Monday, February 13, 2012

The Beauty And The Rose

Rose - the queen of all flowers

Since ancient times rose has been a symbol of love, beauty, and sensuality. No other flower is so universally known and appreciated.

In ancient Egypt roses were considered to be sacred and were used in offerings to the goddess Isis. Remains of roses were found in Egyptian tombs were they were used as the funerary wreaths.

Cleopatra is believed to have perfumed the sails of her ship with rose water when she sailed to meet Marcus Antonius. The legend has it that the chamber of their first encounter was carpeted with rose petals. No wonder the Roman commander lost his mind.

In ancient Greece the rose was consecrated to the goddess of love Aphrodite. Romans continued this tradition and offered this lovely flower to Venus. The rose was omnipresent in ancient Rome. Rose water and rose oil were the symbols of luxury and were used to stimulate the senses during lavish banquets at the Roman court. The Patricians decorated their mansions with roses and wore rose garlands around their necks.

The flower was also used in Greece by the Eleusian Mystery schools. Temples were decorated with roses and the aspirants wore a rose before their initiation. The flower was to remind them of silence and secrecy they were sworn to. This tradition known as "sub rosa dictum" goes back to Alexandria and the Alexandrian hermetic tradition where rose was dedicated to Horus/Harpocrates, the god of silence.*

The rose as a symbol of silence was later adopted by the Rosicrucian Order and by the Freemasons. The adepts were sworn to secrecy and were not allowed to reveal any information about proceedings of the Orders.

Since the ancient times roses were valued for their medicinal properties. Roman historian and naturalist Pliny the Elder recorded thirty two conditions that could be relieved with roses. Rose petals, rose leaves, and rose hips were used internally and externally. Young rose buds were used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote the movement of the Qi energy within the body, to cure digestive disorders, and to alleviate gynecological disorders.

In Europe, a 12th century mystic Hildegard of Bingen used roses to heal the lepers. A century later, Crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought the Damascus rose to France. The species, Rosa gallica officinalis, also known as the  Apothecary's rose, was cultivated for medicinal purposes and gave rise to the entire industry whose center was the town of Provins. Grasse - another town in Provence - became the world capitol of perfume after the first perfume was created there by Molinard during the reign of Catherine de Medici to perfume the exquisite leather goods and camouflage the bad smell that resulted from the tanning process. The delicate rose, however, was not in the center of the perfume industry that sprung up there. The perfume makers in Grasse mostly used lavender, myrtle, thyme, rosemary, orange blossom, wild mimosa, and jasmine that were harvested from the surrounding fields. 

Modern science confirms some therapeutic properties of roses. Scientists discovered that all parts of the rose plant contain healing substances, antioxidants, and vitamins. Rose hips, for instance, are very rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E, beta carotene, malic acid, tannins, and zinc. Rose petals contain quercetin and other bioflavonoids, tannin, and vitamin C, among others. Rose leaves have astringent properties and are rich in antibacterial compounds. The rose hip seed oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Dried rose petals and rose hips can be used to make delicious healing infusions. Remember, however, that only certified organic roses should be used for consumption.

The healing properties of roses were also exploited to make cosmetics. Early on it was discovered that rose oil, rose hip oil, and rose water could be applied to the skin to heal skin conditions and to beautify complexion.

Centuries ago people learned how to distill the essence of rose from rose petals. The precious rose attar or rose essential oil has a very complex chemical composition. More than four hundred different compounds have been identified so far.

The essence has been used to make perfumes, perfumed oils, and pomades. To this day it retained its status as the costliest ingredient used by perfumers. The reason for it is the laborious process of harvest and distillation. It takes more than four thousand pounds of manually harvested rose petals to produce one pound of the essential oil. Some of the most expensive perfumes in the world were made with the rose essence. The legendary perfume Joy that was created for the couturier Jean Patou in 1929 by Henri Alméras, for instance, is a sensual floral scent that requires 10,000 jasmine flowers and 28 dozen Bulgarian roses to create one ounce of perfume.

Essential rose oil is used in aromatherapy to relax, sooth the nerves, and uplift the spirit.

The hydrosol part of the distillate is known as rose water and can be used externally as a soothing lotion for the skin or internally to help digestion. I love to drink a tiny cup of so called "white coffee" which is made of rose water and green cardamom pods.

To make this aromatic digestive drink boil cup of pure water with a teaspoonful of cardamom pods to release the aroma. Remove the cardamom pods. Add cup of rose water and bring it to boil. Serve after a heavy meal or whenever you need a help with digestion. Honey or brown sugar may be added to the drink to mask the slightly "soapy" taste, but I prefer to drink it unsweetened, just as it was served to me in a Lebanese restaurant in Egypt.

Dr. Hauschka Famou Rose Cream
Dr. Hauschka Day Rose Cream

The anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of rose oil make it a perfect ingredient in skincare. Modern cosmetic companies often use either hexane-extracted rose essence or a synthetic rose scent to perfume their beauty products or to make perfumes. Synthetic rose scent has no therapeutic properties whatsoever and may cause allergies.

There are, however,  few cosmetic lines that can be trusted. One of them is Dr. Hauschka. The German company applies holistic principles that have roots in the anthroposophic philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and makes, among others, the absolutely fabulous Rose Day Cream! This formulation utilizes the flower's aspects of strength and softness and its power to harmonize. The rose makes this cream a perfect product for all skin types. The Rose Day Cream is a particular blessing for people with sensitive or dehydrated skin and  for those with a complexion prone to redness. The delicate rose scent is soothing to the mind and never overpowering. The cream has a very pleasant texture and is easily absorbed by the skin leaving it nourished and well protected.

Dr. Hauschka developed a unique skincare concept which respects the skin's own metabolic processes. The best results can be expected when products are used as suggested.

In the production of many of its cosmetics Dr. Hauschka utilizes rose essential oil, rose water, rose wax, and rose petal extract. Based on the holistic philosophy, every single ingredient is used according to its individual effect and  its interaction with other ingredients. Only the purest ingredients are used and packaging is fully recyclable. Dr. Hauschka products are not tested on animals.

By Dominique Allmon

* Harpokrates or the Horus child personifies the new born sun. He was depicted as a child suckling his finger. This gesture, however, was misread as a sign of silence. Thanks to this misreading Horus became the god of silence.


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The Beauty and the Rose by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.