In 2015, Robert Tisserand asked me to write about the ethnobotany of roses for his blog, then Hungarian aromatherapist Gergely Hollodi asked me to write about them for his magazine Aromatika. I was drawn into a pink world of gentle healing that I felt compelled to explore. I began writing what has come to be my most famous book, Rose Goddess Medicine, which then supercharged my career on a whole new trajectory. Since then, I have lectured about roses worldwide, and my work has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, and French. Today, I'm excited to explore rose oil benefits for mood with you.
My Background with Roses
I love roses. I always have. My parents grew them in our garden when I was a child. One was Josephine Bruce, which had deep pink blooms that always unfurled on my birthday. Since my maiden name was also Bruce, this seemed poignant to me, and I can remember being very worried after a cold spring that I wouldn't be able to have a birthday party if the rose hadn't bloomed. This was the beginning of my learning to speak to plants.
Then, when my mother qualified as an aromatherapist, rose oil became a thing. She had beautiful skin, cared for with rose absolute and ylang-ylang, and the house reeked of the decadent elixir as she made and sold hundreds of pots of cream.
The sickly sweet smell always made me smile. It would be years until I learned that there were scientific reasons why that might be.
Today, of course, as a society, we are obsessed with science and always try to explain things via a test tube. Still, of course, that has not always been so, and historically people associated natural thighs with deities that seemed to explain how they made them feel.
Historical Ideas about Rose Oil Benefits for Mood
Rose has always been associated with love and romance, particularly with the goddesses we sometimes refer to as the rose lineage. Most obviously, Aphrodite, or Venus, as the Romans called her. Still, much further back, we might think of the Babylonian goddesses Inanna and Ishtar or moving forward to the Christian Mary Magdalene.
The Egyptians most succinctly expressed that when they smelt the rose, they believed their goddess Isis was behind them. For that, they thought she was there to protect and take care of them, which was reassuring, the great sorceress she was.
Today, we express it differently. The first time you engage with an oil, we say, "How does that make you feel…?" With a rose, you tend to feel loved, cared for, and at least a little happier.
Why that is, is hard to explain. Does it have to do with a memory of the first lover who bought you roses and the feelings as you took the blooms in your arms? Or does it have to do with how the light is so different in the garden, sunbathed as the roses unfurl? If you are like me, the smell brings feelings of anticipation of parties and birthday cake.
There may be a million reasons why roses make you feel happier, and they may be different for everyone, but for most people, we can say that it does. (Scent responses are so individual; there will always be those who don't like oil; again, the experience is subjective and dependent on many things.
The First Comments about Rose Oil Benefits for Mood
My favorite story dates to seventeenth-century India and a declaration by Emperor Jahangir that his mother-in-law had discovered rose oil. She had been making rose water to spritz and cool herself, and she had noticed scum forming on top of it; rubbing her finger in it, she discovered the oily mess rich with the scent of roses.
He wrote: "It is of such strength in perfume that if one drop be rubbed on the palm of the hand it scents a whole assembly and it seems as if many red rosebuds had bloomed at once. There is no other scent of equal excellence to it. It restores hearts that have gone and brings back withered souls. In reward for that invention, I presented a string of pearls to the inventor. Salima Sultan Begum—may the light of God be upon her tomb—gave this oil the name 'itr-i-Jahangiri."
Brings back withered souls….
So beautiful and so descriptive.
There are often occasions when friends have gone through difficult situations, and I say, "Lots of rose oil, please." It sounds banal and trite, as if the oil could compare with the relative hell they are feeling, but it is their withered soul about which I worry, and I know how much support that rose can be.
It transcends words, somehow.
And over and over, I see the rose help to fortify the spirit and return the sunlight to their garden.
Rose Essential Oil for Anxiety and Depression
Much of the research into rose oil benefits for mood focuses on anxiety (and depression. Many trials looked at how Rose could support people in hospitals during the pandemic. That included people who were there for operations and those who were there to participate in the procedure. Working in such proximity to operating theatres must have been horrifying. That might make them forget the sterility we all reeked of for months.
Rose not only reduced the operating staff's anxiety levels but was also proven to improve the quality of their sleep too. (Mahdood, 2022)
(It seems appropriate to add here, Lest We Forget what they all did for us… It's a debt we'll never be able to repay.)
Rose is not only proven to reduce anxiety during the hospital stay, but that reduction leads to better operational outcomes, less nausea and vomiting postoperatively, faster wound healing, and shorter hospital stays.
Rose Essential Oil for Depression
It's perhaps not surprising that the champions of rose research are the Iranians…rose is, after all, the most precious of the Persian healers. Inordinate amounts of evidence pour out of the School of Midwifery.
They do astonishingly detailed work.
One of their finest was a double-masked, placebo-controlled trial into a rose for anxiety and depression in post-menopausal women undertaken in 2020...
The short result is that rose essential oil reduced the severity of anxiety and depression; however, there was very little change until 20 days, then significant changes by 40 days. (Riazi, 2020)
In particular, rose oil is wonderful for grief and also as an aphrodisiac.
Rose Oil Benefits for Mood for New Moms
Most importantly, I always like to see new moms using roses.
It's so wonderful to make you feel like a woman again (rather than like a birthing heifer, which is exactly how I felt when I had all three of my kids). It helps the uterus shrink down again and balances hormones, but importantly, it helps with postpartum blues. It stabilizes the mood, who knows why and helps the mom bond with the baby.
Its effects on the stress hormone cortisol are extremely important.
New moms should not have enough to explain to them about cortisol. It's so hidden, but it's such an important thing.
Cortisol gets a very bad press because if it over-secretes, it can be responsible for inflammation in the body. For example, this can have deleterious effects on the heart, which is why we worry that someone might give themselves a heart attack.
But this is cortisol out of control. Cortisol is a healthy and helpful thing.
The adrenals secrete it to allow our bodies to respond to stress. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, moving energies away from anything superfluous in the fight against stress.
We have a natural daily cortisol production pattern. Cortisol naturally spikes about thirty minutes after we awaken in the morning. Gradually drops through the day, so hopefully, it will be low enough for us to go gently to sleep in the evening.
Not everyone's cortisol does this…notably people with Asperger's syndrome do not appear to have this natural pattern, nor do babies.
Babies only develop it once they are around two years old. Until that time, their pattern mimics and follows their mother's pattern.
Rose has a profound effect on cortisol, reducing levels significantly.
I talk about this more in the post on aromatherapy for new moms.
Rose Oil Benefits for Moods Affected by Hormones
Most of us will generally want to be exposed to a rose for hormonal balance. This must certainly be the case in postpartum care, but it also applies to PMS, menopause, and even male hormonal balance.
For most women, the most problematic parts of their cycle come after they have ovulated. As the egg reaches the womb, it breaks down and secrete progesterone. As the levels change and estrogen is no longer dominant, many women will experience severe mood changes.
Scientists suspect that estrogen may be well described as the molecule of worry since anxiety is rife when levels drop. Indeed men with OCD often respond very well to being treated with estrogen.
A trial done in 2017 showed that inhaling rose (and geranium, too) enhanced levels of estrogen found in the saliva.
Rose oil benefits for mood are only part of the story here. Rose helps to regulate the hormonal cycle and is effective in reducing premenstrual pain too.
A note here: trials suggest that while there will be a change in the first cycle, the effects will be much stronger in subsequent ones. It is interesting to see that it is congruent with the earlier menopause anxiety and depression trial. The results of (at least some )essential oils are cumulative and get stronger over time.
Rose Oil Benefits for Mood Aspects of Dementia
Dementia seems, to me, to be the cruelest of all diseases. The memory and the personality are slowly eroded, synapse by synapse, until there are so many tangles in the brain tissue that there is nothing left but aggression and confusion.
I wrote about this extensively in my Melissa officinalis book because this is also a plant with an exciting future in this area.
In that book, some trials used questionnaires for the carers to describe their subjective experiences of the treatments. They make for harrowing reading "How many times has the patient spat at you this week…how many times have they disrobed at inappropriate times…how many incidents of pulling your hair.."
Forgetfulness is not even half of it.
I dread it.
Thankfully, it appears so do the men in white coats because billions of dollars are poured into dementia research every year, much of which is into plant medicines.
Clinical trials seem to suggest that rose essential oil may be able to reverse early signs of dementia, as it encourages neuroplasticity..in other words, the brain begins to grow healthier tissue again. (Esfandiary, 2014)
In another trial, (where patients were given oral doses of rose extract in a capsule), depression and behavioral deviations were reduced, and cognitive processing was improved. (Esfandiary, 2018)
The Anti Tantrum Oil!
We speak about this mythological connection with the divine feminine and, specifically, these goddesses connected to the planet Venus. Later incarnations were focused on love, sex, and fertility. However, in her earliest manifestations, these rose goddesses were war goddesses.
If you are like me and have Boudicca-style hormones, you might be interested to know that not only does rose to soothe worry, but it also has an anti-conflict element. (Umezu, 2002)
In rodent trials, rats had their nitric oxide receptors removed. This receptor has many applications (which we'll look at more in a moment), but nitric oxide seems to be involved in aggression. So, without these receptors, the rats fought to their deaths ( :( ), but this didn't happen when they were exposed to rose vapors. They became much less aggressive.
A sad part of my job is coming into contact with many people struggling with addiction and the fallout it causes in other people's lives. Opioids are often the worst, as we see heroin and fentanyl destroying lives and prescription drugs.
Rose essential oil helps opioid withdrawal. Trials show that it reduces all withdrawal symptoms except diarrhea (Abbasi Maleki, 2013). That it does not help diarrhea is not surprising because rose is a laxative, of course).
Safety of Using Rose Oil Benefits for Mood
Rose is a sweet, gentle oil that is easy and safe to use (albeit very expensive). However, because it strongly affects hormones, it is not advised to be used in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy. After that point, it is lovely for women who feel nervous about the birth.