Over a thousand years ago, in the forests of Germany, a wandering king stumbled across a rose bush. He believed this rose symbolized hope and health and built a cathedral around it, a city soon sprang up around the cathedral and the wildflower grew, undeterred by the passing centuries, until the cathedral was bombed during World War II. The ancient rose, too, was thought to have been destroyed, but the next spring saw it valiantly blooming once again among the ruins. This Hildesheim Rose still flowers every spring and is believed to be the oldest living rose bush in the world, yet throughout its history it has been celebrated for more than just its legendary age, for it, like most roses, also possesses many medicinal benefits. As spring is upon us and wild roses are bursting into bloom in our own back yards, the perfect time has arrived to learn about the medicinal uses for this fragrant herb, and to preserve its healthful properties to be enjoyed throughout the year.
Roses have always held a prized place in the herbalist’s materia medica. Rose petals have strong anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and astringent properties and are very high in antioxidants and vitamin C. They are a valuable first aid herb and can be used topically to soothe and ease inflammation caused poison ivy or similar skin irritations, and the petals have been used for centuries to aid in wound healing, as they relieve pain, prevent infection, and reduce inflammation. An infusion of the petals has been shown to relieve headaches, help lower a fever, and support the immune system, and, of course, the marvelous scent of roses has also gained this herb lasting fame. The essential oil has long been valued for its ability to lift the spirits, and both historical herbalism and recent studies agree that the fragrance of roses can aid in relieving anxiety and stress.
Wild roses, a general phrase for a multitude of unique species, grow throughout most of the United States. Commonly found varieties that are excellent for medicinal use include Rosa mulitflora, Rosa palustris, and Rosa carolina, all of which are thorny shrubs that produce strongly scented, five petaled flowers in the spring, and bright red hips in the late autumn. Many cultivated roses also contain medicinal benefits, particularly older varieties with a strong fragrance, however, roses that do not have a scent or have been sprayed with pesticides should be avoided.
Once you have selected a rose bush, the petals can be harvested by holding the flower over a basket and gently tapping the base of the flower head so that the petals fall. With this method, just the petals are removed, leaving the rose hips on the plant to ripen and be harvested in the autumn. It is best to gather rose petals just after the dew has dried but before mid-day to capture the maximum essential oil content. The harvested petals can be spread out on a rack to allow any insects that might have been hiding in the flowers to make their way out.
There are many ways to preserve medicinal herbs, and one of the simplest methods of preserving rose petals is to simply air dry them on a mesh rack, or in a low dehydrator. They can then be stored in a glass jar with a tightly fitting lid and used for blending teas or making infused oils and vinegars. However, my personal favorite way to preserve fresh rose petals is to steep them in honey. Honey preservation has a long and fascinating history, and as honey is recognized as one of the few foods that has an indefinite shelf life, it is the perfect method to both preserve and enhance the medicinal properties of fresh, low-moisture herbs. It is always best to use raw honey, preferably from a local source, when making herbal preparations.
To make rose petal infused honey, fill a jar with the freshly harvested rose petals and cover them with raw honey. Stir gently to remove any air pockets, cover the jar and allow the honey to steep for at least several days before using. The rose petals will break down slightly and the honey will become infused with their flavor. The resulting herbal preparation has a very long shelf life, and can be used in a variety of ways. Rose honey can be stirred into tea or spread on toast to support the immune system and as a daily dose of vitamin C; the combination of roses and raw local honey has also been shown to be a very effective remedy for seasonal allergy symptoms, especially when taken preventatively; and, as both honey and rose petals possess legendary beautifying qualities, rose-infused honey can be used as a moisturizing face mask, either on its own or combined with white or red clay.
These beautiful flowers have delighted gardeners, poets, and herbalists alike for centuries, and the healthful benefits of this herb can be easily infused into daily life. So next time you pass a rambling bramble bush, stop, and smell the roses, and then gather their petals and enjoy the beautiful medicinal properties of this wildflower.
Rose Petal Honey
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