The International Herb Association

Passing Through Time and Tastes

Karen O'Brien

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Rosa Van Fleet The lovely and fragrant 'Van Fleet' rose

The rose, often referred to as the "Queen of Flowers," is practical, sensuous, beautiful, and revered by many. Found throughout the world, its long history of use and cultivation and its enduring nature make the rose one of the most loved of flowers.

Fossil evidence of roses dating to 32 million years ago has been uncovered in Oregon and Colorado. Petals of Rosa ricardii have been unearthed from Egyptian tombs, having been used in elaborate funerary bouquets from the Ptolemaic period (305 to 30 B.C.). Early Greek mythology credits the origin of the rose to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, whose birth created sea foam, which turned into white roses, signifying purity and innocence.

The survival of the rose as a plant throughout the ages was ensured by its botanic design. The five petals of simple, single roses are attractive to insects, guaranteeing pollination. The prickles, or thorns, make the foliage less likely to be decimated by browsing animals. The seedy rosehips, or fruit, are eagerly eaten by birds, and deposited far and wide through their elimination. Early man must have valued and protected the plant, as its flowers and hips and even young shoots were not only tasty, but nourishing too.

Roses are often thought of by many as a symbol of love. In the far East, the rose was considered a symbol of virtue; in Rome it symbolized festivity. Though roses were not known to be used in Egypt until later pharaonic times, the Egyptians associated the rose with silence. The custom of adorning a ceiling with roses as a reminder to never repeat anything spoken beneath (sub rosa) may be a usage borrowed by the Romans from the Egyptians as the Roman Empire expanded.


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Karen O'Brien runs her herbal business "The Green Woman's Garden" in the central Massachusetts town of Mendon. She grows herbs, heirloom vegetables and ornamental flowers, runs workshops on various herbal adventures, and occasionally participates at farmers' markets and fairs. She has gardened for more than 30 years and is certified as a Master Gardener. She is the Development Chair of The Herb Society of America; currently serves as Vice Chairman of the New England Unit of H.S.A.; is Secretary of the International Herb Association; sits on the Board of the Greenleaf Garden Club of Milford; and serves as State Advocate for "Leave No Trace".

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