Rosa Rugosa: Take Time to Smell and Eat the Roses
Ah, summer! As the days heat up delightful floral scents permeate the air. And some of the most delicious scents are coming from roses. My favorite is the beach rose (Rosa rugosa), a squat, deciduous shrub standing 3-6 feet tall, in the family Rosaceae, having dark green leaves, and flowers ranging in color from white to blush pink to deep red. Its fragrant scent is captivating; almost demanding, “Stop what you are doing and breathe me in.” Though heralding from eastern Asia, this plant has naturalized across Europe and the U.S. It thrives in sandy soils and has been a great aid to our coastal sand dunes. That said, it can also be considered an aggressive invasive in other areas. One reason for this is that beach rose (aka rugosa rose) sends up suckers from its roots and can form dense thickets. Although perfect against beach erosion, because it’s a rose and hence has prickers, it is not an easy plant to remove once established. Beach rose stems are densely covered in short prickles. Foliage is comprised of scalloped, elliptical, pinnate leaflets (5-9) that are rugose (corrugated), and feel somewhat leathery to the touch. Though young leaves are edible, I am not sure how palatable they are to humans. Leaves can be can be made into tea however.
The heady five-petal flowers have 200-250 stamens per flower, keeping a variety of pollinators busy. Stick your nose into a rugosa rose and you can discover what bliss smells like. And the euphoria need not end there. Beach rose is also edible. How about a flower petal salad comprised of rose petals and other in season flower petals? Gather lettuces from your garden, add petals of rose, viola, daylily, and beebalm. Sprinkle with seasonal berries such as strawberries, raspberries and/or dewberries, drizzle with a honey vinaigrette, and voila – delicious, nutritious summer salad! Petals can also be used to make jelly and jam, be candied, sprinkled on cakes and ice cream, and flavor water, seltzer, tea, wine, honey, mead, liqueurs, and vinegar. And how does a rose elixir sound? Tempted? I was, but I didn’t have brandy as most recipes call for, so I am experimenting with a maple-infused whiskey. The basic process for making a rose elixir is to fill a jar with freshly gathered rose petals and flower buds. Fill the jar about 2/3 full with local honey and gently stir in. Then top off the jar with brandy to be sure roses stay covered. Close with lid and gently turn the jar upside down and right side up several times to mix the ingredients. Let the potion sit for four weeks, shaking gently daily. Strain off the petals which you can eat right then and there and then store your elixir for as long as it lasts. You can add rose elixir to seltzer, tea, vodka – whatever suits your fancy. You can also drizzle it on cakes, muffins, and ice cream. Or just eat it by the spoonful and feel a delicious sense of love coating you from the inside out.
And roses are not just fun eating, they are also medicine. Rose is cooling, soothing, and an anti-inflammatory. Rose oil can be used to relieve several skin conditions, including rashes, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and hives. Gather and dry rose petals. Once they are completely dry (which can take several days), stuff dried roses into a jar and fill with olive oil or other carrier oil such as almond or fractionated coconut oil. Stir gently to be sure all petals are covered. Close the jar with a lid and let the concoction sit for four weeks, gently shaking daily. Strain and store in a cool dry place. Apply to skin as necessary.
And roses are the gift that keeps on giving. Leave enough flowers to fruit and then when the rosehips ripen in late summer and early autumn, gather and dry them for tea. They are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory flavonoids.
Plentiful beach rose is not the only edible rose. All roses are; some just taste better than others so experiment to discover your taste preferences. Another invasive rose you can eat is multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). It too has a sweet bouquet. This shrub has a rambling appearance and can stand up to 15 feet tall. Canes have stout, curved thorns and white flowers. Though I am not partial to these “triffids” lumbering across the landscape, because they are plentiful, their petals can be consumed in all the same ways as beach rose. Help do your part in managing this noxious invasive by eating it! Native to China, Japan, and Korea, it was introduced as an ornamental, but has decidedly done more than just decorate our fields – it’s taking them over. Eat all the multiflora flowers and rosehips you can.
So as you are walking, be sure to stop and smell the roses. Perhaps you will even take a nibble this time.
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, wild edible enthusiast, and Wiccan High Priestess lives in Ashfield, MA.
Into the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in the Ashfield News. This article appears in the July 2019 edition of The Ashfield News.
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