Most modern-day roses can be traced back to the cultivated ones introduced into Europe from China in the late 18th century. Today some 150 species of roses grow throughout the northern hemisphere, from Alaska to Mexico to northern Africa.
The International Herb Association (IHA) is celebrating the rose this year, for its beauty as well as its other helpful qualities. IHA members have selected an herb to highlight every year since 1995, using the criteria that the herb chosen must be outstanding in at least two of three categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative. With its versatility and long and colorful history, the organization’s Herb of the Year for 2012, the rose, falls into all three.
The aesthetic pleasures of the rose range from its physical beauty—the dusky, pale-to-vivid flowers in shades of whites, yellows, and reds triumphant among the greenery—to its contrasting tactile offerings of velvety petals and prickly thorns to its delicate yet intense fragrance. Artists have worked to interpret the visual elegance of the rose; perfume-makers to capture its compelling scent.
The aroma of the rose is healing, too: Its essential oil has antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and calming properties. Rose essential oil soothes skin conditions; a massage with rose oil can help alleviate symptoms of PMS as well as menstrual cramps.
Rose hips—the fruit of the rose—are packed with vitamin C, which stimulates collagen production in the skin, thus making it a favorite ingredient in soaps and skincare products. Rosewater, made from the petals of the flower, is found in cosmetics and is touted as an antiseptic that’s soothing to sensitive skin.
You can add taste to the list of senses that roses appeal to. From tea and jam made from rose hips to salads and desserts that contain rose petals or rosewater, the Herb of the Year has its own unique culinary flavor. The IHA suggests adding rose water to sliced strawberries, fresh lemonade, or hot or iced tea.