Rosa gallica officinalis is commonly called the apothecary rose (or the Red Rose of Lancaster, Red Damask rose, or Double French rose) because of its long history of medicinal use. It is a wonderfully fragrant flower and tough, to boot.
Roses are believed to have been introduced to Europeans by the Greeks sometime prior to 1240. It is thought that the first rose to take Italy by storm was Rosa gallica.
The Romans planted the Apothecary rose extensively and used it continually in their myriad ceremonies and celebrations. They later took it to England where it was brought to America by the Pilgrims (according to the folks at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson grew it)who valued it for its beauty, ruggedness, and herbal properties.
The cupped 2-3 inch wide flowers are semi-double, pink-red in color and strongly fragrant.
The medium green foliage is rough like that of Rosa rugosa. The French rose is also shade tolerant and will grow into a shrubby bush up to 4 feet tall.
After the flowers fade, small round hips will adorn the bush. But the hips are not the part of Rosa gallica officinalis that herbalists treasure.
It is the flower petals that are used medicinally and for their fragrance. Collect the petals of blooms which have recently opened in early morning. You'll get about 15 petals per flower. Discard the bright yellow stamens and leaves. Only the petals are used.
Rinse them and use them fresh to make rose water or a rose tea (rose petals and cucumber peels combine to make a delicious tea). Or dry them for use in potpourri. The petals of the apothecary rose hold their fragrance well--better than any other rose, in fact--and are perfect for this use. During the Renaissance, rose fragrance was esteemed as antidepressant.
Rose petals are slightly astringent, mildly sedative, and anti-inflammatory. They are used to reduce high cholesterol levels.
I read, somewhere, that rose petal tea was helpful against uterine fibroids but ended up having surgery before I could put this home remedy to the test.
The Red Rose of Lancaster has thorny stems and is mildew prone. If you plan to make rose flower water with the blooms, be sure to use a safe spray to combat any mildew the bush gets. Mix up a homemade milk or baking soda spray.
The French rose is quite hardy. Plant it in zones 3a-8b. Its thick, upright growth makes it a great hedge rose.