Briar is the collective term used to describe thorny shrubs or thicket associated with the unkempt, rural expanses of the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly along roughened shorelines.
Colloquially it is also a term used to denote several, more specific species of plant, including the wild rose (also referred to as sweet briar, sweetbriar rose or eglantine), the thorny shrubs of which are the older sisters of the cultivated rose. Far older, in fact: while the cultivated rose has wrapped itself around so much of human history – famously being used to symbolise everything from romance to wars and royal dynasties – fossil records show that its predecessor, the flowering briar, has existed for over 150 million years.
It might not boast the same cultural currency as the more cultivated variety, but there is something beguiling and worthy of poetic attention in the briar rose’s delicate pink petals that are protected from predators by wild, barbed stems. To the extent that, in 1812, The Brothers Grimm used The Little Briar Rose as the title for their adaptation of the earlier Charles Perrault story, Sleeping Beauty, whose central character, a cursed princess, is damned to sleep for a hundred years in a castle surrounded by a forest of trees, brambles and of course, thicket.
And while the thorny battlements of wild briar lend it associations of strength, resilience and unruliness, the briar rose’s reddy-orange fruit, known as rosehip, is also an age-old strength giver, rich in vitamin C, calcium and magnesium, while its tea has been used for centuries as a folk remedy in Russia. The petals themselves are reputed to have skin-saving properties, from washing away dead cells and protecting against bacteria, to moisturising tired eyes and smoothing away the visible signs of skin ageing.
The scent of briar – in all its many guises – is one of the great outdoors. As wind, water and wild debris become entangled in its dense foliage.
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