Rosa gallica, the French rose, mother of roses

Rosa gallica is one of three types of ancient roses linked to those found in modern gardens.  Dr. C. C. Hurst (1870-1947) of Cambridge determined that the other two types—Damasks and Albas—have Rosa gallica their genes, upholding her reign as mother of roses. Her most popular variety through the ages has arguably been the Apothecary rose, grown in Medieval gardens for its medicinal properties.

She is a large deciduous shrub with petals most commonly colored in shades of pink and purple. Growing up to six feet tall and three feed in diameter, she flowers from June to July.  Her fruit, the famous rose hip, ripens until October.

Each flower has at least five petals. Many have more petals or even flowers within flowers, a.k.a double-flowered. Up to four flowers can be arranged in clusters.

Simple-Flowered French Rose, Rosa Gallica Maheka (flore simplici) from Les Roses (1817–1824) by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Library of Congress. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Hardy and determined, Rosa gallica are famous for tolerating cold down to -25°C. Her varieties can be grown in USDA hardiness zones four through eight; they can be widely grown in every state except Hawaii. They flourish in almost all types of well-drained soil, even heavy clay. And while preferring full sun, can tolerate shade as well.

Rosa gallica is loved for its strong, spicy scent. In fact, today it is widely cultivated in Eastern Europe for its petals’ essential oils—rose absolute—and its rose hips’ oil. Its petals are edible, often used fresh in salads or as garnishes. Once dried, they can be steeped for tea.

Her seeds are also edible, and can be ground into powder that boosts vitamin E in any recipe. And perhaps most notably, rose water can be cold infused and has been used as a tonic and perfume throughout the ages. Take heed though, do not eat the seed hairs. They cause irritation to the mucosa if the gastro-intestinal tract.

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