Adventures in Wortcunning: Smelling Roses

Adventures in Wortcunning: Smelling Roses April 17, 2015

'Betty Boop' Rose
‘Betty Boop’ Rose

We have all heard the phrase, and some even quote it: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”  In the famous play, Juliet uses this line to ask Romeo to change his surname as if it didn’t matter. Often today the quote is used as if to say that one lovely flower, although different, is as good as another despite a change in name. Sometimes this ‘lovely flower’ meaning is stretched to mean ‘women’ or ‘love’ in general. But, roses can be very different in name, and some don’t smell at all.

Ah, William (if that is indeed your name) truth is:  you got it wrong.

Although, in Shakespeare’s day it was closer to being true.  Back then, the almost scent-free hot house rose we see commonly today would not be tolerated. Simply no room in the carefully tended medieval garden for such nonsense.

Ever wondered what apples, strawberries, blackberries, and pears could possibly have in common? If fire blight had once been through your yard, then you know the answer already. These, along with rose hips, are all the fruit of the Rosa family of plants.

Rosa is among the first and most common botanical family for our favorite Western fruits. And roses have always been especially magickal, the plant itself being a symbol of both Mars (for its blood red blossoms and protective thorns) and Venus (for its scent, beauty, and tasty fruit) with the five petals of the most ancient varieties a symbolic reference to her celestial body.

Red Climber
Red Climber

As above, so below; or so the saying goes. Venus, in her meandering across the sky, is never far from the sun, and in the course of one Earth year, traces (are you ready?) a pentacle in the nighttime sky. And if you slice an apple in half cross-ways, it can also become an instant pentacle for your picnic altar cloth.

I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it.

Among the flower’s rosy fruit, strawberries are most odd. Not only is the shape of the fruit decidedly, er, male…. And, because the fruit actually forms in-side-out and all the seeds are stuck out there upon the skin, I would definitely call this variety of rose plant masculine.

And speaking of Mars, thorny vines can keep you safe if your home is deep within them, but what does it say as a symbol of Love that the thorns are shaped just so as to let you reach an arm deep within the twisted branches with nary a prick, only to scratch and claw at you viciously when you dare to pull away? Golly, this sounds familiar too.

The thorns of a rose or berry vine, I was surprised to find, are nothing more than undeveloped leaves gone wrong. Or gone right, if you like a thorny barricade.

Transplanting the ever-forgiving rose is a relatively easy task. Make sure you clip back about 60% of the above ground growth before digging up an established shrub, and be sure to dig wide so you don’t damage too many roots as you go.

Joseph's Coat
Joseph’s Coat

Reposition your rose in its new place with a nice big hole, where it will grow nicely with the affections of you as gardener, the sun, and a little water; just don’t cover the root-crown with soil! You will know that your plants are getting enough water if the new leaves show rose-colored around the edges, fading as they age to a deep, glossy green.

Once in the rose garden, if you notice a branch of leaves browned and shriveled as if by fire then you have likely got a case of fire blight in your yard.  Take care of this right away!  Here is what you do: immediately get a large paper bag, a pair of garden gloves, your pruners and, some rubbing alcohol. Clip away any damaged foliage. Being careful not to contact the plant with your clippings, place these in the paper bag right away.  Burn the bag to destroy the blight virus, and clean your pruners with rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading the disease.

The oldest roses are still available today. Rosa gallica, called the “Apothecary Rose” was the type mentioned by Greek historians, used in dark age monastery gardens, and found in medieval physic gardens. This is the type most used for the fragrance of their essential oils and in healing preparations at the time. And today, when the roses bloom in Bulgaria, armies of old women go to the fields picking 250lbs (115kg) of petals to distill for each single ounce of essential oil.

Rose Hips
Rose Hips

The hips, containing vast amounts of Vitamin C, are best eaten fresh and raw, as heat and age will break this vitamin down quickly.  This vitamin is also used today on skin to topically reduce wrinkles.  Long considered a beauty aide, the leaves plucked early in the morning and placed over ones eyes are “cooling” and  said by Hildegarde “to relieve puffiness.”   The petals are edible too, and may be added to salads or desserts for color and flavor.

The rose has enjoyed various cultural significance through history. In Roman times, it meant success; in later days perhaps to excess as Nero nearly broke the state with his obsession for the flower.  The early Christian church, for this reason, condemned roses as depraved…until adopting the white Rosa alba as the emblem of the Virgin Mary.

Different meanings  were ascribed to each color of a rose in the Victorian era. These are the meanings largely used today: red roses for romantic love, white for your mother or someone who has died, and yellow roses for a friend. Now, there are also roses that bloom a silvery violet grey and some so dark that they bloom nearly black. I wonder what to make of that.

Musk Rose
Musk Rose

Planted in the yard, rose bushes, shrubs, and vines will all attract fairies. Fittingly, it is also said that roses grown from stolen cuttings are the ones that grow the best. There seem to be love analogies waiting in that one, too.  And, here is a secret from a Gypsy friend of mine: the petals of a rose, picked for one’s true love are the most potent aphrodisiac of all. Careful now…

For the modern Crafter, the rose has many uses.  The wood is very hard and may be used for making a protective and prophetic wand. Associated also with prophecy, a string of dried rose hips worn as a necklace will allow a young lady to “see” her future husband in dreams, as will drinking a tea made from rosebuds. And, Scott Cunningham assures us that even a single rose bud upon the altar will help greatly with love spells; just do be sure to remove the thorns first!


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Images courtesy of the author.

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