Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Chocolate and roses – are there any two items more closely associated with romance? With Valentine’s Day upon us this month we thought it would be fun to look at the lore around these two plants and the healthy benefits of both (yes, chocolate is good for us!).
Chocolate – food of the Gods
Chocolate is derived from cocoa, which is made from the cream-colored beans that grow in pods on the cocoa or cacao tree, a native of the tropical regions of South and Central America. The seeds are dried and roasted and then processed to form cocoa, the basic ingredient in chocolate and chocolate products. Cacao was named Theobroma by botanist Linnaeus, the word meaning ‘food of the gods,’ so called from the goodness of its seeds.
The use of cocoa for eating and drinking probably dates back several thousand years. The first evidence of cocoa use comes from cooking vessels containing cocoa residue and scientists have determined these pots to be from at least 460 to 480 A.D. (so we chocoholics are just upholding a long standing honourable tradition, right?!).
When the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez and his soldiers arrived in the New World they witnessed a strange ceremony at the court of the Aztec emperor Montezuma. Seated high on a golden throne, the “living god” repeatedly drank from a golden goblet containing a beverage called chocolatl. When the Indians honoured the Spanish by offering them the bitter, dark brown drink, they explained that the beans from which it was made had come from paradise, and so each sip would bring wisdom and knowledge.
Chocolate – part of a healthy diet
Chocolate has been given a bit of a “bad rap” over the years as being “unhealthy”, but research shows that there are more reasons than ever to not avoid or deny your chocolate cravings. A recent article in the Journal of Nutrition suggested that eating 20g (about three squares of a large dark chocolate bar) a day is an excellent addition to a healthy lifestyle. Chocolate in fact contains a range of nutrients– not only fats and sugar, but good carbohydrates and proteins. In addition, chocolate contains small quantities of salts of metals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron; the vitamin riboflavin; the stimulant caffeine; and water.
According to several studies performed in Italy, dark chocolate has many of the same benefits as vitamin C helping the body use insulin more effectively and lower blood pressure. According to one study, participants who enjoyed 100 grams of dark chocolate daily for 15 days had reduced blood pressure and became more sensitive to insulin than they were prior to the “experiment”.
Researchers believe that the benefits of dark chocolate are due to the flavonoids it contains, which are associated with the ability to lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Chocolate contains theobromine (a chemical related to caffeine) and stimulates the release of serotonin (a brain chemical related to a positive sense of well-being). This means chocolate may help to elevate mood and can possibly help ease depression. Theobromine acts on the central nervous system and its action on muscle, the kidneys and the heart is more pronounced. It has a diuretic effect due to stimulation of the renal tissue; it is especially useful when there is an accumulation of fluid in the body resulting from cardiac failure. The theobromine also acts to dilate the blood vessels increasing blood flow through the body while decreasing blood pressure.
It is common for women to crave chocolate prior to the onset of their menstruation. This is known to happen because magnesium levels can drop prior to menstruation and chocolate is rich in in magnesium, helping with cramps and also helping to balance blood sugar levels which eases PMS symptoms. The body knows what it needs!
The cocoa butter taken from this tree is even medicinal topically as it is very healing to skin, soothing and softening tissue. It is often used as a base in cream, lip balms and other cosmetics.
My love is like a red, red rose…
Few plants are associated with love more than the rose is. From the earliest times, indeed throughout the history of civilization, people from around the world have held the rose close to their hearts. The earliest known gardening was the planting of roses along the most travelled routes of early nomadic humans. Earliest roses are known to have flourished 35 million-years ago and hips have been found in Europe and petrified rose wreaths have been unearthed from ancient Egyptian tombs.
It is said that Cleopatra had her living quarters filled with the petals of roses so that when Marc Antony met her, he would long remember her for such opulence and be reminded of her every time he smelt a rose. Her scheme worked for him; such is the power of roses.
The first medicinal rose was Rosa gallica officinalis (later called the Apothecary Rose) but now all roses whether wild or cultivated can be used for medicinal purposes.
Knights returning from the Crusades brought the plant to Europe. It was grown chiefly in monastic gardens for medicinal purposes. In the Middle Ages, the blossoms were used in aromatherapy for the treatment of depression and were considered a delicacy in cooking. In the nineteenth century beginning in the time of Napoleon, French pharmacists grew them in pots at the entrances of their shops, hence the origin of the common name Apothecary Rose. The Apothecary Rose became the professional symbol of the pharmaceutical profession much as the balanced scales became the professional symbol of the legal profession. French apothecaries dispensed preparations made from this rose to treat indigestion, sore throats and skin rashes
Roses – herbal medicine at its best
Today the hips, leaves, flowers, and essential oil are all used for medicinal purposes. The leaves and petals are demulcent and have a cooling effect on tissue. They have been used to bring down fevers and to clear toxins and heat from the body when they produce rashes and inflammatory problems. Rose also enhances immunity, helping to restrain the development of infections through their cleansing action. An infusion of rose petals can relieve cold and flu symptoms, sore throat, runny nose and blocked bronchial tubes. Roses also help fight infection in the digestive tract and help re-establish the normal bacterial population of the intestines. Rose petals and seeds have a diuretic action, relieving fluid retention and hastening elimination of wastes via the kidneys. They also have a decongestant action in the female reproductive system where they can be used to relieve uterine congestion causing pain and heavy periods. They are also helpful in cases of irregular periods, infertility and to enhance sexual desire. A rose petal infusion in honey is known to help sooth sore throats (and tastes yummy!).
Rose hips are a powerhouse nutritionally, containing 60 times as much vitamin C as oranges. (Rugosa roses, with their large round fruits, are considered to have one of the highest contents). The hips are high in other nutrients as well, including A, B, K, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
Rose petals and hips have an uplifting, restoring effect on the nervous system, and can relieve insomnia, lift depression, dispel fatigue and soothe irritability. The aroma of a rose has a calming, balancing effect on the nervous system, so we all need to “stop and smell the roses” more!
Wet rose petals can be placed on cuts and sores, as the petals dry they will form a sort of natural bandage. Rose water is a wonderfully soothing application for skin conditions helping to soothe & heal tissues. Rose water is also very good for calming the nerves when someone is ill and anxious. It can be sponged on the skin to break a fever and calm the system and is especially good for sick children.
A gift of love…
With all the amazing healing abilities of these two plants, it is easy to see that they aren’t just lovely Valentine’s day gifts, but are loving gifts of good health given to us by the earth.
Happy Valentine’s everyone!
All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care.