Rose Mentioned in the Works of Scientists of the Medieval East and Implications in Modern Science (2017)
K. Hüsnü Can Başer
Near East University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacognosy, Nicosia, TRNC, Mersin 10, Turkey

Rose is a common name given to the thorny shrubs and climbing vines of the genus Rosa (Rosaceae). More than 100 Rosa species have been recorded throughout the world. Because rose is a popular garden plant, it is virtually impossible to determine the number of currently existing cultivars [1]. The Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands identifies 24 Rosa species growing in this region [2]. Fossil records indicate that Rosa species have existed on the planet for at least 40 million years [3].

Rose in ancient civilizations: The earliest historical records on Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets indicate that rose became known to humans about 5,000 years ago. A clay tablet about Sargon I, King of Akkadia (2684-2630 BCE), records that the king brought rose saplings during his military campaign to the countries across the Tigris River. Because he formerly lived in the ancient city of Ur near Babylon, his trip was most probably to southeastern Anatolia (present-day Turkey) [4]. Assyrian tablets mention rose and rose water. Though it is impossible to identify the rose species discussed in these tablets, estimates can be for them being R. gallica, R. centifolia, R. moschata, or R. damascena of Anatolia. Cuneiform texts also indicate that the roses were boiled with water to produce a fragrant water. The very small quantities prescribed — as little as one carat (3 grains) [0.2 g] — illustrate their high price [5].

Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) described the astringent properties of rose, and the use of petals and flowers in medicine for head, ear, mouth, gum, tonsils, stomach, rectum, and uterus disorders. The flowers, made into an oxycrate (a mixture of water and vinegar), were said to arrest fluxes in females and blood-spitting. Liniment of the seeds was used for toothache and also as a diuretic. Its fragrance was recommended to be inhaled to clear the brain [6].

Dioscorides (40-90 CE) wrote on the cooling and astringent qualities of roses, and recommended the liquor of roses cooked in wine for treating headaches and ailments of the eyes, ears, gums, anus, and womb. Powdered, dried rose flowers were prescribed for pain of the gums by sprinkling on food [7].

According to an anonymous Syriac medical treatise of the 4th century CE, roses were used externally for eyes, mouth, foul breath, liver (as plaster), sores, and internally to treat the chest and stomach [8].

Astringent, cardiac and cephalic tonic properties of rose buds are mentioned in traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India. The petals are utilized for relieving uterine hemorrhage and are applied locally for mouth ulcers [9]. The oil or attar is used to disguise the unpleasant odor of certain ointments [10].

A confection of roses was made from fresh red rose petals, which were beaten and combined with refined sugar and then rubbed together (as a vehicle in the preparation of pills). The Hittites of Anatolia (1750-1180 BCE) knew rose as pillu and prepared medicines with it. However, it is not clear which species of rose they used [11].

There is evidence of the use of rose by the Minoan and Egyptian civilizations as early as 1600 BCE [12].

The Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BCE) wrote on the significance of rose within the Chinese Empire. According to Confucius, roses were highly esteemed by the Emperor during the Zhou dynasty and were planted in the Royal Gardens, and the Royal Library was supposed to have contained over 600 books on rose and rose cultivation [13].

Rose in Islamic culture and tradition: Oriental-Muslim poets used rose as one of the most important symbols within the mystical Muslim tradition known as Sufism. Rose is also considered a symbol of the prophet Muhammad, whose perspiration purportedly smelled of rose, and, therefore, rose oil and rose water are highly esteemed and often used in religious ceremonies and rituals throughout Turkey and the Middle East.

Each year during the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj, the black cloth of the Ka’ba (the holiest shrine in Islam, located at the mosque in Mecca) is sprinkled with rose water brought in from Iran or Turkey, and rose oil is burnt in Ka’ba’s oil lamps to emit rose fragrance to the environment.

Saint Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, died only after smelling the fragrant roses as a last wish. Therefore, the rose is also a significant symbol of the Bektashi order of Sufism. Rose is a recurring motif in Rumi’s (Mewlana) Masnawi with phrases like "Rose is sent to earth by the gardeners of paradise for empowering the mind and the eye of the spirit" [12].

History of rose oil and rose water: Rose oil and rose water are obtained by hydro-distillation of fresh rose material. According to literature records, distillation is a recent invention. Most attribute it to Arabs’ Alembic (9th century CE) and some attribute it to the alchemists of Alexandria (from 50 BCE onwards). According to one record, however, distillation using earthenware ceramic pots was first employed by the Indus Valley civilization (5000 BCE). The remnants of a distillation pot were excavated in Harappa (14).

These ancient distillation assemblies resemble the attar production stills used to this day in Kannauj, India, which distill fragrant materials in water and then trap the distillate in sandalwood (Santalum album, Santalaceae) oil. If rose flowers are used in distillation, the product is called "rose attar" or "rose otto." [14].

According to Mesopotamian clay tablets and unearthed extraction jugs dating back to 3500 BCE, Sumerians and Assyrians (1200 BCE) mastered the art of extracting fragrances. Fragrant materials were submerged in boiling water for a day and then drained. After adding oil, the mixture was slowly heated. The perfumes prepared with this method by the Assyrians were renowned [12].

Distillation as an art of extraction has been described in the works of medieval scientists Bakr Mohammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (854-925) Rhazes [15], Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi (936–1013) Albucassis, and Shams al-Din al-Ansari al-Dimashqi (1256–1327) in his Nuhbat ad-dahr [Ayasofya manuscript no. 2945] [16].

Rose in medieval Islamic medical texts: The three rose-derived drug products most predominantly discussed in ancient Islamic medical texts are rose water (distilled water of roses), rose confection or rose paste (a thick jam produced by blending roses with sugar or honey), and rose oil (made by steeping roses in either sesame seed oil or olive oil left under the sun) [12].

Rose products for stomach pain, ulcers, liver and mouth diseases, and sore throat were prescribed by Arab physician al-Kindi (9th century CE). Rose oil was used by him for burns, ulcerated wounds, and as an ingredient of hemorrhoid salves [17]. The refreshing effects of rose water were noted by Al-Dinawari (9th century CE) and he recommended it for fever. He also suggested the application of rose oil to the head for alleviating fever and for its calming effect. The therapeutic value of rose was esteemed by Bakr Mohammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (Rhazes). He stated that "the rose diminishes drunkenness" [12].

The great physician Ibn-i Sina (Avicenna, 11th century CE) was the first scientist to emphasize rose fragrance’s beneficial effects on the heart and the brain. He wrote "Because of its exquisite fragrance, the rose addresses the soul". "It has a calming effect and is highly beneficial for fainting and for rapid heartbeats." He praised rose water’s effects on mind and spirit, and its beneficial effects on brain function and cognitive power by stating "It enhances comprehension and strengthens memory" [18].

Like Ibn-i Sina, Ibn-Al-Baitar (13th century CE) also noted rose water’s beneficial effects on the brain by stating that it strengthens the mind and the brain, sharpens the senses, and increases the life force; it is beneficial for rapid heartbeat due to anxiety; because of its beneficial fragrance, it empowers the body. Ibn-Al-Baitar also stated that boiling rose water and exposing the head to its steam had healing effects and that it was especially beneficial for eye diseases. Additionally, he recommended inhalation of the steam to alleviate drunkenness and headaches [19].

In his famous medical book Kemaliye, Mahmud of Shirvan (15th century CE) described a powder prepared by crushing dried rose petals in a mortar for application to the neck, breast, and armpits after bathing — while the skin is still moist as a form of deodorant to the body and to "treat the spirit." He claimed that this scent empowered spirituality and purified the heart [20]. The same powder also is mentioned in the Edviye-i Müfrede (Simple Drugs) of Ishak bin Murat (14th century CE) for use in Turkish baths (hamams) as a remedy against scabies and pimples [21].

Rose lists