Rose – Rosa SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Cultured Flower of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, ogini’minaga’wunj means rose hips or rose berries. Roses are both edible and medicinal. They have a global epicurean history that surpasses other herbs we’ve covered. A rosy pink Turkish delight may come to mind. Or your grandmothers beauty products.

We have a handful of wild roses around Haliburton. All of our rose species are rare to uncommon in the wild. The ones included in Haliburton Flora are prickly wild rose (rosa acicularis), smooth (rosa blanda), sweet-briar (rosa eglanteria), many-flowered rose (rosa multiflora), and swamp (rosa palustris). As you can see from the pictures, wild roses look a little different than cultivators, with a fragrant ring of 5 petals instead of a massive overflowing cluster:

Rose - Rosa SPP.
Rose – Rosa SPP.

Edible Uses of Rose

Most parts of rose shrubs are edible. The rosehips are the most nutritious part and are best harvested in autumn after the first frost, but they remain on the branches into winter for later foraging. The fleshy outer layer of rosehips can be eaten raw or dried. Wash and remove flower parts, then split the hips open to remove the irritating, hairy bits inside. If you dare to eat the hairs you’ll experience the notorious “itchy bum”.

For a quick dessert you can puree two cups of boiled rosehips, then mash the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the skin and seeds. Add a cup of water and around 2 tbsp. of sugar to the puree and boil again, stirring constantly. Let it cool and top the dessert with whipped cream.

Collect rose petals in the morning after the dew has dried. The petals are edible raw or otherwise. They’ve been added to about every dish: besides the usual teas, wines, and salads. And they can be candied (or not) and used for baking decoration, in confectionaries, jams, jellies and sauces. I’ve had lots of rose flavored snacks from west and east Asia and I wish the flavor would catch on more here! The petals make a distinct trail nibble if you want to keep it simple. Add rose petals to fresh butter for sandwich filling. Violets or clover blossoms also make pretty butters. Even pretty ice cubes.

Buds, young shoots and young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Rose leaves, roots and peeled twigs are used in teas.

The seeds inside the hips contain significant vitamin E and can be dried (fyi cyanide compounds in these seeds are destroyed by drying or cooking.) The dried seeds can be ground, boiled and strained to get a syrup rich in vitamin E. Similarly, the hip flesh can be ground into a vitamin C powder that puts your lemon water to shame.

Rose hips are rich in vitamins A, B, E, K and are one of the best wild sources of vitamin C. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain quercetin.

Medicinal Uses of Rose

Rose is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Circulatory (Due to quercetin.)
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Carminative, Diuretic, and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes a strong tea from petals and/or rosehips as a mildly astringent skin wash, mouthwash, or eyewash. The more astringent red roses are typically used, but our native roses are pinks and whites. Also due to astringency, stem or root bark tea is taken for runs, stomach upset; cleaned mashed roots or a leaf poultice for skin wounds, etc. “Typical astringent uses” I usually say.

Rose (petals) vinegar can be tried for a headache. A WWII veteran I took care of for 7 years swears by vinegar itself for headaches. Feel a cold coming on? Wild rose root tea is used for coughs. Rose honey is throat soothing, although usually a “Syrup of Red Rose”, not pink.

Alternative Uses of Roses

Pink roses are used more for rose water, a vintage beauty product. Rose water seems to be coming back into vogue, but spraying water on your skin is drying despite some emollient qualities to rose petals, so use sparingly or use recipes with added moisturizing ingredients. You may have heard of “cold cream” – it’s an ointment of rose water. It seems to be making a comeback as well:

The essential rose oil extracted from the flower or leaves of some roses is used for perfume. Being in a colder climate our rose oil apparently contains a waxy substance that makes it of less value for perfume. But it’s still a fine scent for person or linens. Similarly, the petals are commonly used in potpourri.

The pithy stems are used for crafts like pipes, handles, arrow shafts, etc. The fibrous roots are used for netting, usually along with other materials.

Rose - Rosa SPP.
Rose – Rosa SPP.

Growing Rosa SPP.

There are more than 10,000 roses known in cultivation. Since some cultivated roses are invasive, check first, and even better look for native species – our prickly, swamp and smooth rose shrubs. Here’s our resource page for finding native plants in Ontario.

Here’s a bulletin on dealing with the invasive multiflora rose:


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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A Modern Herbal (Volume 2, I-Z and Indexes)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World’s Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines

The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies: Simple Salves, Teas, Tinctures, and More

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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