Roses are beautiful additions to any garden, and petals and rose hips can also add to your cooking.
Eat Your Yard! (Gibbs Smith, 2010) has information on 35 edible plants that offer the best of both landscape and culinary uses. Edible garden plants provide spring blossoms, colorful fruit and flowers, lush greenery, fall foliage, and beautiful structure, but they also offer fruits, nuts, and seeds that you can eat, cook, and preserve. Roses are especially delightful for creating an edible landscape, as shown in the following excerpt.
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The rose is a botanical mothership with connections to much of what grows in our gardens: everything from nectarines to strawberries.
“Queen of flowers!” one source exclaims.
Roses have universal appeal for the intense perfume and entrancing beauty of their flowers. They also help pollination among other plants.
There are wild roses native to North America, or introduced and naturalized, which are adaptable from seaside to mountaintop. And there are hybridized roses, with thoroughbred refinement, suitable only where the climate cooperates and people can pamper them.
Wild roses, to make the situation more complicated, can be quite good in the garden — or highly destructive.
Let’s agree to cheat and consider several native North American roses and several imported roses together (imported, that is, during colonial times or earlier and then spreading) before choosing the most useful and least intrusive for the edible landscape.
First, a word about why roses should be considered edible at all.
For one thing, rose petals have a light, sweet flavor and can be eaten fresh in salads, where they add unexpected color; one writer pairs them with cucumbers for a visual treat. The young shoots of some roses, carefully cleaned, are also edible, with a pleasant crunch.
It is the rose’s fruit that merits attention and that has a long, nutritionally important role in civilization, especially in northern climates where other fruits are difficult to grow, and during wartime, when sources of vitamin C are interrupted.
The small fruits called rose hips have the highest vitamin C content of any fresh food, and while they can be eaten raw, more commonly rose hips are cooked before use. The seeds, which are hairy and give bad tickles to the throat, are almost always either cooked and strained out or just spit out. Rose hips can be processed—strained for juice—to make jelly, syrup, and sauces. That goodness can be bottled and kept all year. Rose hips and rose petals also produce specialty wines, cordials, and liqueurs.
Hips are pulpy, seed-filled pods, which in late fall grace rose bushes with their red or orange colors (even dark blue). The hips vary in size and shape, usually not much larger than a grape. Covered in frost in a landscape otherwise drained of color, they make a spectacular display.
Unlike the more demanding hybrid roses, wild roses have spent tens of millions of years adapting to local conditions. They are nearly disease free and pest free. They require little pruning or fertilizing, can withstand temperatures well below zero, and can grow in poor soils.
In some cases, wild roses grow to ten or fifteen feet high, forming impressive hedges. In all cases, before planting wild roses check with local agricultural officials to see if your choice is even legal—some wild roses are considered noxious and are banned. Of genus Rosa the main offenders are multiflora roses, including Cherokee rose (ironically, not a true native). Don’t plant these.
Do investigate other species of Rosa for what they can add to your own edible landscape: dog rose, prairie rose, Carolina rose, glauca rose, nootka rose (a western native), and countless crossbred native roses.
My favorite is R. rugosa, the wrinkled rose. I love its highly textural green leaves and its intoxicating pink flowers.
2 cups rose hips, seeded
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
Simmer the rose hips in the water for 1 hour. Add the sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the cornstarch and continue simmering for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the white wine just before serving, if desired.
Reprinted from A Taste of Heritage: Crow Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines by Alma Hogan Snell by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. ©2006 by Alma Hogan Snell.
This is best made after the first frost. Pick about a pound of rose hips; cut off the blossom. Barely cover with water and simmer until fruit is very soft. Use a jelly bag to extract juice. Add a box of pectin, bring to a high boil quickly, add an amount of sugar equal to amount of juice. Bring to a high boil and hold for one minute. Stir and skim. Pour into sterilized jars and cover with paraffin.
(Author’s note: Jars may be sealed in a conventional boiling water bath instead of with paraffin.)
Reprinted with permission from Southern Appalachian Mountain Cookin’: Authentic Ol’ Mountain Family Recipes, ©2004, APS, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape by Nan K. Chase and published byGibbs Smith, 2010. Buy this book from our store: Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape.