Posted by Emma
Why every aromatherapist and natural skin care producer should know about rosehip seed oil
The Joy of Roses
If you grow roses in your garden you have probably noticed that they recently sprouted fresh new leaves. This growth burst should soon be followed by the appearance of delicate new buds, which will open into gloriously-scented summer blooms. If you have a dog rose (Rosa canina), or another variety of wild rose such as Rosa rubiginosa or Rosa rugesa, you can expect even more gifts. Come autumn, distinctive bright red fruits, commonly called Rosehips, will take the place of the faded flowers. As well as being cottage garden favourites, these hip-bearing wild roses can often be found gracing British parks, hedgerows and woodlands. Aromatherapists will notice that hip producing rose varieties do not include Rosa damascena and Rosa Centifolia, which give us our much loved rose essential oils, hydrolats and absolutes.
An Ancient Remedy
Rosehips have been valued since ancient times. Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist and philosopher (amongst other titles on his job description), recommended rosehips for toothache and as a diuretic. It seems the value of these little red fruits were also known in Ancient Greece, China and beyond. Native Americans consumed them fresh, dried, cooked, juiced and as teas to treat a wide range of conditions including coughs, sore throats, kidney problems and intriguingly to speed up childbirth. Cross the Atlantic to Europe where the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper recommended them for coughs, colds and ‘spitting blood’.
Rosehips are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Encouraged by the British government, they were eaten widely during World War 2 when imports of citrus fruits were limited. They are also rich in the essential fatty acids linolenic and linoleic acid. Essential fatty acids are essential for health but not manufactured by the body, hence the importance of including them in our diet. Once the tiny hairs are removed today’s foragers still transform these nutritious fruits into tasty syrups, jams and jellies. Rosehips can also be used to flavour vinegars which nicely spruce up salad dressings and marinades. Incidentally, the little hairs contained within the hips were reputedly used by mischievous children in by-gone days as itching powder. So take care when preparing rosehips, as the hairs have a skin irritant action. Rosehips also have a reputation for being mildly diuretic and laxative, so perhaps go easy on the quantity consumed in a single sitting.
The vitamin C content is only a small fraction of what the plant has to offer. in Ancient American cultures, every part of the rose bush was put to use to cure a long list of ailments. The seeds were cooked and ingested to relieve muscular pain. The roots were used as an instringent for diarrhea, conjunctivitis. The petals were used as a bactericide for cuts and minor wounds. A poultice made with the leaves would soothe insects stings and bites. Even the bark was put into use. Roses were known to be a useful remedy to treat disorders of the digestive and urinary tract.
Rose and all its parts have an essential role to play in the kitchen medicine cupboard.
Picking and Pressing
In aromatherapy, the therapeutic potential of rosehips is harnessed by pressing the seeds to extract their naturally occurring oil. Picking and pressing is a labour intensive and lengthy process, as Jan Kusmeric clearly explains in his 2002 book Liquid Sunshine. This explains why Rosehip oil is necessarily priced higher than some other base oils. Rosehip oil also has a relatively short shelf life (it is high in polyunsaturated acids), so unless you produce skin care products on a large scale it may be prudent to purchase small quantities at a time, to minimise waste and to ensure your supply stays fresh. These days the best quality commercial oils mostly hail from Chile, extracted from roses which grow wild in the mountainous Andes.
It is always a joy to pour this oil into my blending bowl and I love surprising clients with its rosy colour. The glorious golden-red hues are courtesy of carotenoides (naturally occurring colour pigments). In aromatherapy rosehip oil is most commonly added to creams, salve, lotions and other skin preparations on account of its excellent skin regeneration properties. It is particularly well known for helping to reduce the appearance and texture of scar tissue. It is also useful for treating burns, sun damaged skin, stretch marks and bruises.
Aromadermatology authors Buck and Bensouilah recommend applying rosehip oil to shingles and chickenpox affected skin, once the inflammatory phase of the disease has passed, where they suggest combining it with other skin-nourishing base oils such as jojoba and avocado. In his 1999 book Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy & Massage Len Price recommends rosehip oil to treat eczema, amongst other uses. Rosehip oil is also often added to preparations for wrinkles and mature skin, another area in which it has a long history of use.
In short, rosehip oil deserves to be part of every aromatherapist and natural skin care specialist’s tool kit. Its wide sphere of therapeutic action means that if you produce skin care products commercially, or if you make massage blends for clients, or if you keep a stock of oils solely for personal use, you will find yourself reaching for that bottle of rosy rosehip oil very soon.