Rosa Mundi – R. gallica var. officinalis ‘Versicolor’
This is a striking old rose in the Gallica group and its flowers create quite a talking point in the Herb Garden in June. They are very distinctive, pale pink and striped with a darker pink, semi-double with an open cupped shape and yellow at the centre.
Legend has it that Rosa Mundi was named after Rosamunde Clifford, mistress of Henry II (1154 to 1189) and murdered by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. After Rosamunde’s death, a new rose, with red and white stripes was said to have appeared outside the castle where she had lived and was named Rosa-Mundi in her honour.
The original species of this rose (Rosa gallica var. officinalis), the ‘Apothecary’s Rose’, probably originated in southern and central Europe and Turkey. It had been cultivated at least since Roman times and its medicinal qualities were well known. Preserves, jellies, oils and powders were produced as well as potpourri and it remained an essential component for remedies right through to the 19th century.
Dr Darwin includes ‘red-roses’ in his long list of medicines in his book Zoonomia, in the category of ‘those things which increase the irritative motions which constitute absorption’. Sometimes it may be better not to ask what he meant.