The Many Uses for Rose Petals

I am a late but ardent lover of roses. For a long time, they were just too ordinary for my tastes, nothing but a generic way to say, “I love you”. However, when I discovered the medicinal and culinary uses for rose petals, I became a fervent advocate for them and they quickly became extraordinary in my mind. Yes, roses are beautiful, but for me, their true magic is delivered on a plate.

Roses are all abloom here in Sardinia. When I look out my window almost all of my neighbors have roses growing. I see many shades of pink, red and orange. It is beautiful to walk around the village and see all the pretty blooms.

But my favorite thing about roses is eating them. In fact, one of my favorite culinary movies, Like Water For Chocolate features a lot of cooking with roses. There is a vivid scene in which the protagonist cooks up a wooing meal with roses. If you have never seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

I searched to see if there are any traditional Sardinian recipes using roses or rose petals, but alas I found none. Seems a shame since they are so abundant on the island and grow so well here. But there are many traditional cuisines which use rose petals frequently, and we can learn from them. If anyone knows otherwise, and there are traditional Sardinian recipes featuring roses, please tell me about them in the comments.

The Culinary History of Roses

Are roses herbs? Most would immediately say no, but if you learn of their importance in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine you will understand why the International Herb Association (IHA) made roses an official herb in 2012. Roses have been cultivated for centuries for culinary uses.

Rose petals are often used in the same way that many herbs are, the petals are dried and used in tea, or they can infuse various liquids, which are then used to flavor other foods and drinks, or used medicinally.

Rose water is probably the most popular culinary use and is added to all kinds of sweets and confectionary items in the Middle East, Persia, and India. Rose syrup made with sugar is also popular in France.

The petals can be candied to decorate cakes and pastries and creams infused with the flavor of roses are a popular filling for gourmet chocolates in England.

Roses are almost always used in sweet culinary applications, but there are always the exceptions. One traditional savory herb mixture is ras el hanout a spice mixture from North Africa; it is used in chicken and lamb tagines, as a rub for grilled meats, or stirred into couscous or rice. It includes about 12 different spices like cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and chili peppers…and of course crushed rose petals.

How To Eat Roses

All rose petals are edible, but the best roses to use for culinary purposes are the ones that are most fragrant. I find roses to taste rather sweet (big surprise!) and they are also incredibly soothing.

However, even roses without fragrance can add vibrant color to a wide variety of dishes. Some quick rules of thumb when eating roses:

  1. Do not eat roses from a florist shop. These roses are grown for their beauty and therefore have likely been sprayed with pesticides.
  2. Look for flowers that are colorful, perky and without brown spots or discoloration.
  3. Roses, both wild and domesticated are edible, the darker the color,  and more fragrant the bloom, the stronger the flavor.
  4. Eat them the same day you harvest them.
  5. They will dry out in just a few hours, so keep them attached to the stem for until the last minute if you will use them as a garnish.

Some Culinary Ideas for Roses

  • Garnish salads with them
  • Make a colorful compound butter
  • Freeze into ice cubes for fancy drinks
  • Candy them
  • Garnish a rose infused cocktail with them
  • Make rose petal jam
  • Infuse honey with the petals
  • Make ras el hanout
  • Make rose scented sugar (see recipe below for Rose and Cardamom Infused Sugar)

Medicinal Uses of Roses

The first time I really fell hard for roses is when we visited Peaks Island, Maine a few years back in August. The island was literally covered in wild rose hips, and I foraged and dried several batches of them while we were there. Rose hips are the fruit of the rose. When petals fall off, the seed case at the bottom swells to a rounded, reddish fruit that can be harvested and eaten.

I use rose hips mostly to make a tea high in vitamin C to drink during cold and flu season. But rose petals have also been used in folk medicine for centuries as a cure for stomach issues. In pre-modern medicine, “diarrhodon” was a compound of various items like citron santals, cinnamon, ivory, saffron, mastic, pearls, ambergris and musk where red roses were the main ingredient. This was used to cure everything from digestive issues to an aid to strengthen the heart.

In herbal medicine, rose petals are considered to be cooling and dry, but there is a warmth to them to be sure.

Roses are associated with the heart and are good for both cardiovascular issues and emotional well being. They are good for keeping our bodies balanced. Rose petals, because of the naturally occurring acids they contain are also used to keep the GI tract in good condition. Rose petals have been known to expel toxins in the gut and help support the good and friendly flora in the gut.

Roses for the Kitchen Witch

It is no coincidence that people have been using roses to tell people they love them for a very long time because it has much to tell us about the properties of roses.

Rose petals can help with stress and emotions. One of my herbal teachers told me that she uses Rose to help people create healthy boundaries, to give the person an ability to give and receive love without wearing their heart on their sleeve. Rose petals are physically almost see through when you hold them up to the light, but to the touch, they are almost leathery, roses are beautiful but also thorny. Rose teaches us about balance, helps regulate the emotions and helps us navigate intimate relationships. They are tender and beautiful, yet they can bite.

Quick Rose Ritual

If you are stressed and need to get a “thicker skin” or create some thorny boundaries, try drinking rose petal tea for a few days, or put some Rose and Cardamom Infused sugar in your tea; see if it helps. At the very least it will be an enjoyable experience.

Don’t just stop and smell the roses, be sure to eat some along the way, too!

For more about cooking with intention for your inner Kitchen Witch, check out my book, Love in Every Bite: The Secret to Cooking Healthy Recipes with Positive Energy. It includes several chapters on creating more ritual in your cooking, how to bring more love into your life,  and introduces you to other herbs that are good for creating a feeling of love and well-being for whoever eats the recipe.

Rose and Cardamom Infused Sugar
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Use Rose and Cardamom Infused Sugar to flavor pastries and confections or sprinkle it as a garnish for cakes and donuts. Stir the infused sugar into tea or make an effervescent, refreshing lemonade using fizzy water. Or add it to your tea when you need to get "thicker skin" or create useful boundaries in your life.
Ingredients
  • ½ cup fragrant organic rose petals
  • 4-5 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 2 cups raw sugar
Instructions
  1. Remove the bottom white tip of each rose petal and discard that portion.
  2. Place ¼ of the sugar on the bottom of a small glass jar.
  3. Place a layer of rose petals over it.
  4. Layer more sugar and rose petals until the ingredients are used.
  5. Store in a cool, dark place like a pantry or a cupboard for several weeks.
  6. You can either keep the rose petals in the sugar or remove them before using.

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