Can you slow down enough to be in your body; to invite the experience of pleasure in?

This is what rose medicine asks of us (ever so gently and yet all at once), as she allows us to truly see what we’ve been too busy to feel.

Rose has a way of loosening us, giving us a peek into a different path — a path that when finally brought to light, will always be yearned for. She has a way of leaving us no other choice but to stop and smell the flowers, tuning into what we need to move through and release… by showing us the world that is possible when we do.

Call on rose when you are tired and wounded, when you are grieving and disconnected from the fire of your heart. Bring her in when you are ready to be with yourself so fully, so completely, that you may connect with those around you on a level you hadn’t thought possible. Allow rose medicine to make space in your life by slowing you down and helping you see what lies beneath the surface: the simple answers our minds may be looking past, yet our hearts are waiting to whisper.

Lean into the power of rose not only for your physical body, but your emotional and spiritual as well… as she helps you process, integrate, and connect with your heart again despite the challenges, changes, losses and shifts we’ve been through. Welcome to the year of the rose… get ready for a deep dive into the deep medicine she offers.

Rose Basics: Medicinal Compounds, Traditional Uses & Energetics 

Family: Rosaceae
Botanical name: Rosa damascena, Rosa canina, Rosa spp.
Parts used: flower/petals, fruit/hips
Harvest: best harvested just after the flowers fully bloom, in the early hours of the day
Flavor: astringent (flower), sweet (hips)
Constituents (flower): flower: lots volatile oils such as citronellol, geraniol, damascenones, etc; tannins, cyanin, flavonoids like quercetin, polyphenols
Constituents (hips): vitamin c, carotenoids, lycopene, vitamin B3, E, K
Actions: Aphrodisiac, aromatic, emmenagogue, hepatic, nervine, skin tonic, vulnerary, uterine tonic, blood tonic (flower), kidney tonic (hips)

Let’s chat about the fruit, aka rose hips first, one of the most traditionally beloved yet now often underutilized tools in modern herbalism:

Rosehips, the seed-bearing fruit of the rose plant, are one of herbalism’s most beloved remedies across countless traditions and cultures. One thing almost every traditional medicine system has in common is a consensus on the value of the precious fruit of the rose plant, for everything from its rich Vitamin C and bioflavonoid content to its ability to support women’s reproductive health and musculoskeletal complaints.

In a Traditional Chinese Medicine lens, rose hip is dosed in quite large amounts or concentrates (4.5-9g), and is especially useful 3-4 days before menstruation to move blood, support the kidneys, and aid mild cramps. It also helps to ease PMS symptoms and mood difficulties, and of course I like to pair it with the petals to help me release a lot of the emotions that come up around my moon. 

Functional medicine practitioner, doctor of East Asian Medicine and an esteemed colleague of mine, Dr. Aicha Sebaa, describes rose hips as the “uber simple western herbal equivalent of Xiao Yao San,” or the “free and easy wanderer,” which is a formula that helps with constrained Liver Qi aka Liver Qi Stagnation. You can read more about this pattern of imbalance here, (which a lot of us may be prone to due to our fast paced schedules and lifestyles. Constrained Liver Qi can often contribute to pelvic congestion and stagnation-based cramps, along with hormone imbalance.

Speaking of the Liver meridian (which also controls the tendons, joints and ligaments in TCM), rose hips are an excellent pre and post workout herb — I’ve learned from folks in the OO community who have generously shared their personal experience that rose hip tea may be helpful for all kinds of musculoskeletal complaints: supporting sore muscles, aches, growing pains, tendon issues, plantar fasciitis, and more.

I personally use rose hip extract after workouts to reduce post-workout muscle soreness and improve the amount of time it takes for me to recover. I learned this from my dad thanks to his experience caring for horses that in veterinary herbalism, rose hips are a kidney-loving herb that helps to support normal excretion of lactic acid build up. He would use rose hips as a supplement for his horses when they would start “tying up” after intense exercise. 

Lastly, I also use rose hip when I find that I’m peeing too frequently at night, which makes perfect sense in terms of its TCM actions. In Chinese Medicine, rose hip is said to “stabilize the kidneys” (which also includes the bladder), and “astringe Jing and urine.” Anything that astringes will help to support “leaky” tendencies that’s leaky thoughts that can’t quite be fully formed, leaky gut, excessive urination, and more.

Now for the flowers: softening, soothing medicine that goes far beyond the physical.

Energetically, herbalism considers the flowers or petals of the rose plant to be cooling and drying, meaning they are helpful to a body that is experiencing lots of “heat” (think redness or irritation internally or externally) and “excess” (think ‘dampness’ to excess fluid retention, etc). Rose petals have an affinity for the heart, reproductive system, GI tract, blood/circulatory system, liver, and gallbladder

From the ancient Egyptians to Hippocrates to Ayurveda to TCM to Hildegard of Bingen to Nicholas Culpeper, roses have been used and recommended throughout the centuries, across cultures most famously for wounds and a healthy inflammatory response (both inner and outer so think skin and gut), women’s health, stomach complaints, grief and heartache, libido, its nervous system soothing effects, and so much more.

This luxurious herb works on so many different systems and parts of the body and imbalanced tissue states, so let’s break it down starting with the physical.

Rose For The Nervous System

One of the main herbal “classes” or “actions” of rose would be its ability to act as a “nervine,” meaning rose is calming and soothing to the nervous system.

Because the way we live today is so far from the rhythm of nature, and can be so taxing on our nerves, that we absolutely need these comforting soothers to help us wind down and come back to ourselves at the end of a long day. We all understand the impact of stress, and how much it can contribute to a wide variety of issues; so think of nervines as stress-busters that help our bodies remember how to just be, exist, and chill.

Nervines are the herbs you reach for when you’re feeling tense, wound up, nervous, can’t sleep, need a hug, want to just take a beat and chill, or want to get back into your body and stop a looping thought.

Going back to that “cooling” energetic action we mentioned earlier, rose is a lovingly cooling nervine, soothing to “hot” emotional states driven by tension and stagnation – where energy feels stuck, like you’re spinning your wheels and heat is just building up as it has nowhere to go. Emotions we often associate with a “hot” tissue state are anger, shame, blame, frustration, and irritability. Rose is cooling and opening; she creates a way for us to not only sit with these emotions, but let them free in a way that is true to our nature, values, and most importantly our heart.

As a nervine that is specifically indicated to comfort and calm the heart-mind and emotional body, rose’s gentle mood boosting and relaxing properties can help uplift the spirit while providing a deep sense of ease and safety. Rose may also be helpful for alleviating exhaustion and sleep imbalances, as it nourishes the “Shen” (spirit), “Blood” (in Chinese Medicine) and acts on the emotional body when pent up feelings are causing tension and restlessness.

Rose for Physical Health

Rose is astringent, meaning it helps to tighten “lax” or “damp” tissues – whether that’s uterine tissue that needs toning, support for tight and healthy gut junctions, or even “leaky skin” and skin microbiome imbalances. Rose is balancing to the microbial and fungal terrain of our internal and external microbiome (as are all plants with a detectable scent due to their essential oil content), and a “vulnerary” that supports the healing of tissues that need love and support. 

Rose is especially indicated for “hot and red” skin issues with an emotional root – think rosacea – when used both internally (tea/tincture) and topically (rose hydrosol). Finally, rose supports the healthy movement, balance, and flow of mucus in the respiratory system. 

Rose as an Aphrodisiac for Libido Support

Rose is aphrodisiac, warming and moving our blood as it activates, heightens sensation, and opens us up to the sweet sensuality of the spectrum of pleasure us humans can tap into. However, it’s important to understand what an herbal “aphrodisiac” truly is and how it functions as it is a deeply nuanced topic and they’re far from magic bullets.

Aphrodisiacs are not sexual tonics, but rather, they are what one of my herbalism teachers calls “wonder tonics” – they increase interest and the desire to experience your human body and all that is possible.

Fundamentally, and for the most favorable results, stimulating the libido is a threefold process: 

1) First, we must be well nourished, with our bodily functions and organs in good health. 2) Second, our nervous system needs to be balanced and flexible in order to offer us the possibility of entering  into a parasympathetic state of rest and relaxation. 

3) Third, our blood and bodily fluids need strong circulation flowing freely to grant us excitement and eager feelings of ecstasy and desire.

What we call “aphrodisiacs” are actually:

– herbs that are relaxing, grounding, invigorating, warming, Blood or Qi moving, and toning to the pelvic area

– herbs that are mind-clearing, Shen-nourishing that connect the mind and heart in order to promote deep presence and intimacy

– herbs that warm and loosen blocks within the perceived self and emotional body, helping to bring you into your body safely 

– herbs that nourish and calm the nervous system in order to release stress, as release tension & anxiousness (and can thus can help one focus on sexual energy)

– herbs that support hormone balance and warm/promote blood flow and vitality to the pelvic area to disperse congestion

– herbs that promote connection and intimacy with others

In essence, these are all herbs that work on the nervous system in some way, especially with the mind and the heart at the forefront – making rose our perfect match for beginning to explore our capacity and desire for fulfilling intimacy with both the self and those we love.

Rose does not support libido by working on libido. Rose supports libido by easing the feelings of distress that act as blocks to any of the areas above: the mind, the heart, the nervous system and our ability to be in our body fully and presently. 

Rose for Reproductive and Hormone Health

Long used as a woman’s medicine, rose has a loving affinity with the womb space. Rose acts as a pelvic decongestant, a blood mover, and is used to break up stagnation and bring warmth and movement to the area. This action, the stimulation of circulation of blood flow to the pelvis, helps to address menstrual difficulties and also contributes to the aphrodisiac properties above by acting on so many of the different facets of libido.

Now let’s get into what makes rose so deeply special; her ability to act on the emotional body, the spirit – that which cannot be seen but only felt.

Rose tells us a lot with her “doctrine of signatures” or appearance alone.

Rose as Boundary Medicine 

Rose appears as this gorgeous, soft, almost vulnerable flower that you want to reach out and touch, smell, feel… yet something with that level of beauty is so deeply protected by such intense and offensive thorns. It teaches us that being open and soft – sharing our sacred beauty without an underlying layer of strength and boundaries leaves you open to being taken advantage of. The sharper your thorns, the more your gentle beauty and gifts can shine without the fears associated with blooming to the world. Rose is boundary medicine. Like the thorn, she moves through our emotional body, teaching us how to keep our heart wide open while still protecting our energy.

Strength without some level of vulnerability and softness is not true strength; it’s just thorns without a flower, yin without yang. Rose teaches us the value of both holding it together and protecting ourselves when the time is right, but also falling apart when needed in the right spaces, hands, and hearts. 

Rose as Grief Medicine

Rose unwinds the “stuckness” that comes with the grief we all come in contact with during the human experience — both the grief we can see and cannot see. These are things that get locked in our body when they happen because we don’t know how to process them or are simply unable to hold space to process them. Life is hard, it’s no wonder so many of us put off feeling until we burst. Rose’s thorns are the pricks that finally pop the balloon, and it isn’t always pretty.

For me, this has manifested in “not being able to cry” in my adult life; feeling like my emotions are ugly, they’re wrong, they’re embarrassing or an inconvenience to all around me. Rose has forced me in many ways to barrel through that and I’ve had no choice but to show others and myself the floodgate within me. Rose is the medicine I’ve needed, the antidote to stuffing it all down and trucking along, the softness I’ve been craving to finally face and release all that lives within me.

This “stuffing it down” has always manifested in tension – a tension I’ve tried everything but simply feeling and crying to get to the root of. There’s only so much CBD and ibuprofen one can take until we need to also work through what’s making us clench and tighten. It’s important to remember that as rose softens us, it softens these areas of tightness that have a lot behind them. It’s a process, and if you’re not used to feeling your emotions, feeling the depths of your grief, it can be an unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience at first.

Most importantly, rose teaches us to understand the value of all emotions and all inner experiences – even the ones like grief that you would never willingly choose for yourself. There are certain stressors and extremely difficult emotions that are impossible to avoid and completely out of our control. It is only when we can fully feel these emotions in their full spectrum; fully sit in the depths of our grief, that we can also completely bask in the light of our joy.

Rose as Shen Medicine

Shen can be translated as “Spirit” or “Mind” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and essentially means  our consciousness, perspective, the way we think, our mental health, vitality, and our ability to be fully present. Shen is the embodiment of our “spirit” or “soul” and can be seen in our eyes.

You know when you see someone and their eyes are clear? They can look you in the eye and deeply connect? This is a sign that their Shen is “online” and the physical heart is in good health. If you are speaking to someone who has a sense of vacancy in their eyes, that can mean their heart/shen has been affected by grief, stress, trauma and more.

Shen lives in the Heart, where it retires to sleep and be nourished during the night. If the Shen is disturbed or is not being nourished by healthy blood flow, one may experience an inability to fall asleep, restless sleep or frequent waking. “Heat” within the body may also disturb the Shen, which is where rose comes in. 

When taking a multi-faceted approach to “getting your Shen back online”, Rose takes care of the heat and calms the Shen… then, we can use blood building herbs and foods to nourish the blood and thus feed the Shen — like hawthorn berry, parsley, iron rich foods, leafy greens, eggs, organ meats, dates, and more.

This Shen-calming element may be TCM’s version of why Western herbalism loves rose medicine for sleep issues and soothing the nervous system.

Rose is for the collective – be with her and allow her to soften and hold you.

As we utilize rose medicine to shake away and release old patterns and stagnant emotions, especially after all we’ve been through as a collective these past few years, we create space to welcome in wisdom and the access to understanding all that has occurred  from a different lens. A lens of gratitude, meaning, and moving forward.

Rose is medicine for all of us, and even if you work with her by bringing her into your home, inviting her to adorn your dining table, she always  has something to share with you and your heart.

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