Our farewell to spring post celebrating roses from Kiva Rose Hardin is here! Her beautifully written articles marry the personal with the scientific, lore with experience, offering untamed and fresh insight. Herbalist, wildcrafter, artist, and storyteller, Kiva Rose lives in a canyon botanical sanctuary within the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. She is also the co-director of the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, held each September in the mountain Southwest, coeditor of Plant Healer Magazine, and publisher of the just released historical novel, The Medicine Bear by Jesse Wolf Hardin, and maintains an herbal blog, The Medicine Woman’s Roots.
Spring in the botanical sanctuary where I live is heralded each year by the return of dozens of species of birds returning to the mountains of New Mexico from more southerly climes in Texas and Mexico. The liquid song of the thrushes, the rising crescendo of canyon wrens, and the sweet chirps of the phoebes nesting in the cabin eaves all echo the message of lengthening days and warming soil. Down by the river, Alders are among the first trees to leaf out, the sweet smell of their resinous new growth filling the air, a fragrance so familiar and beloved that it makes my heart ache with love for my canyon home.
Beneath the shade of the silver skinned Alders grow tangled thickets of our native Wild Rose, Rosa woodsii, with its red bark, curved thorns, and delicately toothed leaves. A ubiquitous and abundant genus throughout much of the world, the rose has been known as an important medicine for thousands of years. Perhaps because of its beauty or due to in part to its wide availability, the rose has lost a great deal of its popularity as an effective herbal medicine in common times in much of the Western world. Nevertheless, it remains an incredibly effective herb that can be easily procured, is safe enough for elders and small children, and is remarkably multifaceted in its application. When rose is recognized in herbal medicine, the emphasis tends to be placed very firmly on the seedy red fruits known as hips, but in fact, all parts of the plant can be worked with medicinally, from flower to leaf to bark to root.
Each May when the Wild Roses begin to flower, I walk barefoot along the river bank with my woven basket on my arm, searching for the perfect hedge to harvest from. As the morning warms, the sweet heady scent of the blossoms fills the air and pollinators flock to the roses in a drunken frenzy. More often than not, I’ll find myself so enchanted by the languid flight of fat bumblebees as they travel from flower to flower that I forget that I’m supposed to be gathering petals rather than gazing at intoxicated insects.
Part of what I love about the roses this time of year is that when our species flowers, it’s not only the blossoms that are aromatic, but the leaves as well. The small, and oftentimes overlooked, leaves can possess an enticing musky scent during this season, a fragrance that perfectly balances the delicate sweetness of the flowers. In my years spent working with the Wild Rose, I’ve found that the leaves have their own notable relaxant nervine effect that can greatly compliment the calming action of the flowers. This relaxant effect is most pronounced when the leaves have a strong scent. When these aromatic compounds are not present, the leaf tends to be more simply astringent, and as so often in herbalism, it’s important to employ one’s senses to know exactly when to harvest. There’s no replacement for organoleptic assessment when working with the plants, and each experience presents us with an opportunity to become more knowledgeable of and intimate with the healing herbs. With Wild Roses, I strongly recommend smelling and tasting your rose leaves at different times of the year, and of all the different aromatic species, (domestic, wild, or feral) that are available to you. Some species don’t seem to have such aromatic leaves, so it’s a good idea to compare and contrast.
I usually harvest leaves at the same time I do the petals, and also include the leaves in most of my rose flower preparations such as elixirs, honeys, teas, and tinctures. This helps the flowers go further, but also seems to make for a more complex and complete medicine overall. In food like preparations, I tend to use a somewhat smaller proportion of leaves, since the texture may not be as desirable in some cases. However, small amounts of leaves do taste lovely in infused honeys and similar preparations.
Roses may be best known for the Vitamin C content, which they certainly do possess, along with numerous other bioflavonoids that make their leaves, flowers, and fruits a wonderful source of antioxidants. And yet, this is hardly the extent of their medicine! In Ayurveda, the rose is considered a rasayana, a powerful rejuvenative tonic that is applicable to all constitutions in all seasons, which is a wonderful example of the multifaceted nature of rose as understood by traditional medicine for countless generations.
I find Rose to be an especially valuable ally during our hot Summers in the Southwest, when Pitta disorders abound. Some indications that rose might be particularly appropriate include:
• Feelings of overheatedness
• Bloodshot eyes and/or nosebleeds with subjective feelings of heat, possibly accompanied by headaches
• Heat rash and similar red rashes associated with heat or being overheated
• Restlessness, irritation, and insomnia during warmer seasons or accompanied by feelings of being overheated
• Strong or fetid body odor or breath not associated with organic disease, medication, or a particular food.
• Hyperacidity, a sour taste in the mouth, and the inability to eat sour or acidic foods/drinks
• Heavy menstrual periods with heat signs
Healing can sometimes be long term and difficult, but there’s no reason that it can’t also sometimes be delicious and pleasurable. The below recipes are two tasty ways to work with rose, the first being a traditional Ayurvedic rose conserve called gulkand, and the second being a tasty Indian drink that utilizes the gulkand in its preparation. Rose tastes so good that almost all of us can benefit from the joyful calm that the plant tends to trigger in people, so don’t save it only for when someone’s ill. Instead, stock up during the blooming season and utilize as desired!
~ Two Rose Recipes ~
Gulkand: Ayurvedic Rose Conserve
Gulkand is one of the simplest rose preparations to make, and infinitely useful as a medicine, condiment, and straight up treat. This sweet Rose preserve can be used year round, but is especially useful for those hot Summers where excess heat results in short tempers, exhaustion, irritability, and insomnia. This is a great treat for people of all constitutions, but particularly appropriate for Pitta dominated folks or those dealing with Pitta excess disorders.
• 1 part fresh rose petals (any aromatic species will work, wild or cultivated, just make sure they’re pesticide free)
• 1 part sugar
• Spices to taste (optional) – I especially like Cardamom, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon in my gulkand. Cardamom is particularly beneficial when there are clear heat signs and the gulkand is being used therapeutically.
• In a jar or similar glass container, place a layer of Rose petals down first, then cover completely with sugar. If including spices, add spices to the layers of sugar, or just blend the spiced directly into sugar before beginning the layering process.
• Repeat until jar is filled, with sugar on top.
• Cover, and sit on a sunny counter and shake daily. I don’t usually recommend keeping any herbal preparation in the sun, but in this case the sunlight seems to help release the rose flavor and create the proper consistency.
• In 4-6 weeks, your gulkand should be ready!
• Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.
Eat by the spoonful, add to milk, use to top ice cream, or any other number of yummy treats.
Summerflower Lassi: Cooling Rose and Yogurt Drink
This is one of my favorite recipes from Indian cuisine, and something I enjoy each Summer during the hot months here in New Mexico. You don’t have to use rosewater, and it’s very good just using 3 parts water, 1 part yogurt, and the gulkand. However, for the ultimate rose experience, the rosewater adds another layer of delicate rose complexity to the finished drink. You can also float fresh or candied rose petals on the top of the lassi for a beautiful presentation and even more rose presence.
• 1 part (preferably homemade, but full fat yogurt if store-bought) yogurt
• 1/2 part organic rose hydrosol (rosewater)
• 2 1/2 parts water
• gulkand to taste (see previous recipe)
Add each ingredient to a glass or mason jar and stir or shake well before enjoying chilled.