Happy Valentine’s Day week! This week I thought I’d elaborate on a Valentine’s Day classic, the Rose: there are many species, in the genus Rosa. Warning: don’t eat the ones you got for Valentine’s Day! Growing wild (sometimes called invasively) you are likely to find Rosa multiflora, or multiflora rose. These have small white flowers, growing in clusters, each less than an inch wide.
You may also find Rosa rugosa, known as large-hip, wrinkled or rugosa rose, which have red, pink or white flowers, up to 1 inch wide. Rose plants can often be identified by their curved thorns which can grab the skin and hold on until you figure out which direction you need to go to disentangle yourself. Their toothed, wrinkled leaves have 5- 9 leaflets.
Nature survival instructor Tom Brown, Jr., writes about roses in his book Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants:
“To me, rosebushes are the protectors of the small animal life. In any huge tangle of roses you will be sure to find a myriad of tunnels, trails, runs, hides and bedding areas as well as an assortment of other animal signs. The rose tangles remind me of huge cities where high concentrations of animals live and work. They are every bit as impenetrable as brier patches and just as painful for those who don’t take care going into them. They are by far the thickest of all protective areas and usually house the largest assortment of animals. To Rick and me, there were always a source of absorbing study, for at any time, we could see countless animals…
One of our favorite times was during the late spring when the flowers are in bloom. Not only could we witness the movement of animals and their songs, but our senses would become intoxicated by the rich fragrances that surrounded us. It was a most sensual experience.
To add even more dimension to our overloaded senses as we lay in the rose tunnels, we would feast on the rose petals. It tended to round out our experience so that all our senses would be involved in the action. This made us feel very close to the rose patches and a part of the natural world protected beneath its rough exterior…
One of our late fall duties was to collect the rose hips to make winter tonic to help prevent colds and other illnesses. We would collect the berries, taking care to leave plenty for the animals. We would then remove the seeds and dry the fleshy hips in the warm fall sun, then grind up the dried hips into a coarse powder and dry again to insure thorough dryness. To this we would add equal parts rose petals that we had collected and dried in the spring. This would become our stash. Grandfather would have us drink a half cup of rose tea throughout the flu- infested winter months to help us stay healthy. It worked well as we were rarely sick even with common colds, although half of our school would be out sick. The one winter I failed to use the tonic, I had more colds and flu than I had in my whole life previously.”
Tom Brown, Jr., continues:
“Food: Not only were the rose patches a source of intense animal study, but they also provided us with food, medicaiton, and many practical uses in a survival situation. The fresh rose petals are excellent as a trailside nibble, added to salads, or made into teas. These are delicious, having a taste unique to them. If you love tea, you will love mixing your favorite tea with dried or fresh rose petals. The smell of the tea becomes almost intoxicating and will give you a new taste sensation. The fleshy part of the rose hip can be eaten raw or dried and made into tea the same way as petal tea. Rose hips are very high in vitamin C and that could be one of the reasons that they make an excellent winter tonic. Rose hips make an excellent emergency survival food because they usually remain on the bush throughout the winter.
Medicinal: Strong rose tea made from the fresh or dried petals and hips makes a great skin wash for infections and inflammations. Strong doses of tea can also be effectively used as a mouthwash for many oral maladies. It also has a sedative effect which I commonly use for headaches or upset stomach. It is best to collect the rose petals before they bloom, as that is when they provide the most medicinal value. I have also used the warm tea as ear drops, allowing it to trickle into the infected ear.
Stronger medications can be made by mixing petals and hips with hot wine. A small palmful of petals and hips added to a cup of wine is the usual dosage. Use one- quarter cup twice a day internally or as an astringent for the skin. One favorite concoction that Grandfather used to make for the onset of colds was a mixture of yarrow (featured in my previous post) and rose hips. This he brewed into a strong tea and drank two cups a day. He also used in on a few patients to help induce sweating, break fevers, and fortify the body against attacking germs.”
James A. Duke, Ph. D., writes of multiflora rose in his book The Green Pharmacy:
“In China, people simmer two to four teaspoons of the dried flower per cup of boiling water to make a tea for treating dry mouth…
Now a serious weed in the eastern part of the United States, multiflora rose is listed in Chinese pharmacy reference books as a good treatment for swelling. You can try a tea made with two or three teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water.”
It never ceases to amaze me how many needs can be satisfied by the most commonly abundant plants.
One of my first introductions to roses as food came from the use of rose water in Indian cuisine. It was a very pleasant surprise. My most recent use of rose is in a face wash I came across that is a combination of rose water and witch hazel, plus aloe vera. The brand is Thayer’s, and the bottle claims that this combination is Rose Thayer’s secret to always looking 10 years younger. So in my case, normally looking about 10 years younger than I am, I should now look about 20 years younger than I really am…