The roses are on their second run. The old-fashioned ones, white damasks, that were here when I moved in and could easily be 100 years old, bloom only once, though gloriously, in spring and early summer. The hybrids — most of them David Austins — are repeating now.

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For early Christians, roses were sacred to the Blessed Mother and would cure “the feeble, phlegmatic, choleric or melancholy, quicken the spirit and take away blemishes.”

Madonna in the Rose Bower, 1448, Stephan Lochner

Madonna in the Rose Bower, 1448, Stephan Lochner

Long before European settlers reached North American shores, indigenous peoples used roses for healing. Petals were mixed with bear grease to cure mouth sores, powdered petals were applied to fever blisters, flowers soaked in rainwater soothed sore eyes, and the inner bark of the roots was applied to boils.

Indian Ayurvedic medical texts refer to roses as cooling, as laxative, as increasing appetite, curing fevers and boils and easing stomach pains.

handful of healing roses

It is said that Alexander the Great (known elsewhere simply as Sikander the Greek) saw roses first in India, on the northwest border and sent them back to his mentor Aristotle.

Most of our modern roses were cultivated for beauty and fragrance in the Middle East. Ibn Senna, aka Avicenna, of Persia is credited with distilling rose water in the 11th century CE, and from there came perfumes. A century later, the Muslim traveler, Rashid-ud-din visited India and reported no less than 70 kinds of roses.


In the 16th century, Babur, the first Mughal emperor, who came down from Afghanistan to rule India, brought with him camel-loads of musk and damask roses and gave each of his daughters rose names — Gulchithra (Rose cheeked), Gulrukh (Rose faced), Gulbadan (Rose body) and Gulrang (Rose color).

Merely to gaze on roses in the garden is healing.

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