More Than Just a Pretty Flower

More Than Just a Pretty Flower

by Mark Whitelaw


Roses can do more than decorate your dining room table. The tangy fruit of the rose, called a "rose hip," adds zest to jams, jellies and soups. The leaves are blended into soothing teas. And the petals add magic to candies, syrups, honeys, vinegars, oils and sauces.

Exotic? Not really. Roses are a very close relative to most of our fruiting trees like the apple, pear, peach and cherry. Also related are the strawberry and raspberry.

As such, roses have been used in creating culinary delights for centuries; the earliest record dating way back to ancient Mesopotamia in the seventh century BC. Cuneiform tablets from the era describe roses as an essential ingredient in the pharmaceuticals of the day.

Ancient Rome had become obsessed with growing roses by the first century BC; using them in thousands of recipes, cosmetics and medicinal treatments. Demand was so high by the first century AD, that growing roses in "forcing houses" or importing them from the furthest reaches of the empire became a profitable year-round business.

Rosewater, a common flavoring agent in cakes, cookies and pastries, had become hugely popular by the tenth century. Ancient Persia cornered the market and exported it to most of Europe, North Africa and Asia. Virtually every maiden, from the time she was old enough to work the hearth, learned the Art of Attar.

By far, the most well recorded of the ancient recipes come from the medieval fourteenth century where roses were used extensively in fish and game sauces as well as in desserts, candies and preserves. Many a royal chef prepared such delights as Roseye of Fysshe (Fish in Rose Sauce, usually prepared with loach). Roseye was a blend of the three most exotic ingredients of the time -- almonds, saffron and red rose petals. Rede Rose (Red Rose Pudding) and Joncate with Hurtilberyes (Junket with Blueberries) were made from rosewater or rose petals, and served as an expression of nobility to guests.

By the nineteenth century, roses were widely used throughout the world as coloring and flavoring agents in teas, candies, pastries, sauces, oils and conserves. Rose Honey was used to preserve hams for winter, Rose Sugar to flavor tarts, Rose Candy to serve as treats, and Rose Vinegar to flavor vegetables and greens.

In fact, it wasn't until the middle of the twentieth century, when pesticide use became the norm rather than the exception, that every day cooking with roses as an ingredient went into disfavor.

Which brings us to the cardinal rule of cooking with roses should you decide to revive the art.


As with other edible crops, it is best to select pest and disease resistant varieties -- where pesticides will not be required. Give your roses plenty of sun, water, and air. Plant them out of "drift range" from other landscape pesticides. Treat them like you would any other edible garden crop. If pesticides are required, use only those products approved for application on food crops.

Which roses to use? Virtually any of them. However some roses, because of their fragrance and rich color, are better than others for cooking and making condiments. Roses I like to use in cooking are

  • Nur Mahal (red, Hyb. Musk, 1923)
  • Cramoisi Supérieur (red, China, 1832)
  • Louis Philippe (red, China, 1834)
  • Dortmund (red, Kordes, 1955)
  • Chrysler Imperial (red, Hyb. Tea, 1952)
  • Paul Neyron (pink, Hyb. Perp, 1869)
  • Vanity (pink, Hyb. Musk, 1920)
  • Mrs. B. R. Cant (pink, Tea, 1901)
  • Duchesse de Brabant (pink, Tea, 1857)
  • Pink Meidiland (pink, Shrub, 1984)
  • Hansa (pink, Hyb. Rugosa, 1905)

As a rule of thumb, avoid using yellow-, orange-, or mauve-colored roses as they tend to turn brown when cooked. White roses should be avoided also -- some have diuretic qualities. And if you are making vinegars, red roses may darken them to a purple.

Ready to try cooking with roses for yourself? Here is a fall recipe I have created just for the readers at Suite101. It's inspired from the times when gallant knights fought in distant battles and returned with "The World's Favorite Flower."

Rose Pasta Salad


8 oz. Rigatoni or similar macaroni-style pasta product; cooked per package directions using salt and green pepper corns to season water
1 medium tart apple (peeled, cored and diced)
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. Rose-Tarragon Vinegar (must be made ahead of time, see below)
½ cup grated cucumber (peeled and seeded)
1 Tbs. grated celery (peeled of strings)
1½ Tbs. finely diced red bell pepper
1 Tbs. minced black olive
1 Tbs. minced green olive
2 Tbs. grated white onion
2 Tbs. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground sea salt (to taste or diet)
1 recipe Rose Mayonnaise (see below)
½ cup slivered almonds (toasted golden brown)
2 Tbs. red rose petals (cleaned and washed)

Pasta should be cooked through, rinsed thoroughly and allowed to cool. Quarter the rigatoni into half-inch long ringlets, cover with fresh water and set aside.

In a large bowl, place diced apple and coat thoroughly with lemon juice and Rose-Tarragon Vinegar. Let stand five minutes.

Drain the pasta. Fold into the minced apple. When blended, fold in the cucumber, celery, bell pepper, olives, onion, and parsley. Fold in Rose Mayonnaise, and salt to taste or diet.

When all ingredients are blended throughout, cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly or a minimum of 2 hours.

Just before serving, fold in toasted almonds.

Garnish with a few rose petals atop each serving and a sprig of parsley or tarragon on the side. Serve with warm French bread and a glass of a crisp white wine like Chenin Blanc or Vouvray. Serves 8.

To make Rose Mayonnaise:

Into a blender or food processor, combine ¼ cup Rose-Tarragon Vinegar, dash of salt (to taste or diet), dash of paprika, dash of cayenne pepper, and 1 egg yolk. Process at high speed.

With the processor still running, add 1 cup of light salad oil (like canola, safflower or olive). IMPORTANT: Begin by adding the oil only a few drops at a time. As the mayonnaise thickens, increase the oil addition to a very slow stream.

[Note: If a rosier color is desired, add 1 drop red food coloring or beet juice.]

To make Rose-Tarragon Vinegar:

Place 1 cup pink rose petals and 2 sprigs of fresh tarragon into 1 liter of distilled white salad vinegar. The container should be sealed for 3 weeks; after which, the petals are strained from the vinegar and the tarragon reserved. Funnel the vinegar into a decorative bottle. Add a tarragon sprig as garnish. Stores for about six months in a cool pantry. (An adaptation of a 16th century recipe.)


About the Author Mark Whitelaw was a landscape designer and dedicated rosarian. He was a Past President and an executive board member of the Ft. Worth Rose Society, as well as an American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian and ARS Cyber-CR, who laughingly referred to the rose as "his mistress.".In everything he did, he sought to educate people about the plant he loved so much. As editor for Rose Garden at he continued to educate people about his favorite flower - and continues to do so in the many informative articles he left as his legacy.

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