Rose isn’t a very common herb in an average herbal apothecary, in that there isn’t a physical ailment with which someone might think, ‘ah, Philip has xxx, we’ll give him Rose’, as might be the case with herbs like thyme or cramp bark. Rose is very much a herb of emotion, spirit and experience. The first time I really experience the bliss of Rose, I was about 15 and we were on holiday in the South of France. We visited one of the gardens of an estate, which were the lushest I have ever seen. We walked around for quite some time, and I smelled all the flowers, something I’ve always done, even as a small child. I can remember feeling alive and cheerful, something I rarely felt during those times. It was then that I realised/remembered that plants were important to me and when I was inspired to start my own herb garden. It was also the first time I made a link between the way I felt and the presence of plants, although it wasn’t a very conscious realisation, and it didn’t lead to working with plants on that level. I did continue to smell plants though.
As a child and a teenager I have always been ‘into’ plants. I had a little mint plant growing in my vegetable plot, as well as a rosemary plant. I still remember the first time I smelt the rosemary, I was so surprised about the smell, that there was a possibility for such a smell. I’ve always enjoyed smelling plants, and of course roses are one of the top nice smelling herbs. In my school we had a type of dog rose growing, and I remember putting my nose in them regularly. The fruits were used by the children to tease others with, claiming they contained ‘itching powder’. Smelling roses and other plants were an important way into the plants for me when I was younger, as I had quite some mysophobia, a disorder within the ocd spectrum related to being afraid of dirty things. I had it even as a small child, I would not drink twice from the same glass. I probably used about ten different glasses a day, as in my mind the glass was dirty if it had stood for longer than the time it took to drink what is in it. After my visit to the estate gardens in France, I started a herb garden in my parents garden. I had quite a big plot next to the house and loads of plant pots on the terrace. I grew a lot of herbs, different types of mint, rosemary, thyme, rue, every plant I could find at our local farmer’s market. And even though I loved them, and I loved seeing them grow, and I was really into the idea of using them, I very rarely tasted them out of this weird disgust of anything dirty. I remember one particular case when I was probably about 17, I heated up some water, took an elderflower head off our bush in the garden, put it in a cup and poured water in it. I smelled it, had one sip, spit it out and threw out the tea. Mysophobia. Only in my 20s I got over this. And still I have the tendency to drink a glass of something in one go.
Back then it was a dream to have more rose bushes in the garden, as I had seen in the estate gardens. As those were quite expensive, I only convinced my mother to get one English garden rose bush. It didn’t really thrive in the garden and I’ve always felt a bit of a preciousness with rose, a knowing that there usually weren’t ‘enough’ roses for the projects I found for it in my herb book.
One of the most remarkable experiences with Rose was the during the first radical herbalism gathering in 2013, during my herbal teacher Nathaniel Hughes’s talk. I can still remember the experience very well, see the people around me, visualise the experiences people shared. With the question, what type of person would this be, someone said, someone sensual, a young woman.
In September 2014 I lead my first rose meditation for a group of people I didn’t know. It was organised by Infinite Seeds, an organisation run by a friend of mine. We were 6 in total, with 2 sisters participating. I still remember the aversion one of the sisters had against the rose. She said it smelled and tasted like it suffocated her. She was ‘the sceptic’ of the group and somehow she was the one who had the strongest reaction. Apparently her grandmother used some kind of strong smelling rose soap and she was a harsh and suppressive woman in the eyes of her granddaughter. I think it was a good experience for this person to have this experience and be witnessed and supported by her sister during it. It was her sister who had persuaded her to come. I love these experiences, how plants connect us with ourselves and each other, how they remind us of certain things that only our bodies have remembered. They work in mysterious ways….