Roses are very popular ornamental garden plants but not all gardeners realise they also have culinary and medicinal uses.
Rosa is a large family of deciduous hardy shrubs. Although having a reputation for being complicated and demanding to grow, they’re actually no more difficult to deal with than any other garden shrub. Problems usually only arise when the roses are grown en masse in a separate rose garden. Under such conditions, pests and diseases can easily spread from plant to plant and the soil will quickly become depleted of the required nutrients. If grown amongst other plants in a mixed border, roses are generally trouble free.
There is a huge range of roses available, from dwarf forms a few inches high to huge ramblers that can smother a tree. Flowers can be small and single or large and doubled. The colour range is from white through pinks and yellows to orange, mauve and red to near black. No true blue roses exist, although several in lilac colours bear a name suggesting blue.
Most roses prefer a sunny, open position and a rich heavy soil. Species roses may be raised from seeds or cuttings. These can be left to grow naturally, or trimmed and trained to fill a particular space. Hybrid roses are best bought as grafted plants. Pruning will help produce more flowers over a longer period. At its simplest this need only involve deadheading back to a leafnode and the removal of dead, damaged and untidy shoots.
Rose petals are edible and can be added to salads for decoration or included in cakes, ice cream and other desserts to impart a delicate perfume and flavour. Chose those whose colour and scent will complement the dish. Candied rose petals make a lovely decoration for cakes and other sweet foods. The petals can also be used to make rosewater and included in pot-pourri. Medicinally, a decoction of rose petals can be used to treat conjunctivitis or mixed with honey to soothe a sore throat.
Rose species noted for their scent and medicinal qualities include Rosa damascena and Rosa gallica officianalis.
The hips of wild or dog roses (rosa canina) are rich in vitamin C. They can be made into delicious rose hip syrup which is used to help fight off colds and other infections and to ease sore throats and coughs. An infusion of rose hips is said to strengthen the brain and heart.