Rambling the River: My Love Affair with the Wild Rose
I’ve been insanely busy the last few weeks, but today Rhiannon and I took a long walk downriver today in search of blooming Wild Roses. Although the floods smashed and buried a good number of the largest hedges I was still able to get a decent first harvest, though I’ll certainly be out looking for more in the near future. Regardless of anything else going on, I make time each May to spend time with the Roses.
The Wild Rose is my most important plant ally, and one that I am continually amazed by. If there is a single plant who has provided me with the most healing, it is this one. My relationship with this thorny beauty deepens each year, and every season the briar teaches me more about boundaries, vulnerability and self-expression. This plant teaches raw, wide open love complete with scars, thorns and an abiding sense of self-knowledge. She teaches that beauty is a bone deep quality, one that we hold in every cell regardless of the pain we’ve lived through or the battles we’ve weathered. In hard years, her petals unfurl skewed and wrinkled but his doesn’t mar her attractiveness. Rather, they add to an already complex character and give her more of the strongly scented medicine she’s known for.
Tough, resilient and wild hearted, she springs back even after being beaten down by rocks, floods, droughts and deep cold. She is adaptable and stubborn, brazen and sensual. The Wild Rose is not a shy plant, she’ll grab you by your skirt with curved thorns and seduce you with her sweet, earthy scent. She asks us to pay attention, to feel deeply and to both wear our heart on our sleeves and to defend our most vulnerable selves with our life. Full of nourishment, this mother has teeth to protect herself with. Focus and respect are required of those who come to partake in her healing.
In the Southwest, Roses are close companions of rivers. They ramble and spread across damp grassy banks in the dappled shadow of the Alders. My memories of every May harvesting the sweet petals of the Wild Rose are entwined with the sensations of standing calf deep in mossy pools and scrambling up the cool cliff wall to reach an almost out of reach blossom. In the background of every photograph of the Rose is the flowing thread of the Sweet Medicine River. When I dream of their flowers, I hear the current singing somewhere nearby.
Unlike any domestic Rose I’ve ever met, the canyon’s Wild Roses have incredibly aromatic foliage as well as flowers. Musky and sweet, they smell like what all those overpriced synthetic department store perfumes want smell like, but can’t quite achieve. The foliage also is rather intensely nervine, and the tincture is so lovely that I’ve started tincturing and oiling the flowers and leaves together for added power and flavor.
Fat black bumblebees love the delicate pink blossoms, and hover above the hedges, waiting for the perfect opportunity to rush in grab the tender gold centers of each Rose in a very interesting display. Today, one of the bees mistook my pink blouse for a flower and latched on to my shoulder, we had an interesting moment of me peering down at the impassioned bee with some alarm mingled with curiosity while he tried to find the non-existent gold center. He soon realized his mistake and headed off for the next real Rose.
I’ve written so many Rose posts I can’t even remember them all at this point but a few things stand out as worth repeating (and for my most extensive writing on the Wild Rose, check out this post). The whole plant, including foliage and flowers, is jam-packed with anti-oxidants. If you currently drink a foreign tea like Green tea or Honeybush or Roobois for the anti-oxidants, well Rose pretty much meets or beats them in that department. Plus, they’re a local, sustainable source for most people in the US that can usually be gathered and processed absolutely free.
Rose flowers and hips are strongly anti-inflammatory, both internally and externally. Great for arthritis, IBS or other chronic inflammation when taken as a tincture or tea and lovely as a liniment for slipped discs and other sharp, stabbing injuries. The flower has also been long recognized as a primary medicine in Ayurveda and Unani Tibb, and has been found to significantly contribute the “good” bacteria in our bellies.
A wonderful relaxant to the liver, Rose excels at moving stuck energy and relieving tension in the liver/gallbladder area. I use it frequently when treating cases of acute hepatitis or chronic/viral hepatitis where there’s signs of inflammation. And of course, it makes a wonderful heart-settling nervine suitable for nearly anyone, and gentle enough for a baby. In fact, the smell of Roses significantly decreases overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system while also reducing adrenalin output in the body. Likewise, several different major systems of traditional medicine also consider the hips and flowers both a tonic for weak kidneys and adrenals. I frequently include some part of the plant in formulas for clients with adrenal fatigue with symptoms of heat, nervous exhaustiohn and internal dryness.
It’s also a circulatory, blood and heart tonic. The petals can be eaten straight off the plant, but are wonderful when infused in a light raw wildflower honey then eaten by the spoonful, petals and all. The honey paste can be stirred into warm milk, tea or dessert. Rose vinegar is one of the single best treatments for sunburn I know of and both the honey and the oil is a very effective wound and injury healing. My favorite salve, appropriately named Bear Medicine Salve is mostly Rose, Alder and Elder with some Rose honey added for extra kick.
The underlying property of Rose is one of fluids/energy/blood movement and regulation, which explains many of seemingly disparate effects on the different organs and tissues of the body. It has an innate intelligence that gives it the ability to adjust the flow of the body’s varying energies and substances. It can calm heart palpitations, eliminate liver pains, reduce nervous tension or lessen menstrual cramps all depending on what the body needs. Traditional Western Herbalism and Ayurveda generally see the Rose as cooling while TCM usually describes it as warming, and I think this has much to do with what properties the varying traditions ascribe to hot or cold. The reduction in inflammation is certainly part of the reason is is thought of as cooling, and the moving properties have to do with the warming aspect.
A very gentle (except for the thorns) plant, Wild Rose can be used by just about everyone though some traditional peoples warn against use in pregnancy due to the blood moving effects. I have not yet seen any constitutional aggravation from the temperature or humidity of this herb. In fact, I use the tincture much like Rescue Remedy for trauma, stress etc. And personally, I have found it to be more effective than Rescue Remedy for most things. For the ultimate herbal Rescue Remedy formula I do one part Wild Rose, one part Monkeyflower (Mimulus) and 1 part Milky Oats or Blisswort (Scutellaria), that’s some good stuff there! As a side note, some people find Wild Rose tincture fairly mind altering (generally in a very nice way) while others can’t feel the nervine effects when they first start working with it. I have seen some cases of people being shocked at how much it affected their thought process and emotional state.
The pictures below were taken in less than ideal high noon light, but I couldn’t resist sharing a few snapshots of today with ya’ll.