Blue Lotus & Mandrake

Blue Waterlily AKA Blue Lotus

What do blue lotus and mandrake have in common?
For one thing, I spotted both growing wild in Ein Afek nature reserve, the remnants of the wetlands of the Na'aman river, whose origin springs are just southeast of the beautiful city of Akko. Secondly, both have hallucinogenic properties, and were valued by herbalists, magicians, shamans and witches for thousands of years.

Blue Waterlily
Blue Lotus (Nymphea caerulea) is truly a blue waterlily, highly prized by the Egyptians, who treated this plant that grew in abundance along the Nile Valley. Nowadays, it is a scarce plant that grows in marshes and ponds in that area. The flower blooms only for 3 days, in which it rises 20-30cm above the water, opening around sunrise, between 7:30-8:00am and closing around noon, a cycle that echoes the solar rising and setting.

To the ancient Egyptian imagination, the yellow centre with its shooting yellow stamens set agains the blue flower symbolized the sun set in the azure Egyptian skies, and associated the "sacred lily of the Nile" with the sun god Ra. Blue lotus plays a role in an even earlier Egyptian myth - a myth of creation, which tells how the flower rose from "Nun" - the chaos - even before the sun itself was created.

"I am the pure Lotus which springeth up from the divine splendor that belongeth to the nostrils of Ra. I have made--my way--, and I follow on seeking for him who is Horus. I am the pure one who cometh forth out of the Field." (The Papyrus of Nu).

Garlands of blue lotus were found in tombs and are portrayed and mentioned in the Book of Coming Forth by Day (AKA Egyptian Book of the Dead) - the guide for the soul in the afterlife.  "Transformation Into Lotus" is described in both in the papyrus of Nu and the papyrus of Paqrer. Blue lotus was also found in countless frescos and decorations on various ritual chalices. The priests would steep  the flowers in wine and harness its narcotic and hallucinogenic properties in their rituals to reach a state of ecstasy.  The flower's naturally occurring amorphine, nuciferine and nornufcferine are what give it hallucinogenic properties.

The Egyptians would steep the flowers in wine, thus creating a narcotic concoction that was used for ritual by their priests. Additional ancient mention of lotus' hallucinogenic properties are the Lotophagi ("Lotus Easters") in Homer's Odyssey.

Mandrake Flowers
Few plants are as intriguing as the Mandrake - a highly poisonous plant from the nightshade family that is native to the Mediterranean and most of Europe. The species that grows in Isarel is the Mandragora autumnalis, and it's been mentioned twice in the bible:
“The mandrakes send out their fragrance; and at our door is every delicacy; both new and old; that I have stored up for you, my beloved.” - Song of Songs 7:13

And in the book of Genesis an elaborate story of jealousy and seduction takes place, involving the two sisters (and wives of Jacob) Rachel and Leah. Reuben finds mandrakes in the field and gives them to his mother, Leah. She has been neglected by Jacob for quite some time in favour of her barren sister. And so she trades the mandrakes with Rachel for a night with their shared husband. Rachel agrees, in hopes that the aphrodisiac power of the mandrakes will open her womb. From that night with Jacob, Leah's fifth child is conceived.

It is unclear from the story which part of the mandrake was used. The elaborate root systems of mandrakes, which often looks like a human, has a folklore reputation of solving infertility. There has been much myth about uprooting the mandrakes, without disturbing the little demon underground. A renown technique has been to tie a dog to the plant so that the dog would absorb the plant's curse once uprooted. Reuben must have gone through a lot of trouble to help his mother!

The fruit, on the other hand, have an intoxicating aroma that supposedly is enough to arouse the most frigid person on earth. I am yet to see this golden fruit or smell it in person, but I've been told it smells like pineapple. The fruit is the most edible part of this toxic plant, although one must be careful not to consume any of its peel or seeds. It is for a reason that it's Arabic name is "Tufah el Majnun" - Apples of the Insane.

Finding the mandrakes in such close proximity to the rare blue lotus was inspirational to me and sparks the imagination. Whether if it its their colour or the myth surrounding them, this is a theme I intend to go back to when I'm next brewing in my lab.

Lotus: A Thousand Petals of Transformation

Pink Lotus

The lotus is an important symbol in several Eastern cultures. There is an ancient confusion between two equally beautiful and elusive water flowers: the true lotus (Nelumbo) and the water lily (Nymphaea). However, both carry very similar meaning symbolically and spiritually. Both plants grow out of the depths of mire and rise above them with a blossoming purity. The flowers in both cases possess an impressive visual appearance and a corresponding intoxicating perfume.

Blue Waterlily

Let's begin with Ancient Egyptians, who referred to the so-called "blue lotus" (Nympheae cerulea) really a blue water lily) with much reverence. In Ancient Egypt blue lotus was abundant all around the Nile Valley. Nowadays, it is a scarce plant that grows in marshes and ponds in that area. The flower blooms only for 3 days, in which it rises 20-30cm above the water, opening around sunrise, between 7:30-8:00am and closing around noon, a cycle that echoes the solar rising and setting.

To the ancient Egyptian imagination, the yellow centre with its shooting yellow stamens set agains the blue flower symbolized the sun set in the azure Egyptian skies, and associated the "sacred lily of the Nile" with the sun god Ra. Blue lotus plays a role in an even earlier Egyptian myth - a myth of creation, which tells how the flower rose from "Nun" - the chaos - even before the sun itself was created.

"I am the pure Lotus which springeth up from the divine splendor that belongeth to the nostrils of Ra. I have made--my way--, and I follow on seeking for him who is Horus. I am the pure one who cometh forth out of the Field." (The Papyrus of Nu). 

Garlands of blue lotus were found in tombs and are portrayed and mentioned in the Book of Coming Forth by Day (AKA Egyptian Book of the Dead) - the guide for the soul in the afterlife.  "Transformation Into Lotus" is described in both in the papyrus of Nu and the papyrus of Paqrer. Blue lotus was also found in countless frescos and decorations on various ritual chalices. The priests would steep  the flowers in wine and harness its narcotic and hallucinogenic properties in their rituals to reach a state of ecstasy.  The flower's naturally occurring amorphine, nuciferine and nornufcferine are what give it hallucinogenic properties.

Blue lotus is not the only waterlily grown in Egypt. There was also the white waterlily (Nympheae lotus) which blooms at night and had only aesthetic use.

Flower of Enlightenment 
Pink Lotus

Another noteworthy waterlily is the Indian Blue Lotus (Nymphaea stiletto), which is sacred to the Buddhists and the Hindus. Buddha is said to sit on a lotus (Padma), and practitioners of meditation and yoga prefer the Padmāsana (AKA Lotus Pose), which literally means "lotus throne", a position that allows a completely straight spinal cord, redirect the blood flow from the legs to the belly, and creates pressure on the lower spine which along with the still position, initiates a calmer state of mind and provides less physical distractions while meditating. The lotus is also a symbol to the Sahasrana, the crown chakra, which has 20 layers of 50 petals each, in all the spectrum of colours.

The Buddhist consider lotus a symbol of Dharma (creation). In Hindusim, the lotus symbolizes the transformation from decay and transcendence above one's  muddled material existence to achieve something greater. Interestingly, Hindu mythology also consider lotus to be the home of their sun deity.

"There is no need to distinguish between lotus and the waterlily because it is recorded in the sutras 'the lotuses of heaven can change according to people's wishes, flowering when needed'. In this way, they bring joy to the hearts of all. There is no need to declare one false and the other real. both are called the wondrous lotus flowers" 
(Roman Keiser, Meaningful Scents Around the World p. 121).

Lotus Bud
If the lotus flower is enlightenment, lotus bud is the potential for the unfolding of the thousand petals.

Merging the Spiritual and the Fragrant
In my early days as a perfumer, I was guided by an insatiable thirst to harness the aromatic potential of plants in spiritual practice of meditation and incense-making. The Perfumes of the Zodiac were part of this process of my spiritual quest, as they are truly a study of human personality in all its many nuances and variation. This was the first collection I created. Lotus was the connecting link between two of the three water signs:

Scropio is the most firey water sign of all. If Cancer is the deep and wide ocean with all of its tides and waves, and Pisces is a babbling brook – than Scorpio is a deep, dark lake in the throat of a lava-mountain, bubbling with heat deep down. Scorpio signifies transformation, and therefore, the essence of lotus is particularly fitting for this perfume. Lotus being a beautiful, pure and fragrant, sacred flower that rises from the dirty swamps of decay and darkness. Other essences in Scorpio Perfume were chose for their association with Mars and the warlike qualities it represents: opoponax, choya loban (burnt benzoin), black pepper and blood orange. I also chose tuberose for its intensity and for supporting the fragility of the lotus flower.

If water means change, than Pisces is the epitome of water. It is changeable and mutable and lively like a cheerful little fish swimming in the brook – sometimes upstream, perhaps… Pisces is intuitive, spiritual, sensitive and emotional. Like Sagittarius, it is ruled by Jupiter.
The essences I chose for Pisces are moist and mossy, and being the end of the zodiac year's cycle are not unlike the decaying of leaves in the forest, on which new vegetation will strive.
Oakmoss, seaweed, amber, juniper, jasmine, lotus and sage make Pisces a simple yet interesting Chypre composition that has salty undertones.

Lotus Harvest

Lotus harvest - photo courtesy of Christopher McMahon of White Lotus Aromatics

Lotus originates in Kashmir, but has travelled with the monks all over Southeast Asia. It grows wild in the ponds of the East Indian jungles. Unlike modern Western perfumers, the East Indian perfumers actually distill their own essence. They are in touch with the plants in their original raw state, and at times even pick them from the wild. Using a light, portable copper still, the perfumer can carry it on his back while entering the wilderness to collect flowers in their blooming season, be it from the coast, the jungle or the pond. To harvest both the lotus and water lily, the perfumer must immerse themselves to the waist in the very murky waters from which they've ascended.

"Lotus Effect"
Lotos Effect
The surface of the lotus is observed on leaves that have water-repelling (ultrahydrophobic) properties. What happened is that the water slides off the leaf and cleans it from impurities such as dust, dirt, etc. In effect, this is a self-cleaning mechanism of the lotus plant, as well as many other superhydrophobic leaves. This is what creates the impressive effect of perfectly pearly drops of water on certain leaves.

Medicine and Myth
Homer's Odyssey tells us about the "Lotophagi" or "Lotus-eaters" - people who live on an island full of lotus plants, and who rely on it entirely for nourishment. As a result, they are in a constant state of peaceful slumber and comfortable oblivion. Perhaps he was referring to the ancient world's junkies: lotus flowers are a hallucinogenic. The Egyptian steeped the blue lotus flowers in wine to create a narcotic concoction that was used by priests in sacred rituals.

Lotus leaves have interesting chemistry, that makes them potentially valuable for medicine, with the following properties (please do not interpret any of the following as medicinal advice or prescription - they are intended for your botanical and cultural interest only):
Astringent; Cancer; Cardiotonic; Febrifuge; Hypotensive; Resolvent; Stomachic; Styptic (and used to treat various conditions such as excessive bleeding); Tonic; Vasodilator.  In TCM, it is also considered an aphrodisiac, calming and cooling, nutritive tonic, nervine.

However it does not seem like this potential was utilized yet in modern medicine. All parts of  the lotus, but particularly the root and seeds, remain a core ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The following are some examples for medicinal applications of various plant parts which I have gathered online. Most of the medicinal preparations are decoctions - method of extraction in which, much like the traditional brewing pf Turkish coffee, the plant matter is boiled to dissolve its active chemicals. TCM uses both the rhizomes or leaves, usually in conjunction with other herbs, to treat "sunstroke, fever, diarrhoea, dysentery, dizziness, vomiting of blood, haemorrhoids. The whole plant is used as an antidote to mushroom poisoning" (Source: MDidea).

Leaf: juice from the leaves is used to treat Diarrhea. TCM
Flowers: a decoction is prepared from the flowers and the flower to treat premature ejaculation and as a cardiac tonic; and from the flower's receptacle (torus) to treat abdominal cramps and bloody discharges. TCM use the pounded petals for syphilis. In Java they are also used for cosmetic unguents.
Flower Stalk: Haemostatic (stops bleeding), and used in instances such as leading ulcers, heavy menstruation and postpartum hemorrhage. TCM  uses the flower stalk with other herbs to treat uterine bleeding.
Stamens: Diuretic, urinary frequency, premature ejaculation and uterine bleeding.
Fruit: fever and heart complaints.
Seeds: Hypotensive, sedative and vasodilator. Contain flavonoids and alkaloids. Lower cholesterol levels and relax the smooth muscle of the uterus; Poor digestion, enteritis, chronic diarrhea, insomnia.
The plumage and radicle are used to treat thirst in high febrile disease, hypertension, insomnia and restlessness. In TCM, the seeds are considered a "cardiac tonic, seminal tonic, astringent, sedative, refrigerant, strengthens kidneys, clears phlegm, clears inflammation of eyes" (Source: MDidea).
Fresh Rhizomes (often called "roots"): Cooling when eaten raw, stimulate the appetite when eaten cooked
Rhizome Starch: Diarrhea, dysentery. Taken internally in the treatment of hemorrhages, excessive menstruation and nosebleeding.
Root Nodes: Nasal bleeding, haemoptysis and functional bleeding of the uterus.

Culinary Lotus
Lotus seeds
These images of the fresh, full bods and the dry empty ones equally spark my imagination. The dry pods are sometimes also found in floral shops, sold on their stalks for long-lasting bouquets.

One of my favourite dim-sum treats are sesame balls that are filled with delicately sweet black paste made of lotus seeds. The seeds are not easy to come by (I will have to make a point to hunt for them on my next trip to Chinatown), and I have only experienced them in desserts; but they can be used in a versatile range of recipes, both savoury and sweet, i.e.: as a filling for sweet festive cakes such as mochi and sesame balls, puddings, Indian sweets, curries, and roasted and puffed for snacking.

Lotus seeds

Lotus root

In contrast to the flavourful seeds, lotus "roots" (botcanilly speaking they are the rhizomes)
are rather bland. Their value is more visual - having a pretty flower-like shape when sliced. They have a crunchy texture and a mildly starchy vegetable taste, very much like that of bamboo shoots of palm hearts. They are used in hot pots, stir fried, deep fried like tempura, or even like a crispy alternative to chips.

Lotus Aroma Chemistry
According to Roman Keiser (Meaningful Scents Around the World), the blue water lily's headspace reveals the following constituents:
Benzyl acetate, anisyl alcohol, (E)-cinnamyl alcoho, cinnamyl  alcohol, and derivatives of (E,E)-undec-5-en-2-ol: (E)-undec-5-en-2-one, (E)-undec-5-en-2-ol and their corresponding acetates, alpha ionone and beta ionone.

White Lotus has 1,4-dimethoxybenzene, which gives it a rather unpleasant medicinal aspect. Hybrids with the Yellow Lotus, AKA Amriecan Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) breed a more pleasant  aroma, as they contain also jasmine and methyl cis-(2)-jasomnate.

Organoleptics of Various Lotus Absolutes: 
White Lotus

White Lotus has a powdery, earthy, dark floral, exotic, strange, dense aroma. Reminiscent of tuberose absolute. Sweet yet subtle with a tad of nutty and mushroom-like quality and hints of anise. Reminds me of old, well-worn silk garment. Dominated by medicinal, warm-herbaceous sweet odour of 1,4-dimethoxybenzene

Pink Lotus is sweet, silky, fruity, intense yet subtle. The rich, over-the-top floralcy is to me a very Indian smell - bringing to mind scouring through my friend's parent's collection of little vials of Indian perfumes. 

Blue Lotus (or Blue Waterlily) is a sheer, light woody-floral, nutty, musky, aquatic/watery, subtle, slightly green, refreshing, hyacinth-like, violet-like, sweet-aromatic, clear, light, effervescent, ephemeral.

Both the white and pink lotus absolutes are a dark orangey-brown viscous liquid, and with highly staining qualities. The blue lotus absolute is a clear light green viscous oil.

Lotus in Perfumery: 
Lotus is a rare and costly raw material and is only rarely used in its natural form.  Most "lotus" perfumes you'll find out there bare very little resemblance to neither the living flower nor the absolute extraction, and customarily belong to the yawn-inducing aquatic floral fragrance family.  Traditional Indian perfumers and modern natural perfumers are the  only ones whom I know still  work with the true lotus and create authentic perfumes that resonate with the spiritual and esoteric layers of the flower - which is inevitable as this is such a weird, complex and rare raw material. It is very rich and can easily clutter a perfume is used incorrectly. However, when it is used in tune with its aromatic and spiritual properties the results are quite astonishing and versatile: it is incredible beautiful and haunting in chypre compositions, where its musty, mushroomy origins are accentuated. On the other hand, when used sparingly and in the right environment, it can create a shimmering, effect that brings to mind the delectable waterlily-like perfume echoing the blue skies from above, or working in conjunction with narcotic, sweet or fruity florals to create a rich tapestry of odours.

Perfumes with noticeable lotus note:
Pink Lotus:
Blue Diamond (Setphen Arctander - created in 1979 and discontinued for many years)
Coeli (Ayala Moriel Parfums) - discontinued
l'Écume des Jours (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Gypsy (Providence Perfume Co.) - discontinued
Hanami (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Itoh (Mikmoi)
Pink Lotus (Aftelier)
Scorpio (Ayala Moriel Parfums - discontinued
Waterflower (Soivohle)

Blue Lotus:
Arunima (Strange Invisible Perfumes)
Blue Lotus Oil (Soivohle)
l'Eau d'Issey (Issey Miyake)
Lotus Blossom & Waterlily (Jo Malone)
Lumieré (Aftelier)
Lyric Rain (Strange Invisible Perfumes)
Naima (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Nymphaea Cerulea (Régime des Fleurs)
Purple (p)Rose (Ayala Moriel Parfums)
Secret Garden (Aftelier)

White Lotus:
Misetu (Soivohle) - discotninuted
Padme Lotus (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz)

Unfolding the Hundred Petals of Rose

English Roses, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

The nightingale, and none beside, knows the full worth of the rose for many a one reads the leaf and understands not the meaning thereof
– Hafiz

There is so much to be said about roses. And there is no better time to say it than now: winter is coming to its end, and celebrations of life and love in the form of fertility festivals and chaotic carnivals where everything is possible have now been replaced by Hallmark holidays of subdued emotions, appropriately framed with heart-shaped molds and rose-red hues. Finding ways to express emotions have never been more trying. And saying it with roses, as cliche as this may seem, might be the only way to remain genuine and leave something to the imagination.

Rose is a perennial flowering shrub from the Rosacea family. The leaves are serrated and most of the rose bushes have thorns on their branches. There are over 100 species of rose. With the exception of some Southeast Asian rose species, roses are deciduous, and lose their leaves in the winter. The fruit of the roses is a berry called rosehip. Roses with many closed petals may not produce fruit at all, as the insects cannot access the pollen. Roses vary in sizes of the plant as well as the flower. There are some climbing varieties, some plain bushes. Rosehips are especially rich in vitamin c (especially those from the dog rose – Rosa canina – native to Lebanon and Israel; and Rosa rugosa, aka Japanese rose).

Cultivars, Hybrids etc.
Cultivated roses are hybrids of various types have more petals (which are, in fact, mutated stamen). The most important modern roses are the hybrid tea roses, which come hybrid of the above species with China roses. The China roses (Rosa chinensis) were less hardy, but produced successive blooms from summer through fall; and also contributed to the shape of modern roses (including the classic “bouquet” roses that we see at the florists); as well as more colour possibilities in hues of coral, orange and yellow.

20th century rose breeders focused so much on the size and colour of the roses, that most of the newer breeds of roses are not nearly as fragrant as the antique garden roses. And roses that are found at the florists usually have no scent at all.

Origins & History

Tidal Rose, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Most rose species are native to Asia, with only a few native to Europe, America and Northwest Africa. The following species are the ones used mostly in Western perfumery:

Rosa centifolia, originating in Persia, where it is called “Gul”. From there it spread to India (its Hindi name is Gulab-ka-phool); Rosa damascena, originally from Damascus (Syria);
Rosa gallica, the French or the apothecary rose, native to central and southern Europe; Rosa alba – a hardier type, white in colour.

Rosa chinensis mutabilis, originally uploaded by Luigi FDV.

China rose (Rosa chinensis) from the mutabilis variety is most important in breeding the Hybrid Tea roses of both old garden roses and modern ones. They are called that way because they change colours throughout their bloom: vermillion orange buds open to coppery pink flower and later on a deep crimson.

The biochemical makeup of the Western roses is quite different than that of the China roses (Rosa chinensis), as is their colour. Western roses are white, red or pink; while the China roses are yellow or orange. The biochemical implications, simply put, are that Western roses are dominated by geraniol, citronellol and damascones; while the China roses posses various carotenoid biochemicals, such as beta ionone. The result is an aroma that is quite different – sweeter, fruitier and reminiscent of violets and tea.

and Nomenclature
The name for rose comes from the Latin “Rosa” (red), which originates in the Greek “rhodion” and ancient Farsi “wurdi” (flower). The name “rose” also means pink or red in a number of Romance languages, as well as in Greek and in Polish.

According to Greek mythology, rose origins were in the body of a young nymph found by Flora. Venus (Aphrodite) has transformed it into the rose plant, which was than blessed by Apolo’s sunrays, given a sweet nectar by Bacchus (the wine god) and with fruit by Pomona, and blessed with the most beautiful flowers by Flora and the Celestials (Poucher’s Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, Vol. 2, 1959, p. 205). Rose was originally white, but after the thorns have wounded Aphrodite’s feet, her blood has turned roses red.

War of the Roses
The War of the Roses is a chapter in English history (around the time between 1455-1485), where civil wars between two dynasties (Lancaster and York) competing for the throne, and their supporters took place. Each of the dynasties had a rose symbol -
Red Lancashire rose/ Red Rose of Lancaster
and the White Rose of York. When the Tudors took the throne, the War of the Roses ended, and a new symbol was created, called the Tudor Rose, combining the red and the white, to symbolize union between the two.

Some say there is a reference to that in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, where the cards are painting the white rosebush red, although this is a very shallow interpretation of Lewis Carrol's work.

Religious and Spiritual Rose Symbolism
In the state of union the single beings of other world are one,
All the petals of the rose are together one.

- Muhammad Iqbal

The beauty of rose and her perfume and the complexity of her petals made it a subject of symbolism since ancient times. The only other flower that is known for having an equal breadth and depth of spiritual symbolism is the lotus flower.

Wild roses, like most of the Rosales order (which also includes cherry and almond) have 5 petals, symbolic of the pentagram, or mankind (the 5-pointed star is attributed to the head and the 4 limbs). Symbols of 5-petaled rose are recurring in European art and symbolism (i.e.: the Rosicrucian order’s symbol), who only later on in history were exposed to the cultivated, multi-petal rose. And nowadays, rose is the national flower of many countries, not to mention political parties. White rose was the symbol of a peace movement in Germany during World War II.

The multi-petals of cultivated roses grow give the flower the quality of mystery: it hides the stamens and holds its secrets… These petals also grow clockwise, in a spiral movement. This shape alludes to growth, expansion and is a metaphor to the universe. Spiral movement is eternal to both direction – the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Rose was sacred to the Egyptian goddess Isis.

In Hinduism, rose is considered Lord Krishna’s favourite. Hindus wash their alters with rosewater. According to the chakra system, the heart chakra is green, but when we are in love it turns to a rose colour. Likewise, rose flower grows out of a green thorny plant and represents the most elated state of the species (according to Ivan M. Granger).

In Judaism, rose was mentioned in the Song of Solomon as a thing of beauty found amongst the thorns, and is one of the seven perfumes mentioned in the book. It’s important to note, that there is also a fair amount of confusion between the names “shoshana” (the name for lily in modern days), or “vered” (the modern Hebrew word for rose).

In Kabala, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are said to form The mystical rose of creation, with the three mother letters forming a triangle in the middle (relating to the three elements – fire, water and air), surrounded by the 7 double letters which are symbolic of the 7 ancient planets, and finally by the 12 single letters, corresponding to the 12 Zodiac signs and the 12 tribes of Israel.

The beauty of rose in Ancient Greece and Rome were attributed to the goddess of love, Venus or Aphrodite. Wild rose was placed on the door of rooms where secret meetings were held. Alchemists considered rose to be associated with the element of earth, with the solar plexus or the heart, and with either the Sun or the planet of Venus.

In Christianity, red roses symbolize the blood of Christ, sacrifice and are associated with the heart. The colour of roses and their sweet, fruity, wine-like scent made them connected to wine, the refined symbol of Christ’s blood.
White roses symbolize the purity and virtue of the Virgin Mary.
Prayer necklaces called Rosaries were made from fragrant rose beads (see recipe here).

The Muslims loved rose above all other flowers. Mohammed’s sweat said to have the scent of attar of rose, and he is known for his love for women, children and perfumes above all things on this earth.

The Sufis practiced meditation in rose gardens, which are the most important theme in Persian art – Persian miniatures as well as carpet designs depict such rose gardens. A recurring theme in Sufi poetry is that of the rose and the nightingale. The nightingale is the lover, longing for the love of the rose, which he expresses in sad love songs through the night. These are of course metaphors to the Sufi in search for closeness to God.

Different Colours, Different Meanings
In the Victorian Language of Flowers, roses of different colours signify different emotions, meanings and messages for their recipient. Some of these meanings remain valid till modern day.

White roses: Purity, innocence, eternal Love, silence, wistfulness, virtue, purity, secrecy, reverence and humility. The white rose in the hand of The Fool tarot card signify that pure innocence and a "tabula rasa" awaiting learning. White roses are often used in bridal bouquets.

Pink roses: New love, happiness, romance, admiration, sweetness. Dark pink roses express gratitude; while pale pink mean joy of life, youth, energy and passion. Light pink roses are of the most popular after red ones.

Red roses: True love, passion, desire. These roses are most used among lovers.
Red roses also appear in The Empress card in the tarot's major arcana.

Yellow roses: Friendship, platonic love, jealousy, infidelity, dying love.

Orange roses were introduced to Europe only later on, and signify a combination of the emotions that both red and yellow coloured roses represent.
Coral hued roses were especially rare, and meant desire, passion and enthusiasm.
Orange roses also mean desire and enthusiasm, but also could mean pride.

Lavender roses: Love at first sight.

Blue roses:
Mystery, attaining the impossible

Black roses (which are really just a very dark red): death, farewell, separation, hatred - or rebirth and rejuvenation (which are really the other side of the coin of endings and death).

Medicinal and Therapeutic Applications

The most therapeutic type of rose is the Rosa centifolia (rose of hundred petals). Interestingly, it’s Sanskrit name, shatapattri, has the same meaning. Rose is used in aromatherapy for its soothing properties. It is a heart tonic and also helps to ease women in labour and helps to balance the hormones.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna) employed attar of rose and rosewater for treating ailments of the digestive tract.

The scent of rose gives one a sense of well being. It is an oil that has the greatest effect on the emotions, helping to cope with loss, grief and promote self-esteem and confidence (especially in women). The latter quality makes it act as an aphrodisiac: when a woman feels confident in her sexuality, she feels more at ease to seduce and engage in romantic relationships.
Gulab Lassi is an Ayurvedic rose aphrodisiac.

In Ayurveda, rose is used to balance the heart. It “balances Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha of Pitta that governs the emotions and their effect on the heart” (reference here). Rose soothes the heart and the emotions. It also balances the mind, connecting the Sadhaka Pitta to the Prana Vata (the subdosha of Vata dosha that governs the brain, head, chest, respiration, sensory perception, and the mind). Rose is unique in that it balances all three doshas.

Ayurvedic doctors use rose to treat hormonal imbalances that result in amenorrhea; as well as treat migraines and headaches, loss of vision, sore throat, inflamed tonsils; and emotionally – to cope with nervousness, grief. Rosewater can be sprayed onto eyes suffering from inflammation or infection.
Gulkand (a rose petal jam) or Gulkand sharbat (rose syrup) can be eaten on its own, or added to milk or yoghurt, to achieve a cooling effect on the body.
(sources: Kamlesh Ayurvedea, and Medicinal Use of Flowers at Home).

Rosehips are used to treat colds and influenza (because of their high vitamin C content). Rosehips have anti-inflammatory properties, and were used to treats osteoarthritis. They also aid in treating urinary tract problems, and assist in preventing cancer and cardiovascular disorders, because of their high level of phytochemicals such as carotenoid pigments, plant sterols, tocotrienols... (source).

Flavour & Culinary Uses
Roses as a flavour are especially popular in India and the Middle East as an addition to desserts and beverages; and to a lesser extent in Europe, particularly France.

In the Middle East, Persia and India - rosewater is added to sherbets, ice creams and pastries (i.e.: harissa, basboosa, baklawa and rasgulla) as well as to flavour fruit salads. Rosewater confections are also popular in Turkey, Greece and the Balkan (Turkish Delight, for example). In the Ukraine, rose petal jam is paired with vanilla ice cream. Rose petal jam was adopted as an aromatic additive to pastries, pancakes and waffles and pastries such as scones or croissants, and fresh rose petals can be added to crepes.

Rose petals are also used to flavour tea: Chinese Rose Congou tea is made by perfuming black China tea with layers of fresh rose petals. Some of the petals remain in the tea. Royal tea is an Assam black tea blend with dried rose petals and vanilla, often served with milk. I particularly enjoy adding rose petal to a milky Earl Gray tea with vanilla. It turns it into a heavenly affair, a soothing and luxurious elixir.

The rosehips are made into a jam or jelly, as they are rich a relatively high in pectin. They are also very popular as a tisane, on their own or as a base for fruit-flavoured tisanes, particularly berry-flavours, because of their sour flavour.

Rose otto and rosewater have rejuvenating, moisturizing and anti-aging properties and is an excellent additive to skin-care products and skin-care regime for dry or mature skin. Rosewater tones the skin and gives it a healthy glow, and also is used for cooling the skin in Ayurvedic cosmetics – on the principle that it helps to balance the Bhrajaka Pitta (the subdosha of Pitta that governs the biochemical aspects of the skin).

In Ancient Greece, dried rose petals were ground into a powder and applied to the skin as deodorant (Poucher’s “Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, 1959, vol. 2, p. 206).

Rosewater blended with glycerin is an easy, simple and pure homemade lotion, and can be prepared at home (which will result in a purer product - without the red colouring and any other possible additives or artificial scents used in rosewater & glycerin that is bough off the pharmacy shelves).

Rosehip seed oil is also a wonderful oil to be used in skin care, massage oil and cosmetics. Its high content of oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids, carotenoids and beta-carotene, it has antioxidant and healing properties to the skin, making valuable for cosmetics to prevent dryness and aging, age-spots, wrinkles, as well as for use for various skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and more (reference).

Rose oil added to facial elixirs will leave your complexion with a youthful glow.

Stop to Smell the Roses - Rose in Perfumery

Myrtle & Myrrh

"... for so were fulfilled the days of their anointing: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with sweet fragrances..." (Megillat Esther, aka Book of Esther, Chapter II, 12)

The story of Purim is dotted with puzzling anecdotes about the royal life that on the surface do not seem to make much sense. One of them being the 12 months beauty treatment that Esther, the heroine of the story, has to go through before being seen before the king. Before being shown before the King Ahasuerus in a “beauty contest” for the crown of the Queen of Persia, the virgin contestants had to undergo an elaborate beauty treatment: Six months of immersion in myrrh was not enough (and some say only served the purpose of purification); it was followed by another six months of perfuming the body with perfumes. And we can only but guess what these might have been. I’d like to think they had rose and saffron in them, two fragrances that are so strongly associated with Persian culture. So the girls had to spend an entire year getting ready for this “date” with the king (or shall we say a one-night-stand?), until he finds the right woman to bear the Persian crown.

As the story goes, the winner of the contest was Hadassah (Hadass is Hebrew of myrtle), a Jewish woman who as per her cousin and guardian Mordecai’s instruction had to hide her identity and heritage. She changed her name to Esther - meaning star in Persian and supposedly referring to the star-shaped myrtle flowers. And because of her virtues of modesty, selfless kindness and devotion to her people - the Jewish people of Persia have survived a possible genocide, and the custom of dressing in disguise in Purim was born.

I think it is particularly interesting that Hadass (myrtle) symbolizes a person who does good deeds but is ignorant. Hadassah (or Queen Esther) used her will and wit to save her people. But she neither chose to be in that position (she was taken to the palace on the king’s order and against her will); and did not know that her people are in danger only until she was asked to come to the rescue. According to Western mystical traditions, associated with the planet of Venus and Aphrodite - the goddess of beauty and love. Myrtle is an evergreen bush and is used to decorate gardens in the near east both for this quality as well as its refreshing and potent aroma.

In contrary to the myrtle’s freshness, when Hadassah is transformed into her new role as Queen Esther, she undergoes a myrrh-cleansing ritual that has parallels to that of embalming the dead*. The reference to death can be seen as a passage and transformation, or as an ending to that beautiful fresh star-laden plant. In contrary to the fragrant evergreen myrtle leaves, myrrh is a desert tree that when gets hurt produces resin "tears" with a bitter, penetrating aroma ("marr" means "bitter" in Hebrew and is the root for "morr", the Hebrew name of myrrh). In ancient Egypt, myrrh represented the lunar goddess Isis and later on the Western mysteries associated myrrh with receptive, feminine powers, attributed to the planet of Saturn and the element of earth; and in the New Testament, myrrh was one of the three gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus and symbolizes the sacrifice of death that he was to go through later in his life; and was also used to ease Christ's pain on the cross (myrrh is an analgesic), so we see myrrh is repeatedly associated with death and suffering. On the other hand - in ancient Egypt, myrrh was burned in the temple of Rah (the Sun God) at high noon to mark the position of the sun - so the symbolism of myrrh in Queen Esther’s story could mean reaching of the peak of her power, when the sun is shining in all its might.

Perhaps I found the Purim perfume - with myrtle and myrrh. Something to think about for next year when I run out of ideas for a costume, as usual.

* The other two parts of the article Feminist Aspects of Megillat Esther are quite an interesting read if you are familiar with the story. Here are the links to part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Botanical Symbolism

Photo of Lulav & Etrog by Sam Feinstein-Feit

Aside from living in a hut just when the autumn breezes and first rains are due (in the Middle East, anyhow - if you live in Vancouver summer has ended over a month ago!) - is most unusual for its mysterious and rich botanical symbolism.

Unlike Rosh Hashana (“Head of the Year”), with botanical symbols that were passed from mouth to ear for thousands of years (i.e.: the eating of pomegranates, apples-in-honey, beets, carrots and other sweet fruit and vegetables), Succot’s symbols are actually mentioned in the bible: “"And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook" (Leviticus. 23:40).

And what are these four species?
For as long as Jews can remember, “Fruit of goodly trees”, AKA “Etrog” has been the majestic citron fruit.
The branches of palm tree are not just branches, but the very beginning of a palm leaf, when it is still closed and looks more like a whip than anything else.
The “boughs of thick trees” was represented by myrtle branches.
And “willows of the brook” are simply willow branches. Not the weeping willows, but the upright kind which grows by the brooks.

The four species are symbolic representations of many things. Many of which I will not be able to tell you because I haven’t studied the topic more than an average Jew does. But the reason I bring these up and write about them on my blog (a blog about perfume, not about religion or Judaism) will become clear as we progress along my trail of thought...

The symbolic meaning of anything manifested in the material world is highly connected to its physical and tangible characteristics. And as every little Jewish girl and boy learn in kindergarten, the four species are four different permutations on the theme of smell and taste:
Etrog (Citron) has both flavour and fragrance;
Lulav (palm leaf) has flavour but no fragrance (this is in reference to the dates - the palm fruit - rather than the leaf);
Hadass (Myrtle) has fragrance but no flavour;
And finally, Arava (Willow) has neither fragrance nor flavour.

These qualities are symbolic of different qualities of a person – fragrance being attributed to good dees, while taste corresponds to knowledge and learning:
Etrog is a person who has both knowledge and learning and good deeds.
Lulav is a person who only has cerebral knowledge but misses the importance of good deeds.
Hadass symbolizes a person who does good deeds but is ignorant.
And finally, Arava (the willow), lacking in both taste and scent, represents a person who is both ignorant and that does not do good deeds.

I find it interesting that fragrance in this ancient oral tradition is corresponding to good deeds. Could it possibly be related to the fact that scent and emotions are so closely related? Is a person with a more sensitive sense of smell also more sensitive to other people’s feelings and therefore acts more morally? These are interesting thoughts, especially in the light of the sense of smell being so neglected in Western traditions for the most part, regarded as “inferior” or “animalic”.
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