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Sweet Medicine

Healing with the wild heart of rose.

By Kiva Rose

Botanical Name: Rosa spp.

Common names: Sweetbriar, Shatapatri, Yeu ji hua, Briar Rose

"In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose."

— Rumi


The moment I arrived in New Mexico, with its red volcanic rock faces and lush green river banks, I knew I was home. Here in the Gila, wild roses grow in thick protective hedges along the river. Immediately, I loved their needle-sharp thorns combined with their delicate vulnerability. As an exotic dancer from the streets turned canyon wild child, I could relate, though I didn't feel nearly as vulnerable as the slowly unfolding flowers looked. Their long red canes shimmer come springtime, and they are one of the first woody plants to leaf out, providing a welcome splash of vibrant green.

Rose is a broadly acting and gentle yet effective medicine that is both nourishing and enlivening. The beautiful flower is one of my primary allies and finds its way into almost every formula I create. I have experienced firsthand the power this plant has on mind, body and spirit and can only hope to pass on a fraction of that those I teach and work with.


"The rose was not searching for darkness or science:

borderline of flesh and dream,

it was searching for something else."

— Lorca


Rose hips are best known for their vitamin C content, and are indeed a widely available and abundant source of this necessary substance. Rose hips are also rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, niacin, bioflavonoids, vitamin K and vitamin E as well as polyphenols and heart-healthy pectin. And even the rose petals are rich in polyphenols, B vitamins and bioflavonoids. Rose petals also contain as much or more antioxidants as green tea, making a wonderfully healing and caffeine-free beverage. Some people find the taste of rose petals too perfume-like, but I have found that it depends largely on the species used. My favorite rose of commerce to use for tea is, hands down, R. centifolia; it's lovely, spirited and sweet without the strong aftertaste of some other species such as R. gallica.

Photo by Jesse Wolf Hardin.

Its rich nutrition makes the rose, and especially the hip rose, a fine blood tonic for those experiencing fatigue, anxiety, vertigo, pallor, dry skin and hair and other signs of blood deficiency. If an individual is also experiencing feelings of coldness, I recommend adding warming blood tonics such as blackstrap molasses or Dang Gui.

The entire plant is incredibly anti-inflammatory. Scandinavian studies show that rose hips and seeds significantly reduced the need for painkillers in individuals suffering from osteoarthritis. I have found all parts of the rose to be strongly anti-inflammatory, and have used a liniment of rose petals for traumatic injuries, sore muscles and chronic musculoskeletal pain in individuals who fit the Pitta type profile (one of the three doshas in Ayurvedic medicine) that rose is most useful for. I've had remarkable success treating dislocated discs with accompanying swelling, stiffness and pain with topical applications of rose-petal liniment and infusion. Just this liniment, with no other treatment, recently resolved a dislocated disc with severe pain, swelling, tension and loss of movement.

Rose can effectively balance hyperimmune disorders, where the body overreacts to every perceived threat. It also generally enhances immune function through its cooling, cleansing effect.

I use rose as a standard remedy for any cold or flu-type illness; the hip is traditional for this but I often use both hip and petal in my preparations. I make rose-petal pastilles with honey for sore or inflamed throats. Rose-infused honey can be used as a syrup for the same symptoms. And an infusion of petal and leaf will also help symptomatically with sinus congestion, runny nose or damp heat in the lungs.

Rose is classified in most traditional medicine as a blood mover, with a special affinity for the reproductive system. I've found it to be very useful in treating general pelvic congestion resulting in scanty menses, cramps, water retention, cysts and mood swings. Rich in the building blocks of hormones, rose helps nourish the endocrine system through its provision of these basic hormonal elements. An age-old aphrodisiac, stirring up both blood and libido as well as opening up the heart, it has a history of treating sexual dysfunction such as impotence and frigidity.

Partially due to these blood-moving, decongestant properties, rose is also strengthening and healing to the heart and circulatory system. It is especially indicated in high blood pressure and/or poor circulation in individuals with Pitta symptoms such as inflammation, constipation, headaches, feverishness, red face, heart palpitations and hot flashes. Note that several of these symptoms can also be caused by a congested or inflamed liver, which rose also serves to relax and cool.

That same uptight, overworked and congested liver can also cause any number of digestive symptoms such diarrhea, constipation, gastric inflammation, IBS, hyperacidity and, conversely, food fermenting in the stomach from sluggish digestion. Rose can help these symptoms through addressing the liver problem at the root, as well as cooling, healing and protecting the gut lining, assisting the digestive process to help things move a bit better and by generally nourishing the mucosa as well as the intestinal bacteria. I have personally found rose-petal infusions to be a very effective long-term treatment for IBS with signs of internal heat and inflammation (diarrhea, food allergies, nausea, burning/churning stomach, red, cracked tongue with anxiety and restlessness).


Traditionally considered one of the finest wound remedies in North America, rose is no longer a common remedy for wounds and injuries. In modern use, it often seems to be relegated to the ranks of simple astringents. It certainly does make a fine-smelling astringent, but has a plethora of other properties adding to its wonderful wound-healing abilities. The whole plant, but especially the root, has pain-relieving properties when used externally, and is also a very good antibacterial agent for treating nearly any kind of infection, inside or out, including UTIs, yeast and vaginal infections. Indigenous peoples use the hips for severe infections externally, making a mash of the hips and using as a poultice. An acquaintance from Alaska recently told me a story of her mother using rose hips alone to successfully treat a severe wound on a dog. I've since used rose-hip poultices on several infected wounds with great results.

Diluted rose-petal vinegar is amazing for sunburns, clearing the heat from the skin and relieving a great percentage of the pain. Rose is a universal remedy for sore, inflamed eyes and even cataracts. Petals are most often used, but many indigenous tribes used the roots. Rose-leaf spit poultices are great for bug bites and cuts and scratches; rose petals will work too, but it's usually easier to get a leaf most times of the year. Gentle enough for babies, rose-petal infusion has been used by many cultures for teething, fussiness and diarrhea in infants. I frequently give our daughter, Rhiannon, rose glycerite when she gets into a overheated, hyperactive and irritable state that often results in a nervous stomach and diarrhea. I find that it helps to cool and calm her, and also helps settle her belly.

Also appropriate for delicate areas other herbs might irritate, finely ground petals or leaves can be used as a powder for rashes, itchy or inflamed areas and wounds anywhere on the body. A traditional recipe of the Mesquakies involves boiling down rose hips to make a paste to be used for itching anywhere on the body, including hemorrhoids. All parts of the plant will help the itching and pain of red, inflamed eczema, contact dermatitis, hives, poison ivy, etc.; a diluted vinegar of Rose petals and Mugwort is my potion of choice for such cases.


"Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses."

— James Oppenheim, "Bread and Roses"


While the healing power of the rose is pervasive in how it touches nearly every part of a person, perhaps the most remarkable aspects of this flower are found in its ability to affect the heart and spirit. Long praised for its anti-depressant qualities and ability to open the heart, it has been used across the world to raise the spirits and heal broken hearts. An amazingly uplifting herb, it's often useful as an antidepressant/anti-anxiety agent, especially for those who have been the victim of violence, sexual abuse or betrayal as well as anyone who can use more self-love. It has a profound opening effect on the heart and on sexuality, and is a deeply nourishing tonic for the nerves.

Rose is very calming and balancing, assisting us in finding a ground-level state from which we can access our real emotions rather than just react. In this way it can assist those suffering from anxiety, anger, insecurity, grief and depression. It can be used as a baseline in any nerve-strengthening, emotionally balancing formula, including more specific herbs for the exact person and situation.

My favorite formula for recovering from a crying jag or traumatic experience is sage and rose, either externally as a scented oil or internally as a tincture, infusion or elixir. You don't need too much sage for this, just enough to give a grounding base for the rose to ride on. Skullcap is a nice addition to this in cases where insomnia or deep muscle tension is an issue.

As spring emerged in my third year here in the Sweet Medicine Canyon, the roses started to swell with promising buds, and soon, new pink blossoms began to open. Their petals unfolded, slowly and deliberately, in the warm sun, stretching past barriers and known limitations to soar skyward. As I carefully gathered petals and leaves from their graceful forms, I felt my own heart continue to open, slowly and deliberately, stretching towards the warmth and great love of this beautiful life.


Kiva Rose is an intuitive medicine woman, herbalist, poet and teacher of Anima. She helps tend a wild river canyon in the enchanted Southwest, offering correspondence courses, wilderness retreats, vision quests, apprenticeships and events like the Sister Spirit Workshop (Sept. 27-30). Contact her at the Anima Learning Center & Women's Sanctuary, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830, mail@animacenter.org.


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