This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Red Rose leaves, if over-dried (for Pot pourri, and other uses), become resinous, and then acquire an unpleasant smell. The French perfumers manage to dry the Rose petals so that they will remain sweet, and good even in damp weather; whereas English dried petals "go back" when encountering any damp. Probably the resin which becomes formed in the dried petals makes them somewhat laxative when employed in the confection, and likewise antiseptic. Resin is common in vegetables, existing in combination with some volatile oil. Some resins seem to be oxidized essential oils; if combined with a food any such resin is beneficial because acting as a tonic to the mucous lining of the intestines, thus preventing the exudation therefrom of serum, and mucus. The rosined wine of Italy (see "Alcohol") is antiseptic, and as being resinous promotes intestinal digestion without relaxing the bowels. On tasting the Vino Vermuth at a Tuscan farm, or rustic Inn, the British pedestrian is apt to exclaim that the landlord has drawn the wine in a varnish pot.
But without doubt the wholesomeness of many Greek, and Italian native drinks is due to their preservation from decay, and from secondary fermentation, by the rosin, in place of fiery, and fuselly spirit.
Rare Secrets in Pkysick and Chirurgery (1653) orders as "a gentle purge" to "take one ounce of Damask Roses, eat it all at one time; fast for three-quarters of an hour after, then take a draught of broth, and dine." A syrup of Red Roses is dispensed by our chemists, which is slightly astringent, and esteemed for its rich colour "As the Roose in hys Redness is Richest of Fleures,"- is a quaint old maxim. "And the Rose itself," sang Keats, - "has got Perfume which on earth is not".
But that "there is no Rose without a thorn" is an adage as old as the hills.
"Ave, Rosa, spinis puncta, Ave spina Rosae juncta, Spinas poenae non peccati Portas Jesu, volens pati.
Hymn (Fifteenth Century).
Our main business here with Roses is how to use them for remedial purposes, such as recovery from sickness, and the maintenance of life. But in times long past the wealthy Greeks, and Romans, strewed these fragrant flowers on the tombs of departed friends, whilst poorer persons could only afford a small supplicatory tablet at the grave, bearing the pious prayer:-
"Sparge, precor, Rosas super mea busta, Viator! "
Nowadays most persons have an aversion to throwing a Rose into a newly-made grave, or even letting one fall in. However, Matthew Arnold was more sensible than this, and pathetically exclaimed respecting the funeral rites of a girl untimely dead:-
"Strew on her Roses, Roses, And never a spray of Yew! In quiet she reposes:
Ah! would that I did too! "
"The Rose," said a Roman, in times long ago, "was a harbinger of spring"-
"Cum Rosam viderat turn incipere ver arbitrabatur".
American physicians, notably Dr. Winternitz, find that a combination of the essence of Red Roses with birch-buds (powdered) is admirably remedial against dysentery; this has commanded quite a big price per pot through acquiring such a curative fame. Likewise Birch tea, made from the dried leaves, is remarkably helpful in relieving dropsy from obstructed kidneys; the leaves should be gathered, and dried in the early summer. Birch wine, concocted (Compleat Housewife, 1736) with the sap of the tree, adding honey, cloves, and lemon-peel, is fully discussed in Kitchen Physic. Another excellent method for making this is: After cutting an incision through the bark of a Birch tree, insert a small stone therein to act as a seton. Then suspend a bottle, or jar, so as to catch the juice which escapes from the wound. When enough has been collected, this is to be boiled for an hour, with a quarter of its volume of honey, adding a few cloves, some cinnamon, mace, and lemon-peel. The liquid is then to be fermented with yeast on toast in a tub covered lightly for three days, afterwards strained, and poured into bottles, which are to be kept uncorked until manifest fermentation has ceased; each bottle must be full before it is corked.
The infusion of Birch leaves is a reliable solvent of stone in the kidneys, even where other treatment by mineral waters, and drugs, has failed, so that a surgical operation seemed imperative. After taking the Birch tea for some while the stone has in each case begun to be dissolved, and has been passed by fragments in the urine. A teaspoonful of the powdered leaves is brewed in half a pint of boiling water for half an hour, this quantity being taken twice a day for six months continuously. Both the buds, and the young Twigs yield a volatile empyreumatic oil which is colourless, and volatile, having a pungent balsamic odour, the oil possessing a persistent fragrance of Russia leather; the bark affords "betulin." The fresh leaves are used to form a bed on which rheumatic patients lie, and which excites profuse perspiration. The oil is curative for skin eruptions, and for itch. "Dis-putandi pruritus fit ecclesice scabies".