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Using roses

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If you are fortunate enough (like me) to have any old fashioned, scented roses growing in your garden, there are some wonderful ways to extend their benefits beyond the obvious ones of looking at them bloom, smelling them and picking them for a vase. I’ll be telling you about some of these below. If you don’t have access to roses, rose essential oil and rosewater are both wonderful natural substances that you can buy and use. Rose essential oil is very expensive as a massive quantity of petals is needed to distil any quantity of the oil, but fortunately only a very small amount is needed to reap its benefits, blended with a carrier oil such as olive or coconut. As with all essential oils, don’t use it in its concentrated state. Rosewater is a by-product of distillation and a much cheaper way to access the benefits of the rose. It can be used with abandon.

Roses have some incredible gifts for the skin. Roses are beneficial to all skin types, especially dry, sensitive or aging skin. But rose also balances oily skin and is very good at treating pimples and acne. It has astringent effects and tones the capillaries just below the skin’s surface, reducing redness. It is very soothing to irritated skin and has antiseptic properties. Rosewater also makes a good treatment for eye infections and to soothe tired or burning eyes.

The rose is soothing to the mind too and is useful both internally and in aromatherapy to relieve stress and nervous tension, alleviate insomnia, lift depression and combat fatigue.

Roses also have many medicinal uses. (More on those below.)

Here are some easy ways to harness these properties of roses at home. Please note that all these recipes assume that your roses have not been sprayed with any pesticides or other synthetic chemicals for at least six weeks before flowering.

Rose petal tea

To prepare an infusion of rose petals:

  • simply put a few handfuls of petals (either fresh or dried and crushed) in a teapot and cover with a cup or two of freshly boiled water.
  • You can also use the leaves of the rose.
  • Allow to steep for at least ten minutes, or up to several hours, then strain.

This infusion has a range of uses, especially as a cleanser and decongestant in many areas.

For skin care, use it alone or mixed 50/50 with apple cider vinegar as a soothing and balancing toner, astringent and acne treatment. Or add it to your bath water to purify, soothe and tone the skin, and improve your mood.

Use the rose tea as a final rinse after washing your hair. It cares for the scalp and soothes any inflammations, increases blood supply and encourages hair growth. Or mix 50/50 with apple cider or ordinary vinegar when washing your hair.

Gargle with the rose infusion to treat inflamed gums or for generally healthy gums and to remove bad mouth odours.

Drinking the tea has several cleansing health benefits. It invigorates and purifies the liver and so helps to dispel headaches and constipation (though it is also useful in treating diarrhoea). It helps clear the female reproductive system to alleviate menstrual pains and heavy periods, improve fertility and perk up sexual desire. It combats sore throats and the symptoms of cold and flu, as well as congested bronchi. It has a diuretic effect and helps clear excess fluids from the kidneys, which also helps the body rid itself of toxins and waste. It also has a comforting effect and can help clear hot fevers and sooth rashes. Rose petal tea also has similar effects on the nervous system as the rose’s uses in aromatherapy (see above).

Rose petal vinegar

Make a gloriously beautiful and aromatic rose petal vinegar using pink or red scented roses.

  • Stuff as many rose petals as you can fit into a jar and slowly fill the jar with vinegar (either ordinary white vinegar or white wine vinegar, or even apple cider vinegar).
  • Allow any air bubbles to surface (leave for a day or two if necessary), then add some more petals and / or vinegar until the jar is really full. Try to make sure all the petals are totally covered.
  • Leave the jar in a warm place for several days (five to ten) till the petals are discoloured and the vinegar has turned a lovely colour.
  • Strain the vinegar and discard the petals (add to compost or scatter on the soil as a mulch. To get more use out of them, I put them in a net bag and add them to a bath before composting.)
  • Repeat the above steps with more petals if you want a stronger rose colour or fragrance.
  • Decant your rose petal vinegar into a glass bottle for storage.
  • Sunlight causes the vinegar to fade, but it looks stunning in clear glass on a sunny windowsill shining like a jewel. Perhaps if you are storing it for a longer time a dark place is safer.

This vinegar has many of the same uses as the petal infusion above, but is stronger and can be stored indefinitely. Add the vinegar to your bath or use as a toner as above. It soothes and treats bites, stings and sunburned or irritated skin. Use when washing your hair and as a mouthwash and throat gargle. Drizzle on salads for a delicious treat, or add to a soothing toddy to help fight off colds and flu.

Rose hip tea

You can also make use of the beautiful and delicious round or pear-shaped red hips (the seed pods of the rose plant) that appear from spring to late autumn. Rose hips contain more vitamin C than almost any other plant source (up to 60 times as much as oranges), along with vitamins A, B3, D and E, bioflavonoids, citric acid, flavonoids, fructose, malic acid, tannins and zinc. They can be made into jam, jelly, syrup and soup as well as tea. Collect your hips when they are deep red but still soft and not yet wrinkly.

Here are three ways to make rose hip tea:

  • Method 1 (less prep, more cooking):
    • Roughly chop up about four hips and cover them with a cupful of water.
    • Boil for 30 minutes (or longer).
    • Strain carefully through a very fine strainer or cheesecloth.
    • Add a little honey if desired.
  • Method 2 (more prep, no cooking):
    • Cut the top and bottom tips of the hips off, make a vertical slit and peel back the flesh.
    • Scrape out the seeds and soft hairs – be careful because the hairs can be very itchy if you get them into soft skin.
    • Grate the flesh on a fine grater.
    • Pour a cupful of hot but not boiling water into a cup or teapot and add a heaped teaspoon of hips (about four hips).
    • Let it steep for at least 5 minutes.
    • Strain and drink, with a teaspoon of honey if desired.
  • Method 3 (for instant tea):
    • Prepare and grate rose hips as in 2 above.
    • Leave them to dry, then store in a small jar.
    • To make the tea, use two teaspoons of dried hips to a cupful of boiled water and steep for at least 5 minutes.
    • Strain and drink, with a teaspoon of honey if desired.

However you make it, this tea is deliciously tart and fruity and is especially good at treating and preventing colds and flu as well as being an excellent tonic that lifts fatigue, heads off infections (particularly bladder infections) and treats diarrhoea. It is also a gentle laxative and diuretic.

Here’s an interesting thought: rose hips were once thought to be sacred, and hence the beads of the Catholic rosary, used to count prayers, were made of rose hips during the Middle Ages.

So, consider yourself truly blessed if you have access to a rose plant, especially an old rose with a strong fragrance and coloured blooms, and go out and gather your harvest.

(With thanks to my mom for always growing roses for beauty and pleasure, and to my rosy cousin Rachel for introducing me to their other gifts.)

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