Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
The rose has always been valued for its beauty and fragrance. Cultivated for thousands of years, roses are an ancient symbol of love and beauty. The ancient Greeks and Romans identified the rose with their goddesses of love, Aphrodite and Venus. Today, pink and red roses are commonly given as expressions of love and admiration. Rose cultivation 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 and color, size, fragrance, and some even for their lack of thorns.
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. Rose perfumes are made by steam-distilling the 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, and the main fragrant constituents of rose oil are the terpenoids, geraniol and citronellol. Today, about 70 to 80% of rose oil comes from Bulgaria, while the balance is mainly from Iran and Germany.
In the perfume industry in France, the variety of rose used is Rosa. x centifolia. The oil is popular in aromatherapy and is said to have mild sedative activity and is used to treat anxiety and depression. Rose oil also predominates in the anointing oil used in the coronation of British monarchs. Rose water, made from rose oil, is used to flavor 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 the rose varieties, Rosa gallica and R. x centifolia, which are rich in astringent tannins, are used in mouth rinses to treat mild inflammations.
Rose hips are the berry-like fruits of the rose bush left behind after the bloom has died. They are 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. The fruits are best harvested after the first frost, which makes them turn bright red and slightly soft.
There are many culinary uses for rose hips. They can be used fresh, dried, or preserved. Rose hips can be used in apple sauce, soups and stews, syrups, puddings, marmalade, tarts, breads, and pie, or made into a jam or jelly. Each 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.
Rich in Vitamin C
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 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 addition to their culinary uses, roses were also valued for their medicinal properties. 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. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease affecting over 20 million Americans. It 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 3 to 4 months of treatment. The use of rose hip powder also enabled the patients to considerably reduce their standard pain medication. Rosehips 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 5 % 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. The rose hips 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 the normal designated amounts.
Rosehips are also commonly used to make herbal teas, by boiling the dried or crushed rose hips for10 minutes. About 2 tablespoons of berries are used per pint of water. A half-teaspoon of dried mint may be added to give a different flavor, or the acid-tasting tea may be sweetened. Rose hip tea may also be improved by blending with hibiscus flowers.