Rose Harvest

The beautiful and fragrant rose is one of the best loved flowers in the world, with a wonderful scent that has endeared itself to people since time immemorial. It is thought to have been first cultivated in northern Persia, from where it was slowly brought west by explorers and merchants. There were only a  few varieties in ancient times, Rosa gallica being the most eminent with its deep crimson colour and rich but delicate fragrance. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all highly prized the rose, which quickly took its place in myth, legend and folklore.

With its beauty and fragrance, the rose quickly became synonymous with love, romance and affairs of the heart. In herbal medicine we consider the rose to be of particular value for grief and emotional exhaustion. Rose tincture is expensive to buy so we make good use of the Rosa gallica bushes that we have in our herb garden. The rose petal harvest is one of the most delightful jobs of the year, lasting about four or five weeks over June and July. The sad part is that the best time to take the flowers is when they are just at their best, but plucking them causes more flowers to bloom so there are always plenty of flowers to enjoy, as long as the flowering season lasts.

This year we harvested several kilos of petals from just one mature bush (in a large pot) and one small bush in a flower bed. Plucked when dry, often a challenge in an Irish summer, the petals are separated and spread out to dry on sheets of paper in a clean dust-free room, out of the sun. About four fifths of the weight of petals is water, so once dried our several kilos came down to 700 grammes.

As soon as the harvest was finished, and the flowers dried, I started to make the tincture – the longer one delays the more the aroma dissipates. From start to finish it will take about four weeks to complete the tincture making process, after which, provided the tincture is kept in a stoppered bottle out of sunlight, it will keep perfectly well for at least a year.

There is a long tradition of medicinal use of the rose as a tonic for the heart and blood vessels, to stimulate digestion and appetite, for heavy and painful periods, to assist fertility, to help with fibroids and other uterine problems, for anxiety and depression in general, and many other complaints. As there are many herbs which are excellent for these conditions, I tend to reserve the scarce and expensive rose tincture to use as part of a prescription for  patients suffering grief and emotional exhaustion due to bereavement, to try and ease the heart-ache of the loss of a loved one.

Another area where the rose excells is the skin. An ointment containing rose petal extract was probably the first medicinal use of the plant, and its use in ointments continues to this day by the cognoscenti. More readily available (and much cheaper) the gentle astringency of rose water makes a superb skin toner. Proper rosewater is a byproduct of distillion when making  the highly prized and very expensive rose otto. Rosewater is also a good, gentle astringent tonic for sore eyes.

One could fill many pages with wonderful uses of the rose, and over time I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this most delightful plant, so logon to our site from time to time to see what’s new.

Kevin Orbell-McSean. July 2011.

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