Gardens & Conservatory

Plants & Collections

Cooking with roses reaps delicious rewards

By Tom Brinda and Lynn Kirk, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Published September 2008 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

When the first frosts arrive, the garden’s season of roses will draw to a close. But there’s no need for despair — soon their beauty will be gone, but not their flavor.

Since ancient times, the rose has been used to flavor entrees, jellies, desserts and beverages. Today, endless recipes still exist for the adventurous cook, ranging from rose-flavored cakes and rose petal and cream cheese canapés to vinegars, teas and wines.

“However, not all roses are created equal in terms of flavor and fragrance,” said Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden and former managing director at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. If properly grown, rose petals of all varieties may be edible, but each exhibits a distinctly different taste. Strongly fragrant roses tend to be more flavorful, while some deep red petals exhibit an undesirable aftertaste. Sometimes the yellow or white base of the petals also bitter, too, so careful preparation and taste tests are recommended.

Shimizu personally enjoys the hint of clove offered by the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) as well as the mild, slightly sweet flavor of the Damask rose (Rosa damascene).

“Rose petals are delicate in flavor and texture,” Shimizu said. “They also add color when sprinkled on salads or added to sandwiches.

“It’s very important to note that one should never use florist roses or roses treated with toxic chemicals,” Shimizu warned. “Rose petals used in cooking should be grown free of any harsh chemicals.” She always grows a few chemical-free roses for her own culinary pursuits, but relies on specialty stores or Internet resources to purchase rose water and distilled rose extract (a key ingredient in rose-scented soaps and perfumes). When ordering, Shimizu suggests paying a little extra for the genuine product since the flavor of real roses and rose extracts is of a higher quality than synthetics.

Edible fruits, too
Old-fashioned rose varieties provide another popular cooking ingredient: rose hips. These oval or round fruits, which start to ripen this time of year, can be used to make rose hip jelly and syrup. The Rosa rugosa’s rose hips are again perhaps the best choice for overall taste. Like apples, the best time for harvest is after the first frost when full-colored but not overripe. Most recipes that use rose hips recommend removal of the hairy seeds which can irritate the digestive tract and avoidance of metal pans and utensils which can discolor the fruit and reduce vitamin C content. As with the petals, one must verify that no chemicals were used during the rose hips’ growing process.

Shimizu’s Rose Wafers
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
3/4 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of mace
1 teaspoon rose essence (or 1 tablespoon rose water*)
*Note: If using rose water, the amount of flour should be slightly increased.

Mix the butter and sugar thoroughly. Add the beaten egg, flour and salt. Add the mace and rose essence (or rose water) and mix well. Drop by one teaspoon, two inches apart, onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.