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What does the warrior Achilles have to do with roses? Something for you to ponder!

In June this year Karen Davey, one of the HRIA Perth Region members, gave a delightful talk to the Herb Society. Please read Karen's summary of the talk below.

Why Grow Heritage Roses?

To try and convince you that we should grow heritage roses, or at least believe that the rose can be beneficial for us, I gathered lots of evidence from ancient texts, from old philosophers, writers, and world leaders on alchemy of the past. If you ask a member, as I am, of the worldwide Heritage Roses Society, we would say that roses have an irresistible charm, an incredible history and is the world’s favourite flower. Roses have a natural and not a rigid growth. They are often connected with the symbol of love. Above all, it is their inimitable scent that really captures our hearts.

Achilles drops the corpse of Hector at the feet of his father King Priam. It is written that they washed the body of Hector in rose oil.

I want to take you back, historically, to find out where roses came from and show evidence that tells us what they were used for; to try and convince you as to why you should grow Heritage Roses. Evidence goes back to 40-35 million years ago and I want to now take you on a whirlwind tour of some of the world’s ancient civilizations and mention a few learned men and tell you what they promoted, as well as what they had to say about how beneficial the rose is to us. In fact, in some of the studies they talked about the rose as “an herb”.

I began with an image of a 5000-year-old drawing of a tablet showing an Alchemist at work in his distillery in ancient Egypt. This evidence was in the Indus Valley 5000 BCE. I showed an image of a 3000 BCE tablet from ancient Mesopotamia showing a person within a distillery as well as actual dried roses from an Egyptian tomb, as well as further written evidence of roses used in medicine from that time.

To India: roses were used in Ayurvedic Medicine where medicinal concepts were set in the 2nd millennium BCE. The Ayurvedics believed that rose astringent was necessary for cardiac and cephalic ailments and the tonic from the properties of rose buds and petals were beneficial and utilized for many other medicinal purposes. This was 2000 years ago and they still believe in the benefits of the rose today.

We then went to Anatolia in the 2nd millennium where the Hittites used prepared medicines and treatments from the rose.

From Anatolia to the Middle East, where rose attar was extracted by distillation, rose oil and rose water was extracted for medicinal uses. I also showed images of ancient distillation equipment.

There is evidence that many ancient civilizations used different types of distillation processes. To prove this I showed a picture of a glass alembic that was found in the Middle East that dates from between 900-1200BCE.

We then sailed across the ocean to visit China where there have always been copious preservers of written history. Evidence showed in the History of Pharmacology that 2,500 years ago they cultivated the roses to use for medicinal purposes.

Then across land to ancient Mesopotamia in the 4th century where the Syriac medical treatise of the 4th century, rose medicine was used to treat many ailments, including foul breath!

Now we continued east and back in time to the Roman era where the naturalist Pliny the Elder in the 5th C CE was a staunch advocate of rose cure. He made concoctions for inside and the outside of the body. For example, one of the remedies was grinding the rose hips into a paste as treatment for toothache.

Medicinal Rose products were also used by the Anatolians for remedies against scabies. Love this gentleman’s name - Pedanius Dioscorides, the Greek born pharmacologist and physician, like Pliny he was also a staunch advocate for the remedies and benefits of the roses.

In ancient Uzbekistan which was then the ancient Persian era, a prophet and physician named Ibn Sina (1000-1037), known as the Prince of Physicians and born in the beautiful city of Bukhara (now Uzbekistan), was the first scientist to emphasize the rose’s beneficial effects, particularly, on the heart and the brain. He wrote a notable text called The Canon of Medicine widely commemorated then and is still. His book described some 600 potential cures for common illnesses and the effects of plants and roots had on the human body. I might also make mention here that in ancient Herballe and Alchemaic charts, the roses was considered as an herb.

Ibn Sina was born in the beautiful city of Bukhara (now Uzbekistan).

The rose in today’s world is still considered as important, take rose hip syrup, the Vitamin C supplement that many babies were brought up on.

Rose remains were found in Egypt’s pyramids.

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