featuring Multiflora Rose, Rugosa Rose and Blackberry.
The photos in this piece are a mix of my own, or the photos of others because I did not have a full collection to demonstrate examples of each plant. Those photos which were graciously shared with me are credited underneath. I will be filling in the photographic holes in this piece over time.
The first in a series of surveying Rose family plants across the U.S.
As I am about to hit the road to go to the Good Medicine Confluence in Durango, Colorado again this year (and my 3rd Plant Healer conference in the past 9 years), I find myself finishing this writing piece during Rose season across the country. I timed it that way for myself when scheduling my land capsule medicines and plant profiles for the year back when planning this project in the winter. The Rose medicine I have was made in a May past, but May nonetheless. Of course, Roses and Rose family members will flower earlier and later into the summer but something about May feels like the pinnacle moment for this plant! This year in February, I saw the Almonds (Rose family!) flower during a warm spell.
It feels good to dive into Rose and Blackberry and see other Rose family plants flowering on the trails in California, just this morning. I've found myself in past years living in North Carolina watching the cadence of these related plants come to bloom in intoxicating awe. It has me thinking and dreaming about other things that blossom at that time, of the pollen in the air, the sneezing, the high-speed energy of the farm and getting all the summer crops in the ground. I think about the Rose family fruit trees that flower in the Spring, in their own order and timing, sometimes getting hit by a frost. It is such a glorious gift to be a human that carries the cadence of the seasons in her body. From when I was a farmer, and the wild things and the cultivated things I planted for food and medicine, to the cultivated wild I would tend in and outside of the gardens, to being a nomadic herbalist. I still hold with me that which makes a Rose a Rose and how it feels to walk through its wall of blooms, no matter where I find myself.
This month's land capsules through the Ground Shots project features the 'Three Roses + Tulsi' Elixir. Indeed there are three components in the blend that are in the Rose family. But saying three Roses is slightly a misnomer- because one of the plants therein isn't actually a 'Rose' but a related Rubus bramble with tasty dark purple berries growing similarly and often alongside Multiflora Rose, another plant in the blend.
This 'Three Roses' thing came about after years of living at a farm outside of Asheville, NC, where come May every year, the pastures full of 'bramble' would come to life with aromatic five-petaled flowers. This land had been a farm overgrazed by cows even up to the front door of the old home place before Peter and Chama bought it around 20 years ago. They decided to let a portion of it re-wild, and other portions be rotating goat pasture or community living space with paths all around, the pasture getting cut every other year or so. In that time before cutting, the wild roses and blackberries would send up their first year shoots, which didn't produce berries, and we'd be able to walk around a bit in areas otherwise too thorny (though technically Rose's have 'prickles' not thorns, botanically speaking, according to Juliet Blankespoor/Meghan Gemma) to explore during that time. The second year without cutting, the berries would come from those same stalks, while more first year shoots would come in between berry-less yet again. The hedges would fill in and we couldn't walk straight lines anymore, unless we cut paths through the bramble ourselves. Peter and Chama would always cut the pastures in such a way that we had an abundance of blackberries every year. So much so that I found myself yearly picking from the hillsides for days on end in the heat of the longest moments of summer. I made 5 - 8 gallon batches of blackberry mead at a time which often exploded in the warm outdoor kitchen that we community members used, shooting blackberry seeds and pulp all over the ceiling and canned food. (My former community dwellers will laugh at the memory of that one) We'd make jams and jellies. Soda. Blackberry flavored Kombucha and Kefir water. Fruit leather. We'd also go during flower season and take an 'essence' of place by collecting the multiflora rose, blackberry flowers and honeysuckle flowers on the land and make the sweetest most delicious cordials to share. I remember Spring days of doing this with my friend Charity of The Long Red Thread / Mother Marrow with her then young daughter Lively (coincidentally alternatively named 'Thorn' in some circles) and later drinking the cordials by firelight in the depths of late summer nights.
While I harvested the flowers, berries, leaves and roots from this ever unfurling / scaling back / unfurling hedge of aromatic wonder woven between the living spaces of my cobb outhouse, the communal outdoor kitchen, our gardens and my cobb cottage home, I also spent just as much time 'cutting back' the 'chaos' being rightfully poked and prodded in return from the protective bramble. I'd spend hours in the humid air gloved covered in thick-canvased Carharts trying to carve paths into the center of giant groves to get the best berries, or cutting them out of and digging them up from the edges of garden beds we allotted for annual food or perennial herbs. I'd find enclaves where the birds made nests, or the deer made tiny beds to rest. I realized through this relationship with pokey and sharp brambles, and my tendency to stay away from parts of the farm that I could not traverse because of the thickets of prickle, that there was a purpose to these hedges. Besides helping to stabilize and remediate the worn soil, they provided habitat and food for other creatures like birds, deer and rabbits. I've even made art over the years to reflect my thoughts on the architecture of a 'thicket' and how amazing it is to watch other life form their homes and habits to the even growing and changing canes.
The Rose family
One of the first things that cues me into a plant possibly being in the Rose family, is the presence of five separate flower petals. Just this morning I was hiking along the Yuba river, and admiring the white five-petaled flowers of low growing Kitkitdizzie, looking very similar to that of Wild Strawberry or Multiflora Rose. Some members of this family form a bulbous hip like structure made from the combination of many flower parts after pollination, like Rose hips. These 'hips' house the collection of fruit-like seeds in a protective case. The flowers can grow clustered together or in singles, as I noticed in two different Cherry (Prunus) species on the land of the Buckeye Gathering last week near Paradise, California. The flowers tend to lean towards white, pink and red colors, but cultivars have expanded that to include colors like yellow and red-orange along with more complicated flower structures. The leaves can be simple (think Peach) or compound (think Rose) and usually with serrated leaf margins varying in expression.
Humans have a long relationship with this plant family, as many of our edible fruits come from it. This is especially seen in the Prunus and Rubus genus', which house some of our favorite berries and stone fruits. The cult of Rose tending along with the many varying cultivars of Rose that exist out there is another testament to the deep relationship between humans and Roses. I grew up with my grandma and dad looking in catalogs for their favorite cultivated Roses to sell or propagate at their nursery, or my dad answering the call to tend to sick old Rose plants in the yards of 100 - 200 year old farmhouses in our southern small town. It almost felt like a symbolic thing for a Rose bush to die. And no one wanted them to die. Also, In many parts of the United States and beyond, Serviceberries (Amelanchier) are a wild fruit in this plant family that have been a staple in native human diets for thousands of years. It is full of nutrition and calories, and was often mixed with dried fish or other meat. Many other Rose family plants historically have been used by humans, and in other write-ups I do in the future, I will cover some of those plants and more.
A handful of plants in this family :
Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia, Blackberry Rubus spp., Wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius, Raspberry Rubus spp., Black Raspberry Rubus occidentalis, Kitkitdizzie Chamaebatia foliolosa, Serviceberry Amelanchier spp., Plum Prunus spp., Peach Prunus spp., Apple Malus spp., Cherry Prunus spp., Wild Strawberries Fragaria spp., Hawthorn Crataegus spp., Apricot Prunus spp., Mountain Mahogany Cercocarpus spp., Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor), Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) , Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus)
Multiflora rose is touted as a tenacious invasive plant. I remember being set to the task of digging up a hedge with other interns in a planted Slippery Elm patch at the Goldenseal Sanctuary in southeast Ohio, and having so much more respect for the plant after our attempts, and seeing the tremendous roots we dug up. Many love to 'hate' the plant, and if you google it, you'd see that it is at the top of the invasive species lists wherever it is found. The thing about invasive species like this, is that obviously it is here for a reason, despite as humans being responsible for bringing it over as an ornamental and ecological band-aid to our bad grazing or development practices.
It can grow as a bushy shrub in fields or in the woods, often replacing habitat for native plants, or helping protect areas from human entrance. It can also grow up trees a bit or over other plants with its trailing spreading habit. Birds help to disperse the seeds.
I love to use this plant for Rose medicine, because I feel like its invasive abundance is a gift we must use. With plants like these, despite the pro and cons of invasives, most of what we could do to try to get rid of it won't work. Multiflora is likely here to stay, and while we shouldn't necessarily plant it in our gardens, we should harvest the flowers and fruits.
It has a unique and astringent flavor, with notes that are light and floral. The flavor and aroma is not as deep and rich as other Roses. It is a gentle aid for the heart and gently guards old traumas, letting out the birds that need to flutter free through the small hooked prickles and keeping the nests safe not letting the big guys in, yet willing to move and morph like my drawing meditated on above (Thorn medicine is another whole topic, of which many herbalists have written about or made medicine using). The flower petals are small and delicate and usually light pink to white and take awhile to collect, but usually blossom in great numbers across Multiflora thickets. They grow in the country and the city, by the river or the woods. They can be found in alleyways or the side of the goat barn. It shows up where there has been disturbance, and will hold the soil together tightly in a field that wants to become a forest again. Sometimes staying put, or moving on once a forest has established.
Harvesting in the morning or evening when the aroma is most concentrated and the dew is heavier in the air, makes the most sense for this Rose species.
My first glimpses of Rosa Rugosa was while traveling along the Maine coast, where it has naturalized close to the ocean, in beautiful colorful groves. It is possibly one of the favorite Rose species to use among herbalists because of its deep and magical aroma. It is also one of the easiest species to grow, popping out large tasty and strong scented flowers. Both Multiflora and Rugosa have been used in propagation as rootstock for other Rose varieties because of their resilient nature. In some places, Rugosa Rose is considered invasive because of its growth habit. It isn't so much in the Southeast, or in California, where I see it planted here and there.
I was given the task a few times to pick Rugosa Rose petals from my teacher Juliet Blankespoor's plants to make into medicine when I apprenticed with her, and I have to say it was one of my favorite tasks. By the end of the session, I felt my heart open in kind comfort.
Infusing the petals and leaves in vinegar for a topical astringent or facial toner, Rose is a divine choice for self-care. Infused in alcohol and made into a tincture, it is amazing used regularly for anxiety, depression, and used in small doses during moments where an energetic shift is needed. It can be a gentle opening plant, act as an aphrodisiac. It is a medicine to play with for each person, and their individual story and needs. The hips are super high in Vitamin C, and great dried and stored for winter tea brewing. It has been cultivated for thousands of years around the world for its aroma in perfume, use as medicine in ancient herbal traditions, for its beauty and used to anoint, clean and refresh the body and spirit. There could be whole books written about the spirit of this plant and its medicine, and this mention is just the tip of the iceberg for what Rose has to offer.
I wouldn't recommend using highly cultivated species for medicine! Especially since many of those require chemicals to grow.
Some other Roses / Rosa genus.
( I don't have good quality photos of Blackberry in my collection, so I will be filling in here as I gain them)
Oh Blackberry. The ultimate protector and regenerator. The tastiest berries I could live on in summer. That which stains my white shirts while collecting in July sun. That which comes and goes when needed. As I mentioned in the story above, Blackberry has an ecological strategy of coming into unused fields and taking over with its cycles of shooting up canes. Like I mentioned, and like other Rubus species, Blackberry sends up a fresh succulent shoot from its roots, and the first year the plant is taking time to store energy and build its body to be woody and healthy. After a winter of dormancy, the shoot has toughened up and saved enough energy to flower and fruit. After fruiting and going to seed, then the stalk dies. Producing more brambly habitat. But at the same time, another shoot will come up. People cut back their cultivated Blackberries, Raspberries, Black Raspberries, or mow their fields because it jump starts this process again and gives the plants room to fill up more space. They vary in invasiveness, Himalayan blackberries for example tend to be more so in certain areas. The fruits (which are actually clusters of many fruits) vary in juiciness and size according to place, species and habitat. The flowers are also white or white pink and five petaled. The leaves are palmate and compound resembling Buckeye, Marijuana or Ginseng leaves in its structure, most often with five leaflets when mature but sometimes found with 1-3. The canes are angular and dark colored, a distinguishing characteristic of the plant.
Related species it is often confused with as mentioned before: Wineberry (red fruits, sticky red hairy/thorny stalks, also invasive in some locations, photo above), Black Raspberry (dark colored fruits that are smaller and delicate, often falling apart in the hands. The stalks are glaucous and round, fruits pictured above), Raspberry (red fruits pictures above).
Blackberry medicinally is most known for use of its root as a strong astringent internally in cases where moderate diarrhea is present from any number of causes or imbalances. It's leaves can be used topically as astringent or internally for a nourishing but slightly drying tea, especially good for toning the uterus for folks that have them. This is the case especially with related Raspberry leaf, Wineberry leaf and other Rubus species. I like to collect the flowers like I do with Rose, and while it has a slight aromatic astringency too, the medicine has a different subtlety. It harnesses the energy of confidence and pushing through fear, starting new, starting over and moving forward. Movement, energy, luck, forward motion. This feels like it relates to Rose medicine's tending of the heart, fears, anxieties and boundaries. I combine this medicine with Rose because they feel like allies of each other. They often grow together, flower close together or a few weeks apart, and it just feels right to keep them together.
Ground Shots Land Capsules : ROSE + TULSI
For our May Land Capsules, we are sending out #15 1/2 oz 'Three Roses and Tulsi Elixirs' to tend to the heart, made from Roses I picked or grew and Tulsi I grew on my family's farm. This month's capsule will also include a linocut print of Poison Oak and Poison Ivy which is fully leafed out in protective glory now. You will also receive a pack of aromatic plant matter from the road (as I am traveling in the west this month) and a small folded page zine, in addition to a short letter addressing land capsule patrons. You can find out more information here.
CONSIDER SPONSORING THESE PLANT PROFILES AT $1/MONTH.
I spend sometimes over 20 hours or more putting each of these profiles together, which I release to patrons first and then free to the public. They are an ongoing documentation of my personal research into plants while traveling to meet them over and over and going further along ecological webs to expand my understanding first hand in the field. They are also influenced by my time staying put in my avid family tradition of farming and tending plants in one place, which seems to be juxtaposed by extreme periods of travel. I am not claiming to be an expert and welcome any noted additions needed or alterations to be made. I release these profiles first to all patrons $1 / up on Patreon, and your support will help alleviate the personal money I've put into prioritizing this research over the past many years. It will also help me continue the work that I feel like gives a unique perspective to the broader communities that this can affect. I am a perpetual student to the land and desire to understand it as deeply as possible (which means the more you know, the more you realize you don't know) and share that reflection with others, especially in this age where so much takes our attention and distracts us from this reflection.
Other Rose medicine write-ups / resources / medicine suggestions:
Stuart, John D. and Sawyer, John O. Trees and Shrubs of California. The University of California Press. Berkeley: 2001.
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe: 2003.
Website / Book. Gemma, Meghan and Blankespoor, Juliet. Rose family, Rose, Blackberry plant profiles. Online Foraging Course. Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Asheville, NC: 2018.
Wikicommons. Blackberry photos. Wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28045708)
Thank to folks who offered photos for this piece. I will be filling in the missing pieces as time goes on. (More photos of cane and thorn comparisons, other Rose species, cultivated Roses, and winter looks)