When I was young, I had — surprise, surprise — a LOT of opinions.
I was pretty sure I knew everything worth knowing, and one of those things I was so sure I knew was that roses were tired, over-used, cliche and downright boring. In all of my teenage wisdom, I had decided this based on the fact that everybody liked roses.
And if everybody liked roses, they were common and uninspiring. They were the flower for the unimaginative.
I thought my logic was soundproof, but I’ve since come to realize if almost everybody likes roses, it might be because they are incredibly likable. Much like ice cream, sunsets and lapping waves, roses have earned their reputation for being pretty freaking awesome.
Roses didn’t become popular because a few poets wrote some rhyming couplets or a king or two kept them in their gardens. Roses have been cultivated for over 5,000 years. They’re not a fad. In fact, they are their own kind of royalty in the plant kingdom.
So many things we know and love come from the rose family. Apples, cherries, pears, almonds, peaches, raspberries, hawthorne and rowan trees, spirea — they’re all a part of the rose family. It’s kind of a big deal.
But let’s stick to roses specifically. What made them so popular? Aside from being adorable, it was their nutritional and medicinal qualities. (You had to have known I wasn’t going to get through a column without talking about how fantastic and multifaceted nature can be.)
Roses can do it all. They’ve been used throughout history for a laundry list of ailments, but there are benefits that have been studied and verified.
Rose water has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, an antiseptic and an analgesic. Generally speaking, it’s a powerhouse for your skin and has been shown to help with various digestive processes as well.
It can potentially help with the sting of bug bites and sunburns, and it has been shown to reduce redness and swelling in rashes and eczema. It may even help with acne.
Studies have also shown that when applied to cuts and burns, it can help fight and even prevent infection, with one study showing that it can help wounds heal faster. Not too shabby, eh?
Then there’s the rosehip, which has an incredible amount of vitamin C, along with a number of other nutrients. They can be cooked into soups, made into jam or brewed into tea right alongside the petals. The very fragrance of these roses has been shown to have anti-anxiety and antidepressant qualities. Rose water has even been used successfully to ease headaches.
A lot of the roses found in shops and in gardens aren’t the kind being used in these studies. Most of the studies that mentioned the variety of rose used petals from the Rosa damascena, with most of the rosehips coming from Rosa canina. The apothecary rose (Rosa gallica) is also an excellent choice for making fragrant and medicinal rose water.
These are old varieties that have smaller blooms and shorter bloom times than the hybrids most people think of on Valentine’s Day. Those roses have been bred for their color, size and overall bodacious blooms.
In selecting for these traits, most hybrid roses have less fragrance and less medicinal potential, if they have any at all. Generally, you should look for a rose that is deeply fragrant and a deep red or rose color if you’d like to harvest its petals or rosehips.
Don’t let that get you down about hybrid roses, though. There’s more than enough love to go around.
You can adore your picotee tea roses while spreading homemade rosehip jam over your morning toast. Adding beauty to the world is no small thing.
I think what I’m trying to say is life is too short to be snubbing our noses at lovely things out of some strange, holier-than-thou competitive spirit. I spent my adolescence disliking a number of things for silly reasons that boiled down to me not knowing a thing about them because I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything about them worth knowing.
Don’t fall into the same trap. If you’re open to it, you might just find something brilliant.