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2012 Herb of the Year: The Rose (Rosa spp.)

Learn to capture the essence of this useful 2012 Herb of the Year, rose (Rosa spp.).

| February/March 2012

  • Learn to capture the essence of this useful 2012 Herb of the Year.
    Photo by Shelli Jensen

Rioting roses are usually considered the province of the gardener, not the chef or herbalist. But the gorgeous blooms can do much more than just look pretty. These useful plants have long been a culinary staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, and roses have been recognized for medicinal qualities since ancient Greek and Roman times. In fact, the rose (Rosa spp.) is intertwined with human history. Wreaths of roses have been found in Egyptian tombs, and artwork from the height of Minoan culture on Crete depicts roses.

Rose Recipes:
Easy Two-Step Method for Rose-Infused Vinegar
Rose-Scented Sugar
Simple Rose Water Syrup
Candied or Crystallized Rose Petals
Drop Scones with Rose Petals and Pistachios
Pomegranate Lemonade with Rosewater
Rosy Rice Pudding
Middle-Eastern Dried Fruit Compote with Spices and Flower Waters 

Roses for Health

Ancient Greeks and Romans valued the aroma of roses and used the petals in their baths and for strewing herbs on the floors of banquet halls and under the wheels of chariots. The first recorded use of rose water was in the 10th century, prepared by Avicenna, while the essential oil of rose was not noted until sometime in the late 1500s.

Rose Essential Oil

The essential oil of rose has antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and antiviral characteristics. Besides cosmetic applications, rose is used topically as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and astringent, and is applied to abrasions, abscesses, boils, burns, dermatitis, eczema and rashes. It has been used as a rinse for conjunctivitis, for ulcers of the mouth and tongue, and as a gargle for sore throats, cough, fever and hay fever. It is also recommended for indigestion, nausea, gas and urinary tract infections. The uplifting fragrance is used in many ways in aromatherapy—as a nervine; for depression, insomnia, stress and emotional turmoil; and even as an aphrodisiac. Cosmetically, the perfume of roses is featured in lotions, perfumes, body- and hair-care products, bath oils and bath salts.

Rose Hips

The fruits of the rose, referred to as the rose hips, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They are also astringent and diuretic and are purported to relieve water retention, flush kidneys, and aid in preventing cystitis and urinary tract infections. Known for their vitamin C content, they also have a high level of calcium, iron and phosphorus, which make them a good tonic. Rose hips are used to treat colds, flu, sore throat, allergies, fever, and help boost the immune system and prevent infections. Rose hip oil is used for dry skin, wrinkles and scars. 

There is some controversy as to which roses have the best medicinal virtues. I have worked with Rosa damascene, R. gallica and R. rugosa with good results. Maude Grieve’s A Modern Herbal advises that any scented roses of a deep red color may be used: “the main point is that the petals suitable for medicinal purposes must yield a deep rose-colored and somewhat astringent and fragrant infusion.”

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