Rose: Herb of the Year

Rose: Herb of the YearEach year, The International Herb Association chooses a “herb of the year” based on the herb being outstanding in at least two of three major categories: culinary, medicinal, or ornamental. This year, they’ve selected the rose. According to the IHA, “Roses have enthralled humans for their beauty of form and scent down through the ages, and today we use rose petals for perfumes, cosmetics, and even salads, while the fruits, known as hips, are high in vitamin C.”

The rose family (rosaceae) is very large and many are surprised to learn that rosaceae includes apple, apricot, crabapple, hawthorn, peach, pear, raspberry, strawberry, and serviceberry.

My affection for roses goes back to my childhood. In my parents’ garden there was a rose called the Roundelay; I can still recall the intoxicating scent of this deep crimson bloomer, which was always the star of that early garden.
I am fortunate these days to enjoy a tiny urban garden that is packed with roses of all colours, including some of our Canadian hybrids and an abundant blooming Rosa Rugosa (non-hybridized) that shares petals and rose hips (the delicious fruit) with us each year.

Roses have been cherished for centuries for their uplifting and healing qualities. They are believed to soothe the emotions and balance the mind. Rose medicine has an uplifting effect on the entire nervous system and is used as an antidepressant and mild sedative for anxiety issues, peptic ulcers, and excessive nervous tension.

Rose Medicine

A tincture made from rose petals can be effective in addressing sadness, grief, depression, anxiety or insomnia. I often combine rose tincture with a selected Bach flower remedy with good results.

Rose petals, and to a greater extent rose hips, are known to be high in vitamin C, and also contain vitamins A, B-3, D, and E, as well as bioflavonoids, minerals, plus malic and citric acid. Rose hips also contain pectin. These nutrients are the reason why many herbalists use rose medicine to clear toxins and heat from the body, and relieve fluid retention or congestion. Rose creates “movement” in the body, so it can be used to help relieve heavy menstrual periods caused by uterine congestion, and as a part of a diuretic or gentle laxative formula.

Rose medicine is also known to support the liver and gall bladder because it promotes bile flow, which contributes to better elimination. Rich in vitamins, rose medicine stimulates the immune system, helps fight infections, soothes mucous membranes, and can help to relieve colds and influenza.

In my herbal practice, I use rose tincture, as well as hot and cold infusions made from rose petals and rose hips.

Rose Petal Tincture

Rose Petal TinctureThere are many ideas and formulas for creating a rose tincture. I use fresh rose petals at the height of their blooming season (June for my Toronto gardens). Only use roses from plants that have not been sprayed with chemicals (see note at end, re: best roses for making medicine). I pluck the petals gently from the plant, leaving the rose hips intact to mature in the fall. Tinctures can be created using any number of ‘extraction liquids’ or menstrums such as vodka or grain alcohol (use what is available). Brandy makes a lovely choice for rose petal tincture.
1) Gather enough fresh rose petals to fill a 500 ml (glass) canning jar.
2) Fill the jar with the rose petals, but don’t overstuff.
3) Fill the jar to the very top with alcohol (it’s important to completely cover the plant material).
4) Use a chopstick or other non-metal object to  poke the plant material a bit, to ensure all air bubbles float to the top.
5) Cap with a tight-fitting lid.
6) Label the jar with the name of herb, date, plus which menstrum used. (ie. Rose Tincture – Vodka – 20 Jun 2012)
7) Place the jar into a cool cupboard.
8) Shake at least once a day.
9) The rose tincture will be ready to use in 4 weeks. At this point, strain the mixture through a sieve or use cheese cloth and store in a tinted glass (like amber or cobalt blue) jar. For quick daily access, keep a smaller amount in a 50 ml or 100 ml tinted bottle with a “dropper”.

Rose Petal Tincture + Bach Flower Remedies

Rose tincture can be combined with Bach flower essences in myriad ways to address the specific needs of each individual. Rose medicine has been used throughout the ages to comfort sorrow and relieve heartache. For deep grief, add 3 to 4 drops of Star of Bethlehem Bach flower essence to a 100 ml dropper bottle filled with rose tincture or syrup. Take a dropperful three to four times a day, or as needed.

(Sometimes, it’s helpful to fill a spray bottle with water and add a few drops of Star of Bethlehem flower essence. The entire bottle becomes infused with the potent healing power to calm grief. It can then be sprayed around the room where people need comfort.)

Bach flower remedies can be added to herbal medicine or healing foods – whether it be in the form of tincture, tea, syrup, infused honey, vinegar, glycerite or elixir; adding a flower essence to the herbal remedy adds another emotional healing component needed during difficult times.

Rose Hip Infusion

Dried rose hips can be purchased at health food stores, or you can pick your own in the fall after they have ripened. It’s easy to include rose hips in infusions, either on their own or in combination with other herbs. Infused rose hips produce a tart, slightly acidic-tasting tea or tisane. Compresses made using rose hip infusion can soothe a throbbing headache and ease the pain of a sore ankle, knee or wrist. Diluted, rose hip infusion can be used as a gentle eyewash.

Ingredients: 1 cup boiling water + 1 Tbsp rose hips
Pour boiling water over the rose hips. Allow to steep for 12-15 minutes. Strain. Enjoy with or without sweetening.

A Favourite Iced Tea

Rose Ice Tea RecipeWhether in the garden or enjoying a summer’s day on the porch, one of my preferred thirst quenchers is a fragrant ruby red infusion of rose hips, hibiscus flowers, and delightful lemon balm. I rarely add honey, but just a little honey makes this refreshing for everyone!
1 part rose hips
1 part hibiscus flowers
1 part lemon balm leaves
¼ part orange peel (optional)
When I make tea and want more than a one-cup serving, I use two 1-litre Mason jars. You can use a teapot, a ‘tea press’ or whatever works.
To make a batch of this tea, place 3 to 4 Tbsp of the above mixture into a 1-litre (1 qt) glass Mason jar. Add freshly boiled water to fill the jar. Immediately cover (screw-top lids make this easy). Allow to steep 12-15 minutes. Strain the infusion into the second Mason jar. Top with lid. Refrigerate and/or add ice cubes. Garnish with fresh lemon balm leaves (optional).

Kiddie Calm Summertime Tea

When I had the pleasure of nourishing Toronto’s West End with herbal treasures from my shop, Studio Botanica, one of my best-selling teas was a gentle calming blend made especially for children. It is delicious served hot or cold. Parents loved this yummy nutritious tea as an alternative to sugary fruit juices. Some even made it into an “herbsicle,” which was a hit.
1 part rose hips
1 part hibiscus flowers
1 part chamomile flowers
1 part lemon balm leaves
½ part catnip leaves
½ part milky oat tops
½ part spearmint leaves
½ part orange peel
In a bowl, combine ingredients well, transfer to a jar, and label. Store in a cool, dark cupboard.
To make 1 litre/quart of this tea, place 3 to 4 Tbsp of the mixture into a 1-litre/quart canning jar. Add freshly boiled water to fill the jar. Immediately cover with the lid (screw-top lids make this easy). Allow to steep 12 to 15 minutes.
Strain the infusion into the second canning jar. Top with lid. Enjoy warm or refrigerate to create a tasty cold tea for adults and children alike!


However roses find their way into your life, they will be sure to add a sweet fragrance, a glorious poetic complement to your garden, an exhilaration when they over-winter (for some of us!) and, perhaps above all, a certain tranquil peace when they are brought into your kitchen to create uplifting medicines.

This article has been adapted from Carol Little’s article published in the International Herb Association publication “Rose (Rosa): Herb of the Year 2012” which is available to order online at

Notes about Roses for making medicine:

Rosa RugosaCanada’s short growing season and normally blustery cold winters have prompted the development of roses that can withstand these harsh conditions. In the 1800s, fascinated with roses and challenged by the climate, Canadians were inspired to create the first Canadian rose hybrids. Our passion for the rose has resulted in many stunningly beautiful, hardy, disease-resistant Canadian roses being developed.
In regards to which roses are best for making medicine, Herbalist Heather Bakazias comments: “I think all species of Roses are “safe” (i.e. not toxic). However, I always recommend going for the common or wild varieties, and not the Hybridized strains. One of my mentors, Susun Weed, would say that our bodies have difficulty recognizing hybridized varieties, and these days who knows whether anything is genetically modified under the excuse that it is “more hardy, has a better shelf life, looks better, is easier to get to market etc etc.” So…I stick to the wild dog rose, the old varieties that are carried by Richters Herbs, and the organic varieties carried by Hortico Gardens such as: Apothecary Rose (Rosa gallica Officinalis) and Rose de Rescht, and other roses from around 1500 to 1800 AD.  Also, the Hansa Shrub rose is a common variety that has a wonderful perfume. Many of the hybrids do not even smell – and I can’t imagine using a rose that doesn’t have one of its primary assets intact.”
(* The Apothecary Rose is one of the oldest in cultivation, since before 1300 AD. In folklore medicine it was used for inflammation, stomachache, headache, and toothache, also for insomnia, and for “purification of the mind”.)
Julia Woodford, Vitality’s editor, likes to collect rose hips from wild rose bushes found growing in parks and abandoned fields (unsprayed).


– Hortico Gardens: If you are looking for organic and/or heritage roses, Hortico offers a wide selection of some 4,000 plant varieties. Hortico specializes in roses and ship plants worldwide. They are located at 422 Concession 5 East, Waterdown, Ontario, which is north of Hamilton and west of Burlington. Call (905) 689-6984, email, or visit for more information.
– Richters Herbs has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. “Our first catalogue dedicated to herbs came out in 1970. We have lived, worked and breathed herbs ever since.” They have many heritage rose varieties. Located at 357 Highway 47, Goodwood, Ontario. Telephone: 1-905-640-6677  visit:
– To read an article called “The Noble Rose” by Culinary Herbalist Pat Crocker, visit:  This article contains an extensive resource list of rose websites, organizations, gardens, plus several recipes.


Carol Little R.H. is a traditional herbalist in Toronto where she has a private practice working primarily with women. Carol writes an herb-infused blog filled with seasonal tidbits, helpful hints and ways to embrace herbs and healing foods. Come for a visit @ She offers a seasonal newsletter with additional recipes and ideas for living a herbalicious life! She is a past board member and current professional member of the Ontario Herbalists Association. She writes a chapter each year in the “Herb of the Year” book for the International Herb Association. Check out her 2 popular ebooks, available at Studio Botanica. Follow her on social media here: FaceBook @ Twitter: Instagram:

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