Wild as a Rose
June is the month for brides. And roses are the flowers of love. So I think it fitting to focus on roses this month. Don’t you? Not only are roses beautiful, they are good medicine and fine food.
Yes, all roses that haven’t been sprayed with poisons (more about that later) can be eaten, whether cultivated or wild, climbing or bushy, white, pink, yellow, or red. My favorite June breakfast is whole wheat toast with butter or cultured cream cheese and a double layer of fresh rose petals. That sure wakes me up! It’s a nice change, too, from my spring fancy breakfast, which is whole wheat toast with butter and violet flowers.
Roses capture our imagination like few flowers, and that’s saying a lot, as any flower can trigger a wonderfully imaginative burst from even the least poetic of us. “How sweet to seize the blushing Prey, And snatch it from the Thorn away!” said Anacreon in the fifth century BCE (translated by Addison, 1735). In mythology, Flora, the goddess of flowers, asks the gods to help her revive a beloved, now dead, nymph. Apollo gives her the breath of life; Bacchus washes her in nectar; Vertummus gives her a lovely scent; Pomona makes her fruitful; and Flora herself gives her a crown of shimmering petals. Thus Rose, the “queen of flowers”, is created.
Roses are painted on fine china, splashed across wallpaper, fashioned out of satin and silk and sewn onto clothes and hats, even dipped in gold and silver. Roses are the very image of innocence; roses are filled with sexual allure. Roses are chaste and pure; roses are wanton and wild. Roses bloom and fade in a day, like love, perfect but passing. Roses endure, blooming year after year, like love, eternal.
Rose gardens are found all over the world. Notable rose gardens include the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York, Kew Gardens in England, Westbroekpark in the Netherlands (with 20,000 plants), the Parc de la Grange in Geneva (with 12,000 plants), and the gardens of the Italian Rose Society in Milan. The largest garden in the world devoted entirely to roses is in Shreveport, Louisiana, where more than 70,000 plants are collected into 40 different rose gardens.
There are at least two cities that claim to be “The City of Roses”. One is Portland, Oregon, where the 10,000 roses of the International Rose Test Gardens are terraced on five acres of hillside in the shadow of Mt. Hood. The other is Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab in India, where 60,000 plants make up the 30-acre Zakir Rose Garden, including a Museum of Roses, a Moonlight Garden of pure white roses, and a scent garden where roses are bred to be especially high in rose oil, the mostly costly fragrance made.
Roses are not especially easy to grow, for they are attractive to a number of insect and fungal pests. Sprays can keep pests at bay, but even organic pesticides and fungicides can be unwholesome if eaten. Instead, I use a strong brew of horsetail (Equisetum arvense) – one cup of dried herb brewed for four hours in a quart of boiling water – diluted, a cup at a time in a gallon of rain water, to spray against black spot and other molds. Seeding lawn areas with milky spore is the best control for Japanese beetles, which can eat through a rose bush in minutes it seems.
If you enjoy an abundance of roses, as I do – through no effort on my part, I assure you, for the wild roses are rampant in my area – you may wish to make rose beads. Natural Rose Beads are sweetly-scented black lumps made by throwing wilted roses into a cast iron pot and allowing them to rot for several months. Before the rose paste dries out, gather it into balls by rolling between your palms, then thread carefully onto a thick string and hang to dry completely. Rose beads will last for decades if thoroughly fermented and carefully dried.
Wild roses have five petals, each gently notched in the center and arranged in a pretty, open star with a cluster of stamen (the pollen-producing parts) in the center. Cultivated roses have petals in multiples of five. The five-pointed star is a pentagram, or pentacle, which is, of course, the symbol of magic. The rose, a blooming pentacle, is as magical as a flower can be.
Eating the petals of roses will get you lots of healthy flavonoids and vitamin C, as well as coloring materials that contain polyphenols and other heart-healthy, cancer-fighting compounds. If you eat the whole rose, you’ll also get allergy-busting pollen to help get your body in tune with your environment.
Besides sprinkling the petals lavishly in salads and across toast, try making Rose Honey*. Fill any jar to the top with roses and rose petals. Pour honey into the jar, stirring as needed to remove air bubbles, until the jar is full. Cap securely and label. Wait for at least a week before eating. The longer you wait, the better the taste. You can make Rose Hip Honey the same way; be sure to remove all the seeds and itchy hairs from the rose hips before putting them in a jar and adding honey.
Rose petal or rose hip honey is splendid on toast, or taken by the spoonful to soothe a sore throat. To forestall a cold, put a tablespoon of rose honey in a cup, add the juice of half a lemon, then fill the cup with hot water.
Roses are especially cherished as a remedy for “women’s problems”. The growing tips of the rose canes are rich in hormone-like substances that help women with menstrual difficulties get into an easy flow, those with libido problems to feel frisky, and those who want to conceive to be more receptive.
Rose Hormone Remedy:
Harvest leaf and flower buds just before they open, preserving with honey, or a mixture of one part glycerin and two parts water. The dose is a teaspoonful several times a day.
Roses are part of a very large family of plants, many of which are medicinal and edible. Raspberry is part of the rose family, and raspberry leaf infusion is a fine uterine tonic. Hawthorn, the heart remedy, is also part of this family. As are most of the non-tropical fruits we enjoy: apples, pears, peaches, and plums, apricots, strawberries, cherries, and blackberries, raspberries, and even almonds.
If an apple a day will keep the doctor away, what will a rose a day do for you? Try it and see!
*Note: Do not give honey to babies under 12 months old.