History of Rose
Perhaps the most popular and beloved flower on the planet, the rose is an “herb” which dates back millions of years. Associated with love, beauty, lust, sensuality, and even war, the rose is steeped in symbolism and allegory in almost every culture around the world. Let’s unfold the mystery of the beautiful rose plant and explore its history, folklore, and magickal properties.
A Rose By Any Other Name
You’ll have to forgive the title, I’m a literary nerd. The rose plant is so prolific that there are about 300 species of roses. Therefore, there are many different Latin names for rose bushes. However, each of these names carries the word “rosa” at the beginning. “Rosa” comes from an Armenian word “vard”, which meant rose. The etymology of the word is quite complicated, however it most definitely comes from “the east”, possibly originating in Persian or even Aramaic.
(A Brief) History of the Rose
Roses are old. Like, 55 million years old. The 55 million year old fossil of a rose was discovered in Colorado, which means roses have been on the Earth longer than humans and our ancestors. In about 500 BCE, Persia and China began cultivating roses. These roses were used for perfume, medicinal purposes, for ornamental decoration, and as part of landscaping.
Ancient Romans cultivated roses in grand public gardens and used rose petals as confetti, among other things. Roses became a symbol of politics and war in 15th century England during the War of the Roses. The houses of York and Lancaster took on the white and red rose respectively, to represent their houses, forever linking the rose with this bloody conflict.
In the 1600s in Europe, roses saw an increase in popularity. They were in such high demand that they were used, much like those “exotic” spices cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, almost as currency. Our modern roses come from a Chinese source in the 1700s, when these specially cultivated roses were introduced into Europe.
The rose is a symbol for love, beauty, sexuality, and even war. It is hard to know exactly when these associations began, however the Egyptians and Ancient Greeks certainly had their fair share of rose symbolism.
It is rumored that Cleopatra used roses during public appearances and that roses were brought in her boudoir when Marc Antony was present. The sweet smell was associated with their passionate romance.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was very much connected to roses. She used rose oil to protect Hector’s body in the Illiad, and nursed a young man in a “among rose blossoms” in another poem. Just like the raspberry, which is in the rose family, there is a story about Aphrodite wounding herself on thorns which turned the roses red.
Romans Emperors used roses to shower important visitors with rose petals as a way to celebrate their arrival. Perhaps the tradition of giving roses to performers stems from this practice. Roses became associated with celebration, success, and adoration .
In Christianity, the rose is associated with the Virgin Mary. In Catholicism specifically, the rosary gets its name from this association. Many paintings show the Virgin Mary surrounded by roses or handing out roses to adorers. As far back as the 14th century the rose has been a symbol of the sacred mysteries of the Holy Trinity.
Rose Legends, Folklore, & Superstitions
One amazing legend about a specific rose plant is found in The Rose-Bush of a Thousand Years. This legend surrounds the oldest living rose bush in Hildesheim, Germany, thought to have first been seen in 815 AD. The tale includes a noble hunter who is lost in the woods, a white rose, relics of the Virgin Mary, and a cathedral where the rose bush still grows.
A beautiful myth from India is that of Vishnu. It is said that he created Lakshmi out of 108 large and 1008 small rose petals (Note: I tried finding a source for this, but kept coming up with Lakshmi being associated with lotus flowers. I don’t know what the miscommunication is, and I don’t know if there is a rose legend, but I wanted to mention it).
In Persian folklore, there is a literary theme known as “gol o bolbol“, or rose and nightingale. One legend reads:
“In traditional Persian literature, the nightingale is often featured with the rose. The nightingale playing the part of the lover – passionate but doomed to love in vain. The rose and its thorns symbolise that of unrequited love and infidelity. One can love the rose, but beware the spikes which pierce when held. In this Persian myth, the nightingale presses its breast in unrequited love for the flower, yet is pricked by the thorns.” (Source)
From its symbolism, legends, and myths, the rose has developed a bit of folklore and superstition surrounding itself. The following are a few of these beliefs.
- If you cut a rose for a bouquet and a petal falls it is bad luck
- In some cultures, roses given in full bloom bring death
- White roses are a bad omen if they bloom twice
- Red roses on a grave mean the deceased was good, while white roses signal virginity.
- Roses signal the need for secrecy
- Yellow roses symbolize jealousy
- Pink roses signal platonic love
I wanted to spend time on the other aspects of the rose, but I’ll just quickly mention here that roses are used in perfumery (but I bet you already knew that!), and in food. Rosehips come from the rose plant, and are used in jellies and jams and skin care products. Rose water is a very popular flavoring in Middle Eastern cuisine. Turkish delight, baklava, and gulab jamun are well-loved rose flavored desserts. Rose petals and rose hips are also used in many types of teas.
Idioms & Songs
Roses are so ubiquitous to human culture that they have made their way into many popular idioms and song titles. Just for fun, let’s look at a few of them.
- red as a rose (also Irish folk song)
- bed of roses (also song by Bon Jovi)
- “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (a song by 80s hair metal band Poison)
- A rose by any other name (Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet)
- not all moonlight and roses
- “Kiss by a Rose” (English artist Seal)
- smelling like a rose
- coming up roses
- bring the roses to (someone’s) cheeks
- rose-colored glasses
- “La Vie en Rose” (song by French singer Édith Piaf)
- stop and smell the roses
- A Rose for Emily (Story by William Faulkner)
- bloom is off the roses
- “Rose Garden” (American Country song)
- under the rose
- roses are red
In Magickal Workings
The rose may not need much magickal explanation. The rose is so ingrained in our consciousness that we already know its energies. You can use the rose for these types of magick.
- Love, all kinds of love!
- Lust, passion, sensuality
Roses can be used in lots of different ways for spellwork. Although it is expensive, rose essential oil can be used to anoint yourself or your tools. It can also be used to cleanse your space in an essential oil diffuser. Dried rose petals are by far the easiest form of the flower to work with. Use rose petals in teas, mixed with other herbs to anoint candles, placed in charm bags, and used in ritual baths. You can use dried rose petals in candles as well. Rosewater is another great option to use around the house in magickal ways. Spray rosewater on yourself as part of a self-love ritual or spell. You can always use fresh roses as well, although this is the most expensive version, unless of course you have an abundance of them growing in your yard.
*Note: if you ingest rose petals ensure that they are food-grade.
Rose is a sort of… acquired taste. Many Western palates are not accustomed to the flavor of roses because they taste exactly like they smell. The result is sometimes a sense that you are eating potpourri or perfume. That being said, a light touch of rose flavor can be delightful if it is balanced with other elements. For today’s recipe I have chosen a lovely rose ice cream. The cream will dilute some of the rose flavor, but not so much that it disappears completely. This is a beautiful dessert that embodies the lusty, sensual vibe of the rose.