Thursday, 16 June 2016

Roses - part one

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Well this comes under the heading of "what was I thinking??" 

I blurted out in comments earlier that some day I would do a rose post. Oy vey, I can't fit everything I do with roses into one post! And for all I do with them, I barely scratch the surface of what can be done with roses.

But then this blog was never intended to be a comprehensive teaching tool, just a sort of journal of my wildcrafting adventures meant to pique your interest. You, my clever reader-friends, know how to do a Google search, and (as I'm finding out) you're a creative bunch, too. So I'll just share what I do, you guys share back about what you do, or would like to do. Leaving links of cool rose stuff in comments is encouraged!!

I have a confession to make. My primary go-to when it comes to using roses is rose water - and I don't make my own, I buy the stuff. Why? Well because even I don't have enough roses to make all the rosewater I go through in a year, and I have a LOT of roses. I would have to strip my rose bushes entirely, something that just doesn't bear contemplation as far as I'm concerned. (My grandfather, a rose grower extraordinaire, used to say "roses belong on the bush".)
Breath taking, yes?

I do make rose tincture, but for that I can use the roses that are fading, gathering them as the petals fall. I make rose infused oil, and that can be made with dried petals, of which I have plenty, also gathered as they fall. Every morning and evening I gather them and leave them to dry (and perhaps ferment a little, which is fine) in my best bowl (of course). They scent the living room beautifully.

Why yes, it has been
a long time since I dusted.
Rose petals, among their other charms, are kind enough to increase in fragrance as they dry.

Today I'll talk about all the ways I use rosewater, some things gleaned from old books, some just tried on a whim that stuck as habits.

First, some advice on purchasing rosewater. Aim for Iranian or Lebanese if you can get it. It's easily found in any Mom & Pop Middle Eastern store. It's cheap, too, or it should be. I get it for less than $5, often it's $2.99 and sometimes less than that. The ingredients should say "rosewater". If there is anything else in there, put it back on the shelf. (I've seen "rosewater" with ingredient lists a mile long at "health food stores" for $10! Ha! What a rip-off.)
Arabic on the label is a good sign.

You can use rosewater (the real thing), in cooking. Desserts like baklava, of course, or just in a cake instead of vanilla extract. It's ever so nice in rice pudding. A Lebanese woman once advised me "put a little in your morning glass of water. Then you will be beautiful on the inside, too." I tried it, it was lovely. It's a little astringent and a whole lot delicious. Clean tasting. Come to think of it, I wonder why I dropped that habit .. ?

Rosewater is definitely a beauty product.

I have great hair. Yes, I know, I shouldn't be saying so but I do, I have a great mane. I'm not going grey, although considering my age I should be (that part might be genetic), and although I'm naturally blonde (the shade varies with the seasons) my hair is still pretty thick and strong. That may be diet and genes too but I also credit this trick with rose water I learned from one of my most prized junk-store-find books. (Published in the '70's, it's called "The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices" by Sarah Garland. Oh look, you can get it on Amazon -here's the link.)

Here's what I do - I cut pieces of cheesecloth to fit on my hair brush (which is a bit of a fiddle, so I do plenty at once). I fold those into a jar of rosewater with a shot of vodka for preservative. Whenever I want to freshen up my hair, I sort of force a piece of the rose soaked cheesecloth over the bristles of the brush. The cheesecloth itself seems to catch any dust better than bristles alone, while the rosewater neutralizes oils and leaves a great sheen (not to mention the fragrance) to my hair. It counteracts static, too. Now it may just be that this means I can shampoo less often, and that's half the battle to great hair. But it seems like there's something about the rosewater that keeps it strong. It's also just a delightful thing to do, you should try it.

I use that same cheesecloth trick in other ways. We bring a jar in the car when we go on roadtrips, and they make great 'moist towelettes". You could use them as baby wipes, too, although maybe not for diaper areas (rosewater is a little drying on delicate skin) but for sticky toddler fingers and faces it sure beats the commercial wipes with their highly questionable ingredients. I keep a miniature spray bottle of diluted rosewater in my purse when I go to the city, so I can spritz my face and hands at will, especially if I've been on city buses with the unwashed hordes of humanity. Rose water is anti-cooties. Part hand-sanitizer, part spirit-sanitizer.  

From a photo album,
'the camp' as seen from the lake.

Paul and I used to have a place we called 'the camp'. It was, in reality, someone's mad dream gone bust, an amateurly built split level, very late 70's style cottage on the shores of a very small lake. Long abandoned, no electricity or running water, we got it for a song. A ditty, in fact. (I'd better be careful or I'm going to go off on one heck of a story-telling tangent here). The point being, that without running water you get very good at something called 'bird baths', the strategic spot wash. I used to put a sploosh of rosewater into my basin and somehow felt cleaner having sponged off with that than after a long hot shower.
View from the camp.

At the camp is where I discovered that rosewater is a terrific kitchen spray. No, I don't mean as an air freshener (although it sure does that), but for counters, stove tops and sinks it can't be beat. To this day I keep some in a spray bottle by the sink, diluted to 50/50 with tap water, and use it like you'd use white vinegar. Towards the end of my illustrious career as a cleaning lady, my favourite clients got the rosewater treatment in their kitchens. No wonder they loved me so much.

So now you see why I practically have to buy rosewater in bulk. I've been known to trek to the city for the sole purpose of re-stocking my supply, and understanding friends have been known to send care baskets of the stuff.

I adore rose water. I just don't make it. But luckily, a reader just made her first batch, took pictures and everything! So in the next post, we'll have her as a guest to tell us how she did it. I love it when you guys share your experiences!


  1. Nice! We have wild roses here in Fairbanks. The tamer varieties just can't handle the cold. My property is surrounded by roses, they only flower for a couple weeks in June, then develop small seedy rose hips, filled with a toothpaste-like orange goo that peaks in September/October after a couple hard frosts.

    Last fall I collected a bucket full of hips and cooked and strained them, then dried the "goo" on parchement paper in my dehydrator. The result was a nice fruit leather that tasted good when dissolved into tea or just gnawed on. These rose hips supposedly have more vitamin C than anything here, especially a nice treat just before Winter sets in.

    Here's a nice paper our local uni put out on ideas what to do with roses, from rose water to jelly. I think I may try a few more of these uses.

    1. Thanks Tim!

      Did the Native people make pemmican up your way? If so, I wonder if they used the rosehips in it?

      Moose rosehip pemmican .. sounds .. okay, a little odd. But it would be a nutrition powerhouse.

  2. Oh how I do love roses. I have all of my pretty crystal bowls full of dried petals that I have received over the years. Fresh ones that is and then I would dry them and to this day they still have their beautiful scent. Alas, I no longer have any rose bushes but I have plenty of friends that do!

    1. Oh yes, roses make the best keepsakes. One of my friends, when given roses, never even put them in water, just hung the bouquet upside down to dry it.