American writer Gertrude Stein once said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” I emphatically disagree. Roses vary in multiple ways, and some even have medicinal benefits.
In cooking, body care and health supplements, the part of the rose most often used is the petals. Roses have astringent phytochemical properties and can also be used medicinally to address emotional issues, such as depression and loss. Most rose varieties produce hips, the fruit of the rose, which is used medicinally for its high levels of vitamin C.
One of the most common questions I get as a rose farmer (yes, there is such a thing) is about the kind of rose we grow. Here at our farm we choose varieties for the petals and the hips. The next most common question I get is if the home gardener can use their hybrid tea roses for the same health applications. The hybrid tea rose is a very delicate member of this family and isn’t very useful from a healing standpoint.
If you want to grow roses for medicinal purposes in your home garden, here are some varieties and their uses.
1. Rosa rugosa
The Rugosa rose (pictured above) is the rose that we grow on our farm. It’s a very hardy shrub rose that is a good choice for zones 3 to 9. Here in Ohio, it’s almost impossible to kill. We grow it in full sun, but it can take some partial shade, though you might not get as many blooms. There are many varieties of R. rugosa: Just look for a color and scent that you like, and you’ll soon have a very large shrub filled with beautiful roses. There is very little need for pruning, and suckers can be controlled by mowing next to your beds.
You can harvest flowers and hips from this type of rose. The flowers bloom in late May to early July here in Ohio. The hips are best after a light frost in the fall.
2. Rosa canina
If you source rosehips from an online herbal retailer or read about them in a book, it’s like that it’s referring to the dog rose, which is grown specifically by those looking to harvest only the hips. The shape of the fruit on this rose is more elongated than hips that set on other rose varieties. This shrub is a little less hardy, successfully growing in zones 3 to 7. There is some evidence that R. canina hips contain more vitamins and minerals than other rose varieties.
3. Rosa damascena
The belle of the ball, this beautiful rose is the premium source of rose essential oil. The best is grown in Bulgaria, but you may find this rose growing in large areas of cultivation throughout Europe and the Middle East, hardy between zones 5 and 9. This variety is a bit finicky and requires more pruning than the other two. If you would like to grow R. damascena, look for either the autumn or summer varieties. Get yours reserved now because they sell out very early at all retailers every year.