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Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Page

7. Medicinal plants of the Rosaceae family

A large of species in Rosaceae or rose family, have a medicinal value. Most of these are trees or shrubs with variable characteristics. This family is popular for its edible and juice fruit shrubs and trees. Some examples of this family include bramble (Rubus ulmifolius), rose (Rosa gallica), wood strawberry (Fragaria moschata), quince (Cydonia oblongata), round pear (Pyrus amydaliformis), loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), peach, almond and apricot (Prunus persica, amygdalus and armeniaca).

Bramble (Rubus ulmifolius) is a thorny shrub with pale pink flowers and with a variety of reddish and blackish fruit, depending on the stage of development of the fruit. It is a native of the Mediterranean, Central Europe and West Asia, but now it has naturalised in many countries. In Malta, it is found in valleys and sheltered places. The shrub flowers between April and October after which fruit set in. The main traditional uses of this plant are in the treatment of diabetes and diarrhoea and to control bleeding. The active constituents reside in the leaves. These include tannins, organic acids, sugars and vitamin C. Medicinally, they have astringent, antiseptic, diuretic and tonic properties, hence making this plant suitable for colds, throat infections and skin problems. The fruit contain high quantities of vitamin C, organic acids, sugars and pectins. The fruit are processed to prepare jams, wine and syrup.

The wild rose (Rosa gallica) and related roses are thorny shrubs with flowers that vary in colour according to the species or variety. The wild rose has deep pink flowers are in bloom between April and June, and bright red fruit. It is mainly distributed in the Mediterranean, Central Europe and West Asia. Locally, the shrub is found in valleys. In Maltese folk medicine, it has been used as an astringent, gargle, on inflamed eyes and on withlows. This rose has been used medicinally for centuries. It is also known as the Apothecary's Rose. This is the official rose used in rose-water, that revives tired eyes and skin. The tea produced from the leaves has laxative properties and is sometimes applied to wounds. An essential oil is also produced from the rose, but this is mainly produced from other types.

Another Rosaceae herb is the wood strawberry (Fragaria moschata) that grows mainly in Central Europe but has naturalised where cultivated. In Malta, this herb has naturalised especially on irrigated soils. It flowers between March and August. It produces the most aromatic fruit of all the strawberry species. The leaves have astringent properties hence used, traditionally, in cases of haemorrhoids, diarrhoea, gum disease and a diuretic. The leaves contain waxes, terpenoids and flavonoids that are responsible for the insecticidal, vermicidal and usefulness in the treatment of haemorrhoids. It also contains a phenolic acid (ellagic acid) that has anti-cancer and anti-oxidant activities and inhibits the AIDS virus.

Quince (Cydonia oblongata) resembles the apple, but the fruit are paler and larger. The seeds of this are poisonous. It is native to Central Asia but has been cultivated and naturalised elsewhere. It is eventually found in valleys and old gardens, locally. It usually flowers between March and May. In ancient times, it was well reknowned for its fruit and was used extensively for medicinal purposes. In fact locally, the fruit was used in the treatment of diarrhoea or dysentry, while its mucilaginous juice was used in the treatment of skin burns and chapped lips. The fruit are nutritious containing vitamin C and sugars, but the pulp also contains an essential oil, pectins, tannins and organic acids. An extract of the dried fruit is widely used in the treatment of digestive problems, in herbalism. Due to the presence of mucilage, tannins, and fatty acids, the seeds have expectorant, astringent and emollient properties. The whole seeds are used for internal problems while the crushed seeds are used externally. The seeds should be removed before the fruit are used in culinary recipes. This is because, these contain a glycoside that leads to poisoning.

The round pear (Pyrus amydaliformis/Pyrus communis var. amydaliformis) is a small tree that sometimes has spiny branches. It is a native of the Mediterranean region and in Malta it is found in rocky valleys. Its flowering season is between February and April. The fruit juice contains high amounts of fructose and sorbitol, which contribute to the laxative properties of the plant. If large quantities of the fruit are eaten, toxicity may result due to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides. From the bark, one could extract a constituent, phloretin, which has antibacterial properties.

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a native of Central China but has naturalised in the Mediterranean region and is extensively cultivated for its fruit. Despite this, there isn't a local market for it. It flowers between October and December. The leaves and fruit have astringent properties, hence used in folk medicine, in the treatment of diarrhoea and throat infections. It contains terpenoids that have strong anti-inflammatory effects.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a typical Rosaceae shrub with spiny stems, white flowers and red berries. It is distributed throughout Europe, the Mediterranean region and West Asia. Locally it is very frequent and found at valley bottoms. It blooms between March and May and the fruiting persists almost throughout the summer. The whole shrub is used medicinally. The fruits contain several vitamins, including C and the B complex, tannins, glycosides, flavonoids and terpenoids. The aerial parts have strong effects on the heart and blood vessel system. In fact, extracts were proved scientifically to reduce the blood pressure and to reduce the load on a troubled heart. Hawthorn should be consumed under medical supervision only.

The Prunus genus includes several stone fruits such as the peach, almond, apricot, plum and blackthorn. Most of these are cultivated for their fruit, as all have a local market. However, most have naturalised in valleys and gardens.

The peach (Prunus persica) is extensively cultivated in the Maltese Islands. It flowers between March and April, hence yielding fruit in the summer season. Traditionally, the leaves have been used as a laxative in children, and the leaves as a sedative and laxative. The peach contains several vitamins and minerals particularly vitamin A, B complex and iron.

The almond (Prunus amygdalus) is another stone fruit that is commonly found bordering fields in the Maltese Islands. It flowers mainly between December and February. Like some other Rosaceae members, the seeds of bitter almonds are poisonous due to the same glycoside found in other species. Bitter almonds produces up to 50 % fixed oil, known as almond oil. In the pharmaceutical field, the almond oil is used to prepare mediations in the form of emulsions. Traditionally, the oil is used on burns and in cases of cradle cap in babies and ear wax. The oil is also used in the food, liqueur and cosmetic industries.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is a native of the Mediterranean and Central European regions. It flowers between February and April, and produces bluish-black fruit. Stones of blackthorn have been found at Neolithic temple sites, indicating the use of this shrub since early civilisation. The medicinal constituents are found in the flowers and fruit. The flowers have diuretic and laxative properties, that are attributed to the flavonoids, sugars and tannins present. The fruits contain tannins, organic acids, sugars and vitamin C. These are used in urinary and digestive disorders due to their astringent properties.


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Last Update: 26th September 2005

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