Damask rose: 18th Century And Later

In the 18th century Miller and Quincy present quite a contrasting picture to each other. Quincy classes the rose under Cardiacs and Cephalics, class one of Nervous Simples. Within his very detailed account of how such medicines achieve their effects, he suggests that ‘whatever is cordial must be cephalic as the head hath a principle share in agreeable sensations’, while cathartics and other evacuants will depress the spirits. Whatever ‘raises the spirits and gives sudden strength and cheerfulness’ is accounted cardiac or cordial, comforting the heart. The more spirituous anything is which enters into the stomach, the sooner a person feels its cordial effects. Common foods take a long time to achieve a sufficient fineness to reach the nerves, but a ‘spirituous substance’ is more readily available since ‘it is so fine and subtle in all its parts before it is taken, that it seems to enter or soak into the nerves as soon as it touches them; whereupon their vibrations are ‘invigorated’ and all sense of faintness is removed’. Rose, however, having been introduced as belonging to this category, is summarily dismissed among Quincy’s materia medica, its entry containing only a reference to orange and jessamy (jasmine) as being of greater efficacy. It is worth considering whether Quincy is influenced by Ibn Sina here, who says in reference to wild rose that in its essence it is similar to jasmine but weaker (and similar to narcissus); that by its strength the oil of this rose is close to jasmine oil but weaker.

Miller, on the other hand, shows us that rose still constituted a valued medicine at that time, albeit apparently not on the same scale as in the Renaissance. Miller writes of white, damask, red and canina roses. The only preparation from white rose flowers, being drying, binding and cooling, is the white rose water, used in collyriums for sore and inflamed eyes, but he designates this preparation ‘much used’. The damask, as gentle, and purging choleric and serous humours, is given to children and weakly persons and mixed frequently with stronger cathartics. He notes a few preparations: syrupus and succo rosarum (syrup and juice of roses); syrupus infusionis rosarum (infused syrup of roses); aqua rosarum Damascenarum (damask rose water); and the electuarium and succo rosarum (electuary (a thick syrup) and juice of roses). The red rose is still distinguished as more binding and astringent than any other species. The applications echo Culpeper/Parkinson, as good against fluxes of all kinds, they strengthen the stomach, prevent vomiting and stop tickling coughs by preventing defluxion of rheum, and are of good service in consumptions. Miller notes the potential of ‘antherae or apies’ as cordial, ‘though they are but seldom used’. The preparations of red roses are: simple water; conserva rosarum (conserve of roses); sacharum rosarum (sugar of roses); syrupus de rosis siccis (syrup of dried roses); mel rosarum (honey of roses); ol rosarum (oil of roses); unguentum rosarum (ointment of roses); tinctura rosarum (tincture of roses) and aromaticum rosarum (a cordial powder). The wild rose flowers, Miller says, are more restringent than garden ones and are reckoned by some a specific for the catamenia (menses). The pulp of the hips is tasty, strengthens the stomach, cools fevers, is pectoral, good for coughs, spitting of blood and the scurvy – again very like Culpeper. The only preparation is conserva cynosbati (conserve of rosehips). Miller carries the familiar addendum that the seed is ‘accounted extraordinary good’ for stone and gravel, as is the bedeguar

Hill, like Miller, is clearly a fan of rose and writes enthusiastically about the dog rose, damask, white and red. He defends the dog rose with vigour. The fruit is the only part used…this is a pleasant medicine and is of some efficacy against coughs. Though this is the only part that is used, it is not the only that deserves to be; the flowers gathered in the bud, and dried, are an excellent astringent, made more powerful than the red roses that are commonly dried for this purpose. A tea, made strong of these dried buds, and some of them given with it twice a day in powder, is an excellent medicine for overflowings of the menses, it seldom fails to effect a cure. The seeds separated from the fruit dried and powdered, work by urine and are good against the gravel, but they do not work very powerfully’. He continues with the bedeguar as astringent used against fluxes, but with reservations; ‘they re said to work by urine, but experience does not warrant this’. The damask he records as being best used as a syrup, as an excellent purge for children, and adults too ‘there is not a better medicine for grown people who are subject to be costive. A little of it taken every night will keep the body open continually’. He adds though the later binding action as noted in Culpeper. The white roses are used as fresh or dried buds in strong infusion for overflowings of menses and bleeding of piles. The red roses are used as buds, and with the white bottoms removed. The dried have more virtue, he says. They are given as infusion and sometimes in powder against profuse menses and all other bleedings. The central ground seems covered here but there is no reference to its earlier cordial effects nor more material actions on the heart. The antiinflammatory and febrifuge properties are also notably lacking, as is external use.

Cullen was not so impressed. He seems to have only one sentence on the rose, and this with violet too; ‘of violets and pale roses the purgative value is little to be depended upon’.

Cook, in the USA, indicates little medicinal use for rose. He says they are ‘occasionally used in medicine, though more as a grateful flavour than as a remedy’. He nevertheless deems it worthy of a recipe or two. He begins with rosa centifolia, ‘the most fragrant’ and its use for rose water, as ‘addendum to mild syrups and some external washes designed for diseases of the scalp or irritable diseases of the skin’. It is made by distilling two gallons of water from 8 lb fresh, 10 lb dried petals, the petals normally having been preserved with one third their weight of common salt. The syrup of roses is a very gentle laxative, Cook says, sometimes used for children, but mainly used for confection of senna and scammony Scammony Convolvulus scammonia is no longer used as it is a fierce cathartic. This ‘syrup is made by maceration of 7 oz petals in 3 pints water for 12 hours, it is then gently heated and strained, evaporated to 2 pints and 3 lb white sugar and 5 oz diluted alcohol added. Rosa gallica is only used as syrup or confection to make palatable more unpleasant, powerful, powdered astringents. Hips of Rosa canina he refers only to European use as confection. Ellingwood has no entry under rose.