Damask rose: Some Expansion

The Salernitan herbal, as might be expected, echoes earlier texts a little more fully and introduces the less material effects too. The rose is hot in the first degree and dry in the second. The water binds and fortifies. A recommendation of breathing the scent of dried roses to fortify the brain and heart and restore the spirits appears to be translated into more material benefit as those with a weak heart and tendency to faint should take rose water or decoction of the powder and egg white. Use for the stomach and intestines is repeated and further suggestions follow: rose honey with senna and salt for cold humours in the stomach; for diarrhoea and vomiting rose water cooked with mastic and one clove; for diarrhoea when the intestines are scratched (is this Pliny’s ‘corrosions’?) and vomiting hot humours and strange liquids; rose oil, put on the forehead and temples, heals the liver and headache from heat; rose juice cooked in water is applied for redness and burns; and washing the face in rose water firms, freshens and gives a good color.

The Arabic writers appear to take up the Ancients’ recommendations readily and add experience of their own, being clearly familiar with cultivated roses. Ibn Sina says it is often used. Serapio mainly repeats Galen, Dioscorides and Pliny. He adds rose flowers shaken with vinegar and applied to the head will ease pains due to heat of the sun; they can be used to treat bloody abscesses and dried roses can be included in many medicinal powders for curing ulcers. Ibn Sina too echoes the Ancients. Galen’s qualities are explored: its strength is composed of a water and earthy substance, but it has a causticity and ability to bind, also a bitterness and astringent quality together with a little sweetness. Ibn Sina appears to account for Pliny’s penetrating qualities: its wateriness, he says, weakens its warmth by reason of that principle which makes it sweet and bitter. In it is a rarefaction, facilitating a penetration of its binding qualities. He notes, however, a consequence of this, for it often brings on a cold in the head. Roses are cold in the first degree and dry in the second. He repeats the difference between fresh and dried roses, how they open and cleanse, the seeds and bits of fluff within binding more strongly. How all parts strengthen internal organs but bind no further than to prevent dissolution. He cites uses through the body and for various purposes: as cosmetic he repeats Dioscorides’ recipe for a necklace with nard and myrrh against the smell of sweat. For the skin, the boiled petals will resolve hot swellings and erysipelas, restore flesh in old ulcers and draw out arrow tips and thorns. Ibn Sina’s interpretation of Dioscorides’ application on the thighs and in the groin is to prevent abrasions there. For the head, fresh and distilled roses ease pain; roses cause sneezing in those whose brain is hot. Uses for the eyes, gums and ears are rehearsed. Fainting, spitting of blood, digestive and uterine applications all appear here too. He includes a recommendation for pains of the colon and the decoction as enema for ulcers of the intestines. To sleep on a bedding of roses, he says, pacifies lust, although Nero perhaps would not agree. The wild rose Ibn Sina treats separately. Hot and dry in the second degree, it is good for cold in the nerves, kills worms in the ears, helps ringing in the ears and is useful for tooth pain. It is used for swellings in the throat and tonsils, to open obstructions in the nostrils and to calm head pain.