Making Rose Beads

| June/July 1996


Textured rose beads give these necklaces a subtle, sweet scent.

• DIY: Rose Bead Instructions 

Thousands of carefully harvested rose petals simmer on stovetops for long hours until they become mushy black goop. At this stage, it’s difficult to recognize their origins or envision their final form, but the scent is a clue. These petals are on their way to becoming fragrant and enticing rose beads.

Rose beads are the basis of a flourishing fund-raising effort by one of the nation’s most active herb groups, the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America (HSA). Its members gently shape the cooked rose-petal mash into beads, set them out to dry, and then string them together to fashion simple but elegant scented jewelry. Rose-bead necklaces have become the group’s ­signature.

When I joined the Potomac Unit last year, I became part of one of the most dedicated and energetic collection of women and men I’ve ever known. The seventy members take on one project after another—herb study groups, culinary events, craft workshops, educational trips, and fund-raisers—as well as helping to maintain five public gardens, but when I was introduced to the rose-bead project, I decided that I wanted to tell the story of how the Potomac Unit members turn rose petals into gold.

The Rise of Rose Beads

Beads made of rose petals that have been cooked, mashed, and molded by hand trace their origins to India, where the devout used them as a counting device while reciting their prayers. Eastern Christian monks adopted the use of rose beads in the third century, and the beads were given official approval in 1520 by Pope Leo X. The term “rosary” was coined in the fifteenth century; rosarium is the Latin word for “rose garden”. The word “bead” is derived from the Middle English bede, “prayer”. Many old rosaries were made from rose beads; while the scent gradually faded away to a memory, the beads themselves have survived for centuries.

Members of the Potomac Unit ­started making rose beads in 1967, reasoning that it was a good herbal tradition to revive and that it might become an ongoing project. Little did they know! The rose beads have become the most profitable of all the group’s fund-raising efforts. We now hold rose-bead workshops for members about six times a year, and the necklaces and earrings that we produce are sold at herb festivals, annual plant sales, and meetings. Members estimate that in the past three years alone, the group has sold about 600 rose-bead necklaces.

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