We have cultivated and appreciated the rose as both a symbol of love and a gentle yet powerful medicine of the heart for centuries. Many of us have heard the stories of how Queen Cleopatra strewed rose petals through her room to entice lovers like Marc Antony, for instance. Particularly around romantic holidays such as Saint Valentine’s Day, we often return to the idea of the rose as an alluring scent that’s good medicine for the libido. As a medicine for reproduction, rose has been considered gentle yet firm. It’s less a sexual stimulant and more a tonic to support healthy function in the reproductive system with a little extra libido-stimulating energy to boot.
For the heart or emotional body, rose has been applied as tea, rosewater, or more recently as Wild Rose flower essence or rose essential oil or absolute in aromatherapy. In all cases, rose helps to heal emotional wounding and build a strong, healthy love for one’s self that’s open to sharing with others. Particularly after trauma or death, rose helps rebuild the heart and bring the grieving process to completion.
By the Middle Ages in Europe, roses were popular as medicine, food, and for promoting a generally healthy or protected environment. World wide, they’ve symbolized love and loving or cherished relationships, including the protective and intimate nature of such relationships, but not necessarily always between lovers.
In Europe, it was customary to suspend a rose above the dinner table when dining with close friends or associates, particularly if you wanted to keep your dinner discussion private. It’s from this tradition that we have ceiling roses, those beautiful plastered flower motifs often found in older and sometimes newer homes in the living and dining rooms. In England’s famous War of the Roses, the House of York may well have chosen the White Rose as their sigil in part for the purity represented by the color white but also in part because of the white rose that was no doubt suspended above the table where they discussed their intention to move against the then ruling House of Lancaster, which was symbolized by the red rose. Henry Tudor, the king who emerged to unite the two houses at the war’s end, introduced the Tudor Rose, which combines both red and white petals and became the floral symbol of England that’s still used today.
In funerals, the rose is often offered as a symbol of the love born to the one who has passed from this world. In Ancient Greece, for instance, it was customary to anoint the body of the loved one with rose oil as a part of the funeral ritual. In modern times, we often lay one or more roses on the chest of our loved ones before we close the coffin or upon the coffin before we fill in the grave. Then as now, the rose carries with it our love and protection for the soul of our beloved, making the rose a symbol of a deeper love than that we often associate with modern Saint Valentine’s day specials. For the Sufi poets, that love is connected strongly with Divine relationship. In several of their works, they connected the love for their beloved to that of their relationship with the Divine; it was through love for a partner here on Earth they were able to access or explore their connection to the Sacred, Divine, and Holy as expressed by the rose. This may well have been partly the impetus for our current connection between the rose and that deeper relationship.
The Sufis may have connected loving relationships to the divine through the rose, but they weren’t alone. In Christian ritual, rose petals have often been strewn to evoke the power of Divine love. In modern and ancient Christian weddings, where the flower girl strews rose petals before the bride to tread upon as she walks the aisle to her soon to be husband, roses promote love and fertility in their new union and create a safe, protected environment for the birth of that union. Through the middle ages, rose petals were often strewn on the streets before the chariots of visiting Popes and high-ranking members of the church for similar reasons. In Islamic tradition, it was said that all roses were white until a single drop of Muhammad’s blood fell upon one, thus inspiring a shift in the rose’s color to the deep reds we know today.
Thanks to the Victorians, we also have correspondences for the various colors of roses.Red roses are as plain in meaning as they’ve always been: Love, particularly the strong, deep, passionate kind, most often the romantic kind. Pink roses are said to symbolize the same but on a more youthful or innocent level.Yellow roses were said to denote jealousy. White roses symbolize purity and nobility. In Asian cultures, they are also symbolic of the deep and abiding love one bears for the soul of a departed loved one; white is the color of death in Japanese and some other Asian traditions here paired with the rose’s loving and noble symbolic meanings.
If you plan to make Rose flower essence, choose your rose partner carefully. Today, many rose cultivators use a variety of chemicals in their practice, which weakens and distorts the strength of the plant’s energy for making a flower essence. It’s wise, too, to choose a rose that’s still scented, like the five-petaled Wild Rose varieties often chosen by professional flower essence makers, as those tend to have potent energy. If, however, the unscented kind flourish in your neighborhood or garden and are willing to offer their energy to your project, they may be precisely the Roses you need. If you’re certain the Rose you’re working with to make flower essence is organically cultivated, you can use the same method you normally use for non-toxic plants. If you’re unsure, you may want to choose the method you use for toxic plants just to be on the safe side.