glycerite or honey.
Thorn medicine - a lesson on respect.
Pleasing others is often a trope of early conditioning.
That women - especially, must be nice, nurturing, calm and welcoming all the time.
In later life this can lead to situations where you say ‘yes’ when you actually mean ‘no’, or when you’re not entirely sure or when you haven’t yet come to a decision.
It also means you may be more quick to compromise rather than state clearly your needs and desires.
If Rose blossoms help open our hearts to our intuition and perception, allowing us to navigate our path through life.
Then Rose thorns give us the assurance, the protection that we can bloom and keep ourselves safe.
An example of this is when you say 'no', in that instance you're using your thorns to draw clear boundaries and protect what you need to, your time, your energy, your wellbeing.
What happens when you disrespect a rose?
I’ve had countless experiences pruning, tending, gathering Roses where my attention has wavered, where I’ve been heavy-handed, when I’ve needed to ‘get a job done’ and roughly tame roses back into a hedge.
Each time the Roses have let me know that the way I treated them was not o.k., thorns in my fingers, in my arms, scratches to my face.
More than once they’ve drawn blood - and, well, rightly so.
We’re very often taught to be entitled, to take whatever we want without need or gratitude, or to simply be distracted by our phones, thoughts or ideas, and forget to be present.
Roses help teach us respect, right-relationship with ourselves, each other and with the earth.
Opening our hearts is how we learn, heal and grow.
Perhaps nothing plagues us humans more than a lack of heart.
An inability to hear the ways in which the earth and other beings speak.
A fear of revealing our true heart.
A worry of breaking it.
But in building a fortress around our hearts, we lose the ability to talk to each other ‘heart to heart’, to find the things that unify us, to have compassion for our differences, our fears and each others process.
We tuck away the very heart centered joy that makes life so wonderful to live.
Rose medicine offers us, every single summer, a chance to open our hearts and heal.
So the very next moment you can - stop.
And smell the roses.
Do you have a favorite Rose recipe? A special Rose message to share? I'd love to hear them!
Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.
Gabrielle Jansen BNat is an Aussie herbalist and fertility educator living on Wabanaki land.
She offers classes and sessions that help you reconnect with your intuition and your cycle.
A herbalists note: Roses are in the family Rosacea which is also home to Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna and Raspberry - Raspberry ideaus and apart from the ornamental peach rose I spoke about at the beginning, this article concerns the species Rosa rugosa.