While the common rose originated in Iran, cultivation of the fragrant flower took off in Europe in the 1800’s with the introduction of roses from China that had an amazing ability to bloom repeatedly throughout the summer and into late autumn. Rose bushes have become one of the most popular garden shrubs, bearing flowers in a variety of colors: red, white, pink, yellow, orange, and burgundy. Currently, there are thousands of rose varieties and hybrids that have been developed for their bloom shape, color, size, and fragrance. Some even lack thorns.
A Treat for the Nose
Since earliest times, roses were important in hand lotions, cosmetics, and perfumes. Today, almost all women’s perfumes and 40 percent of men’s fragrances contain rose oil.
Perfumes are made by steam-distilling crushed rose petals. About 60,000 flowers are required to produce 30 grams (1 oz.) of rose oil—a yellowish-grey liquid. Damask Roses are typically used. The main fragrant constituents of rose oil are terpenoids, geraniol, and citronellol. Today, about 70 to 80 percent of rose oil comes from Bulgaria, while the balance is manufactured in Iran and Germany.
In France’s perfume industry, Rosa. x centifolia is the variety of choice. The oil is popular in aromatherapy, is said to have mild sedative activity, and is used to treat anxiety and depression. Rose oil also serves as the anointing oil used in the coronation of British monarchs. Rose water—made from rose oil—flavors candy, desserts, and syrups; and is also used to treat eye irritations.
In addition to producing oil, rose petals are commonly used in potpourris and can be added to salads, jellies, and jams. The dried petals of Rosa gallica and Rosa x centifolia—which are rich in astringent tannins—find use in mouth rinses to treat mild inflammations.
Rose hips are the berry-like fruits left behind after the bloom has died. They’re typically red or orange, but may also be dark purple to black in some species. Although nearly all rose bushes produce rose hips, the tastiest for eating purposes come from the Rugusa Rose. Rose hips have a tangy, fruity flavor similar to that of cranberries, and are best harvested after the first frost, which turns them bright red and slightly soft. Rose hips were a popular food of Native Americans.
There are many culinary uses for rose hips. They can be used fresh, dried, or preserved and add flavor to applesauces, soups and stews, syrups, puddings, marmalades, tarts, breads, and pies, or are made into jams or jellies. Each rose hip comprises an outer fleshy layer which may contain up to 150 seeds embedded in a matrix of fine hairs. The irritating hairs should be removed before using the rose hips in a recipe.
Rose hips of some species, especially the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) and Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa), are a rich source of vitamin C. With one to two percent vitamin C by dry weight, rose hips have a higher content of the vitamin than citrus fruit. During World War II when imports of citrus products to Great Britain were limited, tons of rose hips were harvested there from the wild to make rose hip syrup as a vitamin C supplement for children.
In AD 77 the Roman writer Pliny recorded 32 disorders that responded to treatment with rose preparations. Medieval herbals contained many entries that tell of the restorative properties of rose preparations.
The anti-inflammatory properties of rose hips have recently been shown to be useful in the treatment of patients suffering from knee or hip osteoarthritis—a degenerative joint disease affecting over 20 million Americans. The condition is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joint, allowing bones to rub against each other, causing pain and loss of movement.
Scientists in Denmark reported that patients who daily consumed standardized rose hip powder (made from Dog Rose) experienced significantly less joint stiffness and pain, and an improved general well-being and mood after three to four months of treatment. The use of rose hip powder also enabled the patients to considerably reduce their standard pain medication. Rose hips contain high levels of antioxidant flavonoids with known anti-inflammatory properties.
Rose hips also contain carotenoid pigments, plant sterols, tocotrienols, and a very high level of anthocyanins, catechins, and other polyphenolics—known phytochemicals to protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD). They also contain up to five percent by weight of pectin, a soluble fiber that protects against CVD. In clinical trials, rose hips were seen to reduce C-reactive protein levels associated with a lower risk of CVD.
The rose hips of Dog Rose are a traditional diuretic and laxative and are useful in the treatment of influenza-like infections, diarrhea, and various urinary tract disorders. No side effects are known when rose hips are used in normal designated amounts.
Rose hips are also commonly used to make herbal teas by boiling the dried or crushed rose hips for ten minutes. About two tablespoons of berries are added to each pint of water. A half-teaspoon of dried mint may be blended in to give a different flavor, or the acid-tasting tea can be sweetened with honey or sugar.
Rose hip tea may also be improved by mixing with hibiscus flowers.
Winston J. Craig, Ph.D., R.D., is professor of nutrition at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.