My mother proudly tended more than 75 rose bushes that surrounded the home where I grew up. Planting and planting, year after year, her green thumb created delicate beauty wherever she sowed. Rose red, pastel pink, white, yellow, crimson, and more, her roses were the staple in the garden and a welcoming sight to family, friends, and neighbors throughout the growing season. Some of the plants were tall and meandering; a few wore an almost purple hue, bushy and bright each spring and fall. Other flowers surrounded the house and yard too, but my mother’s roses were the colorful elegance that delighted us all so well.
I have many memories of how the beauty of roses has enhanced my life through the years. My mother’s favorites, neatly organized bunches given as gifts from loved ones, and of course, those I’ve grown on my own. When we think of roses, our thoughts typically dwell on romantic red, passionate pink, and the yellow rose of friendship. They are used as centerpieces, dried for keepsakes, and worn as decorations in hats or on lapels. We see these flowers everywhere, are told to take the time to smell them, even bottle them for perfume, but did you know we could eat them too? Yes, we can eat each and every single one of those precious little flowers, even the leaves – and they taste so good!
Consider that rosehips are the fruit of the plant. Generally used for jellies, jams, baking, and teas, these tiny fruit gems come packed with vitamin C. The hips also contain vitamins A and E and are a healthy choice to mix with apples or apricots in a salad or baked dessert. Slice them in half to remove the seeds before eating.
The leaves of the plants are on the bitter side but boiled fresh or dried, create great caffeine-free teas. Rose leaves contain polyphenols, a source of antioxidants that may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Try your own creation of healing hot tea by mixing the leaves with a few fragrant rose petals, mint leaves, and dried orange peels for a great tasting treat.
The petals and buds themselves are best for premium flavor in salads, decorative toppings for cakes, and other garnishes. You’ll want to remove the petals and buds from the white base or pinch the white bottom off before using as these can be bitter. Take the time to smell the flowers since the most fragrant will be the sweetest tasting.
Above all, make sure you are using organic or homegrown roses for cooking and consuming. While roses purchased from the supermarket or florist can be gorgeous, if they are ‘perfect,’ they are usually over-fertilized or sprayed with pesticides that can make you sick. Stick with growing your own or using some from a friend’s garden if you can.
Go for the heirlooms, old garden variety, and even wild roses when purchasing rose plants for edible uses. These older varieties will also prove to be the best tasting and flower producing overall. There are thousands upon thousands of rose plant varieties. Follow your nose and taste buds to grow an edible garden treat this year that will last for many more years to come.
Here’s to the memory of my wonderful mother, who nurtured my passion for growing, cooking, writing, and stopping to smell the roses! Enjoy your gardening this year!
Candy Webb is a freelance writer, consultant, entrepreneur, and owner of Taste of Candy. Visit www.tasteofcandy.com for more Tasty Garden Goodness.