A Flower For First Aid: Rose and Wound Care
My readers will all likely be very familiar with my fondness for any and all Rosa species, and most especially for my local wild Rosa woodsii. There’s no doubt that Rose is a popular plant among herbalists across the globe. Often though, I notice that it tends to be primarily known for emotional issues. While I would be the last person to debate its applicability in those situations (which are of course inherently tied into the individual’s overall physiology rather than being a separate domain), I do sometimes perceive a lack of serious consideration of Rose’s more down and dirty healing attributes. This post is my attempt at showing why and how Rosa can be utilized in first aid, and specifically in wound care. I will provide a brief overview of the herb’s basic actions and energetics within the context of wound care, standard preparations, therapeutics and a few relevant case studies.
In my rural and wilderness practice I find myself doing a significant amount of first aid type care. This is some of my favorite work, as it helps me to hone my ability to respond both appropriately and quickly and also allows me to see in a fairly rapid way what works and what doesn’t.
I keep a number of tried and true formulae for specific situations on hand, but I also tend to carry a variety of simples that I know intimately and can rapidly combine (or not) as is called for. Rose is one of those plants that I always have on hand. I keep Rose infused vinegar, Rose salve, Rose tincture/elixir and dried Rose petals/leaves nearby at all times.
Rose leaves, flowers, bark and roots are generally considered to be cooling in Western herbalism, with authors as varied as Avicenna, Dioscorides, Bauhin and Hildegarde specifically mentioning plant’s place on the colder end of the thermal spectrum although Galen seemed to feel that it had some warming properties. The fruits are closer to neutral in temperature.
Rose is considered drying in most cases, however, it would be more appropriate to call it contracting rather than strictly drying. It certainly doesn’t contribute or create fluids but nor does it actually cause the loss of them, it just holds them in the tissues.
A Tangent on Rose and Astringents: Due to its action as an astringent, which causes the tissues it comes in contact with to contract, Rose can cause the body to hold in fluids, especially if there’s an excessive loss (a lá diarrhea, excessive sweating, bleeding, vomiting, urination etc.) Think about how a tea bag on your tongue (or green fruit) makes your tongue feel like it’s withering up in your both as the tissue pulls more tightly together. Excessive loss of fluids is drying in and of itself, so if an astringent helps to prevent the tissues from losing fluid in such situations it would obviously not be considered overtly drying.
Astringent, Relaxant, Nervine
Topically or internally, Rose is an effective anti-inflammatory and I regularly employ it in my infusion blends for those recovering from gut inflammation due to food intolerance (concurrent with removing the offending foods) or similar. Topically, it acts in the same way and is great for reducing redness, swelling and pain from any number of sources, including insect stings/bites, abrasions, blunt trauma and even puncture wounds.
While not popularly known for its anti-infective properties, it can indeed by a helpful herb in combatting bacterial/viral/fungal infections. Being a mild plant, it doesn’t have the immediate kick of something like Echinacea or Alder but nonetheless is an effective and useful herb for treating many infections topically.
Rose is mildly to moderately astringent (depending on species and part used), not astringent enough to tie your guts up in knots but strong enough to help stem the flow of blood when used topically and tighten tissues to help prevent the loss of further blood or the wound from becoming boggy and oozy. This in turn promotes quicker wound healing and less scarring.
Rose, like many of the Rosaceae, has a distinct effect on histamine responses (see resources below for some research based validation of that traditional knowledge), moderating and sometimes preventing allergic type reactions. My experience does not indicate that it is as strong as, say, Prunus persica (Peach) or Prunus serotina (Black Cherry and allied species.) However, it’s plenty effective enough to be very helpful in the treatment of many insect stings/bites that trigger small histamine type responses. Rose petal poultices are great for reducing the pain, swelling and redness of bee/wasp stings and similar, even better with Plantain or Alder leaves.
Additionally, plain old Rose tincture or elixir is also a quick and effective treatment for mosquito bites and many other itchy afflictions.
Ear/Body Piercing Aftercare
Yes, not normally found in your average list of herbal uses, but something I have a fair amount of experience with nonetheless. Different piercing studios will recommend a wide variety of aftercare regimens, from tossing a bag full of alcohol wipes at you to giving you a five page handout on saline soaks and various aftercare products. Rose, with its tissue contracting and cooling properties is an excellent treatment for these purposeful puncture wounds.
Preparation somewhat depends on the personal preference. Many studios will insist that you should use alcohol on any piercing and if you wish to follow this, Rose petals and/or leaves tinctured in vodka work very well. Yep, it burns like hell.
I’ve successfully used Rose petal infused vinegar as a compress for infected or inflamed fresh piercings with good results, usually with pain, swelling and discharge notably reduced within the first couple of applications. Saline soaks made with a strong Rose petal tea can also be soothing and greatly speed healing while lessening discomfort and complication.
Abrasions & Minor Wounds
Compresses (of strong tea or diluted infuse vinegar), petal/leaf poultices, crushed dried petals/leaves and a number of other preparations can be very useful in reducing pain and bleeding and speeding healing of minor wounds and abrasions. Children are often very fond of this remedy, being intrigued by the scent and color of the petals and often the very idea of such a well known flower being used as medicine. Adults are more likely to scoff at you, probably for the same reason the children are impressed.
Itchy, red, hot rashes often respond very well to the application of crushed Rose petals/leaves, compress (with strong tea or diluted infused vinegar) or simple soak/bath. This is an old and widespread remedy that remains applicable today.
Note that if your rash is from poison ivy or some other contact dermatitis that it’s imperative that you remove the irritant (this includes washing with soap in the case of poison ivy) before treating.
Rose infused vinegar is my favorite treatment for general sunburn treatment, just dilute the Rose petal and/or leaf infused vinegar to about 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water and apply as compress or soak to affected area.
Similarly, Rose tincture or vinegar works very well for minor burns where the skin has not been broken. For more serious burns, where the skin has broken and especially where there is any potential for infection, I prefer to use Rose infused honey as a dressing. Rose formulates very well with other appropriate herbs such Alnus, Monarda, Oenothera or similar.
Cellulitis and Other Bacterial Infections
First off, serious bacterial infections, including cellulitis, should generally always be treated internally as well as externally whenever possible. That said, topical treatments via compress, soak, poultice and similar can be very helpful and initiate the healing process quickly. Where there is any chance of serious infection or cellulitis, I strongly suggest that you do NOT use an oil/fat based topical treatment, as I have seen this actually spread the infection on multiple occasions. Trapping moisture and encouraging bacterial proliferation is probably not your therapeutic goal so stick with with water or vinegar based preparations in these situations.
Rose’s ability to firm boggy or damaged tissues, reduce inflammation and lessen bacterial proliferation while encouraging the growth of healthy tissue makes it ideal in the treatment of many microbial infections. I tend to use it in formulae with Monarda spp. leaves, Plantago spp leaves/flowers and Alnus spp., leaves for cellulitis or serious infections with heat signs along with addressing the issue internally.
Puncture Wound/Piercing Aftercare
11 year old girl had both ears pierced (with a 16 gauge needle, not a gun) and a simple cleaning regimen using Monarda tincture was followed three times a day. Four weeks past the initial piercing, and while cleaning regimen was still being followed, the girl swam in a dirty river a mild infection ensued resulting in pain, swelling, discharge and the area was hot to the touch.
A compress of diluted (1:3) Rose infused vinegar was applied to each ear for ten minutes twice a day. Infection and symptoms receded within 6 hours and was gone completely within 24 hours.
A woman in her early 20’s was badly burned by boiling water spilling on her forearm, primarily on the inside of the arm. She went to the local clinic and they diagnosed it as a primarily second degree burn with patches of first and third degree burns. Skin was blistered and broken with bleeding. She refused treatment (including pain medication and antibiotics) beyond initial cleaning and diagnosis.
Client came to me the next morning in a considerable pain. I gave her a formula for pain consisting of 3 parts Eschscholzia mexicana, 1 part Corydalis aurea and 1/2 part Piscidia, to be taken 1/2 ml as needed, tritating if necessary. Additionally, I gave her Rosa woodsii petal infused honey to apply as a dressing twice a day along with gauze to wrap the area with, and instructions to not try to remove dead skin and not to break any of the blisters.
Area healed without complications within a month, although some scarring did occur. Pain formula was only needed for the first 24 hours.
A woman in her mid-50’s with Type II Diabetes presented with diagnosed cellulitis in her left thigh. The infection had been treated with several rounds of progressively strong antibiotics which resulted in temporary lessening of symptoms and then worsening beyond the original state each time the antibiotics were ceased. Infection was painful, hot to the touch and spreading rapidly at time of consultation.
Treatment was a tincture of 4 parts Alnus oblongifolia to 1 part Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia, 1 ml 4x/day plus a dried herb formula of 3 parts Rosa rugosa petals, 1 Part Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia leaves/flower and 1/2 Part Achillea millefolium flowers and leaves to be used as a soak in water as hot as she could bear three times a day until water cooled to be followed by immersion in cold water and then very warm water again.
Pain was alleviated by 50% and infection stopped spreading within two days. In a week, infection was receding. I saw the client again at two weeks to refill tincture and dried herb mix and the infection was no longer visible. Herbs were continued one month past the time when no symptoms were apparent. Saw client three months after original appointment and the infection had not returned.
Previous Posts and Articles about Rose by Kiva
Rose Elixir Recipe Photo Essay - http://www.learningherbs.com/news_issue_35.html
Monograph – Sweet Medicine: Healing with the Wild Heart of Rose – http://animacenter.org/rosa.html
Sweetbriar by the River: A Romance in Pictures – http://bearmedicineherbals.com/sweetbriar-by-the-river-a-romance-in-pictures-and-rose-elixir-recipe.html
Rose Infused Vinegar for Sunburns - http://bearmedicineherbals.com/rose-vinegar-my-favorite-sunburn-soother.html
The Wildest Rose: On Thorns, Tangles, Tenacity and Sweetness - http://bearmedicineherbals.com/wildestrose.html
Other Resources and References
The Western Herbal Tradition by Graeme Tobyn, Alison Denham and Margaret Whitelegg
Effects of Rosa rugosa Petals on Intestinal Bacteria – http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bbb/72/3/72_773/_article
In vivo anti-inflammatory effect of Rosa canina L. extract. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21771653
Oxidative DNA damage preventive activity and antioxidant potential of plants used in Unani system of medicine. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21159207
Anti-allergic effects of white rose petal extract and anti-atopic properties of its hexane fraction. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19557358
Investigations of anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activities of Piper cubeba, Physalis angulata and Rosahybrida. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14522451
Rose hips (Rosa canina) have significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity independent of vitamin C content. - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18707854
~~~~Photos and Text ©2011 Kiva Rose~~~~