Celebrating the 2012 Herb of the Year: 5 Favorite Roses

Reader Contribution by Lemon Verbena Lady
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You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden.

The weather in southwestern Pennsylvania has accelerated the bloom of my roses, the 2012 Herb of the Year. So I need to show you some of my favorites. Remember all rose varieties are edible. There are some roses that taste better than others. If it has a white heel on the tip of the rose petal, you might have to cut that off because it might be bitter. Do not eat florist’s roses. Instead make them into potpourri. Here are a couple of potpourri recipes using rose petals from The Herb Companion archives. The majority of florist’s roses come from South America and they most likely are sprayed with a chemical that we have banned here. Eat roses that you have grown yourself organically or ones that you know have been grown by other organic growers. Here are five of my favorites that I grow in my garden.

My favorite edible rose is Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’. It is simply delicious. Because I moved it around until I found the perfect spot, it took three years to bloom! Sometimes I drive myself crazy, herbally speaking. Here it is several weeks ago in May. What makes a rugosa so great is that it is hardy for practically everyone in the U.S. It is very tough and yet the beautiful flowers are very delicate. It is native to eastern Asia and in northeastern China, Japan, Korea and southeastern Siberia, where it grows on the coast, often on sand dunes. So you can grow this rose at the beach! I just looked out in my front garden and it is still blooming and it still has buds to bloom. This rose has no major insect or disease problems.

My next favorite rose was recommended by Holly Shimizu in the June/July 1996 issue of The Herb Companion magazine: Rosa gallica ‘Apothecary’, the fragrant rose of history. Every good herbalist in medieval times had one in his/her garden. It was brought by the Pilgrims to America for its medicinal properties. It has problems with suckers (but for me that’s just more plants) and has mildew problems, but I love to make rose petal jelly with this particular rose. I have adapted the Rose Petal Jam from an article on The Herb Companion website from Portia Meares.

Please don’t forget that the sterilization of jars is part of the jelly-making process. It must be done before you make any jelly. To sterilize jars, boil them for 10 minutes and keep them hot until you are ready to pour the jelly. Lids can be left in hot water until needed. Do not boil the lids. The rings do not have to be sterilized. Screw lids down slightly and process jars once filled with jelly in a boiling water bath for five minutes. Remove jars from boiling bath to racks or a counter to cool. Check the next day to be sure jars are properly sealed. If the jars are not sealed, you must refrigerate them and use them promptly.

Here is my adaption of Ms. Meares recipe.

Rose Petal Jelly


• 6 cups of water
• Juice of one lemon
• 4 cups rose petals, with white heel removed
• 1 packet powdered pectin
• 6 cups sugar
• 2 tablespoons rose water

1. Heat water and lemon juice, add rose petals. Simmer for 10 minutes.

2. With wooden spoon and a sieve, squeeze out all of petal pulp. Return liquid to simmer. Add pectin. Stir to dissolve. Add sugar. Increase heat and boil vigorously for seven minutes, stirring constantly. 

3. Add the rose water during the final minute of boiling. Skim foam from top of jelly. Immediately place the jelly in sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes as mentioned above.

While apothecary roses are fragrant, I felt the jelly wasn’t as tasty as it could be until I added the rose water. Hope you try it and use it with thumbprint cookies, between the layers of cake or use it as a sauce for ice cream.

My third favorite rose has been in our garden for as long as we have lived here (23 years). For as much as I love England, it was kismet that the rose that was left in the garden would be a grandiflora rose called ‘Queen Elizabeth’. She has faithfully bloomed and the Queen has come through with her crown intact. Pun intended! I just noticed it was blooming the other day right in time for the Jubilee. The Queen does have black spot problems. Each fall you must clean up around all of your roses and make sure that no leaves have been left behind to overwinter and spread the disease.

I have a couple of choices for the numbers four and five roses. The decorative elements of both of these roses make them perfect for baking and/or bouquets. Number four is a polyantha rose called ‘The Fairy’. It comes in both pink and red. The greatest feature of this rose is that it is a prolific bloomer until frost. It is about six feet tall in our garden! Not typical! I have read that it typically grows between 2 and 3 feet tall and wide!

‘The Fairy’ is perfect for making a tussie mussie. A tussie mussie is a Victorian nosegay that uses the “Language of Flowers” to express a token of love, a welcome gift, getting over an illness (among other themes) or congratulations–which was what the tussie mussie I made below was for. I gave it to my best friend’s daughter on her graduation from middle school. In this case the pink rose was for grace, spearmint for friendliness, lemon verbena for enchantment, lemon balm for memories, oregano for happiness, sage for long life and good health, daisy for innocence, lavender for luck, dianthus for mom’s love and rosemary for remembrance. Then the entire bouquet was surrounded by peppermint-scented geranium leaves for cordial feelings. Little tussie mussies can have a lot of meanings. Here is a great article by Geraldine Adamich Laufer on The Herb Companion website called “Victorian Tussie Mussie.”

My fifth favorite rose is an ‘Everblooming Climbing Cécile Brünner’, which has come from the ground in my garden every year because of our winters. This year, it is very robust and was actively growing early in March because of our mild winter. It would be beautiful to decorate cupcakes and cakes. The blooms have a mild fragrance, but it blooms just like ‘The Fairy’ until frost. It has very few insect and disease problems in this garden.

Photos by Nancy Heraud 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing my favorite roses. Please let me know what yours are. I would love to hear about your favorites. Here is a link to a blog post I did just recently with some of my favorite rose books. As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my e-mail at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.comand put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.

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