Ravishing Rose

Connecting with the herbal traditions of rose

The scent of roses has captivated humans for thousands of years. Rose gardens were cultivated in China as early as 500 BCE (Tobyn et al, 2016), and their enchanting fragrance and beautiful appearance has earned them a spot in modern gardens as well. However, that’s not the full story of the beloved rose. Rose petals have also been prized for generations for their ability to support wellbeing. Connecting with the herbal traditions of rose is a journey that leads us back in time, first to ancient Persia.

Several types of roses have been used in the long history of herbalism, but the most sought were often damask roses (Rosa x damascena), famous for their fragrance. Damask roses most likely originated in what is now modern day Iran, perhaps in the Lysangan Valley near Fars. They are believed to be a cultivated cross between three other types of roses: R. moschata, R. gallica, and R. feldschenkoana. (Tobyn et al, 2016)

Ibn Sina, a famous physician during the Islamic Golden Age, used boiled rose petals topically to soothe bacterial skin infections, clear old ulcers that wouldn’t heal, and draw thorns from wounds. Internally, he advocated for the use of rose to soothe digestive upsets, ulcerative conditions of the bowels, and uterine maladies (Tobyn et. al, 2016). Rose petals were burned during this time period to fumigate against pests (Pennacchio et al, 2010).   

From the Middle East, the herbal history of rose continued West to Greece and the ancient Roman empire in present day Italy.

Traditional herbal uses of roses 

In ancient Greece and Rome, rose petals and seeds are recorded in several herbals of the time period. Greek physician Dioscorides writes about them in De Materia Medica. Pliny, a Roman author and naturalist, also mentions many common herbal uses of roses. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, fragrant rose petals were used fresh or dried and were perceived to be cooling, astringent remedies that benefited the digestion, the respiratory tract, and had many topical uses. 

By the middle ages in Western Europe, roses were a well-known herbal remedy. They were used in many of the same ways as during ancient times. Roses are also mentioned in a medieval manuscript about herbs and women’s health. Known as the Trotula, the manuscript included the use of rosewater to soothe sunburn (Green, 2002). Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a famous Benedictine abbess in the Middle Ages, advocated using rose petals as a snuff with sage to cool fiery tempers, and used the two herbs as an ointment for skin ailments. 


Modern day herbal uses of rose petals

Rose and sage are still used together in the present day as a popular choice for smoke cleansing. As a smoke bundle, these herbs bring uplifting, cleansing energy to a space. Rose also has a reputation as a love herb that’s perfect for setting the mood when spending time with a special someone. 

Modern herbalists continue many of the traditional uses of rose petals, and damask roses are still used as in historical times. However, modern herbalists may also favor any red or pink roses with a heady fragrance that indicates high levels of aromatic oils that hold many of the beneficial actions attributed to rose. According to modern herbalist Anne McIntyre, rose petals are valued for their ability to support the nervous system, as a women’s herb, and for supporting the digestive tract. 

Just as in medieval times, today roses are used to uplift the spirit and cool irritability and anger, and to allay indigestion and soothe upset stomachs.  For women’s health, roses are used for supporting a healthy monthly cycle, and also as  a cooling, comforting herb during menopause. (McIntyre, 2019)

A strong thread connects the traditions surrounding rose petals with modern uses even as herbalists continue to rely on them in the present. Knowledge of rose’s storied past deepens the appreciation of this plant whether being enjoyed as a garden plant, smoke cleanse, or as an herb to support health.

Blessed Ember’s Rose and Sage Bundles

Curious to experience rose as a burnable for yourself? Visit the Blessed Ember shop to find rose and sage smoke cleansing bundles, herb sampler kits, and smoke cleansing supplies. 


McIntyre, A. (2019) The complete herbal tutor. Aeon Books. 

Tobyn, G., Denham, A., Whitelegg, M. (2016). The Western herbal tradition. Singing Dragon. 

The uses and abuses of plant derived smoke. 

Green, M. (2002). The Trotula: an English translation of the medieval compendium of women’s medicine. Retrieved https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13753.html 

Pennacchio, M., Jefferson, L., Havens, K., (2010) Uses and abuses of plant-derived smoke: It’s ethnobatany as hallucinogen, perfume, incense, and medicine. Oxford University Press.