Damask rose: Abundance

Mesue has much to say and it appears to be mainly his text, rather than that of Ibn Sina, plus those of the Ancients, presumably also stimulated by a flourishing of professional interest in roses consequent on the developing of different varieties, that produce the acme of expertise in all things medicinally rose achieved among the Renaissance authors. Turner, Mattioli, Gerard, Parkinson, Dodoens, Culpeper and Bauhin, for example, all devote many pages to the rose, Bauhin in the greatest detail with contrasting opinions carefully summarized and weighed. They address the topics in more or less similar vein. Within this rich Renaissance context I first look at the nature of the rose and its qualities, then put a toe into the water of whether red or white, dried or fresh, bud or open are better. Then having established beyond doubt the gentle nature of the rose, I plunge into the deeper water of general applications, the specific use of the separate parts, the vast array of preparations and one or two recipes from the time.

Turner and Mattioli consider Mesue’s expansion of Galen’s qualities into his thoughts on the nature of roses. The rose is cold in the first degree and dry in the second, says Mesue, compounded of various parts of different natures. The first is a material and binding, substantial faculty from the watery and earthy; then there is the airy, which is sweet and fragrant, along with the fiery from which comes the bitterness, the redness and, says Turner, the perfection and the form or beauty. There is more heat in the red than in those which are only reddish, says Mattioli; but then Bauhin cites Galen that you cannot tell the temperature of a plant by its color. But the bitterness, continues Mesue, among these fiery qualities, is the weakest faculty, since it is easily lost, disappearing even with simple drying of the flower. Since it is the bitterness which purges, then fresh roses are more bitter, and hence laxative, while the dried are more astringent, binding and drawing together. Mattioli says on this point ‘from this it is learned that the laxative faculty…comes as much from their bitterness (which faculty the Greeks had not noticed) since the fresh draw down the belly but the dried not at all’. Turner puts it only slightly differently ‘Yet green roses are more bitter than binding, and by reason of this bitterness green or moist roses purge and that chiefly with their juice, but when they are dried, the heat being resolved which maketh the bitterness, they show a substance binding or drawing together’.

Turner continues with Mesue’s estimation of the juice of roses as hot almost in the first degree, which other authors, even those citing Mesue, choose to ignore, except for Bauhin, who occupies a whole column of text taking Mesue to task for his error that anything about the rose can be heating. Dalechamps gets involved to some extent saying ‘my manuscript codex says: it heats if applied to the body”. He records it is held that the oil is cold in the first degree but the juice is more temperate than this. His own opinion suggests that it is balanced between heat and cold.