Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hi guys! It was a successful week of researching and compiling! And I had a wonderful meeting to get things organized. Our little Loyola garden ‘herbal’ is nearly completed, just have a few flowers to go. Actually, I would like to talk to you today about one flower that we are all very familiar with, and that has in fact appeared since ancient times. The rose is my personal favorite (I think most of us have that phase where we try to find other flowers to like, but really now, what girl doesn’t like roses?) and there are some very interesting and exciting facts in the history of this beautiful flower that holds a continual fascination for us.

Rosa gallica officinalis is the type that we have, and that medieval gardeners had for centuries in their own gardens. In a small article that finishes her dissertation, Hazel Le Rougetel says, “quantities of Rosa gallica [that were] brought back, it is thought, from the Middle East by the Crusaders, were grown for the production of rose conserve. Much earlier, apothecaries had used this rose in medicine and in c.849, Walahfrid Strabo wrote in his poem, Hortulus, 'No man can say, no man remember how many uses there are for Oil of Roses as a cure for mankind's ailments'. Thus, it became known as R. gallica officinalis or the 'Apothecary's Rose'.”[1] So, not only are the lovely and fragrant, but roses were very useful in a society of pre-modern medicine. Some of the more frequent uses involved rose water, which also flavored food. One of my books, an herbal by Henry of Huntington, has poems detailing the uses of each plant. Henry’s poem on roses uses Macer’s voice to tell us this about the rose plant: “It surpasses flowers equally in appearance and in scent,” and therefore, it is “the flower of flowers.”[2] The poem goes on to say that the bloom of rose may “wither,” but it never diminishes in its medicinal potency. Some of those medical uses were for “eye salves” and as a powder to treat “ailments of the mouth.”[3] Furthermore, he says, “every fresh rose, when ground, will destroys all fevers” and, with “mead” it is “soothing.”[4]

In his study of the ‘damask’ rose, Mark P. Widrlechner gives a nice synopsis of the history of roses in general, beginning with the “oldest fossil roses” which are “from the Paleocene.”[5] I learned that the rose is painted in a very early fresco in the palace at Knossos, Crete. Also, the Rosa gallica is probably related to the damask rose through its hybridization with the Rosa phoenicia.[6]

Very interesting and exciting stuff! We do have the lovely Rosa gallica, (‘rose of Provins,’ ‘apothecary rose’) at the Heraldic garden and since it is getting close to spring, do make sure you come and see the garden behind Crown!

[1] Le Rougetel, Hazel, “The Rose of England,” RSA Journal Vol. 136 (1988); 742-744.
[2] Winston Black “Henry of Huntington Angelicanus ortus A Verse Herbal of the Twelfth Century” (Toronto; Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1993)
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Mark P. Widrlechner “History and Utilization of Rosa Damascena” Economic Botany, Vol. 35 (1981); 42-58.
[6] Ibid.

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