For the most part I prefer plants as close to their natural state as possible and would always take a wildflower over a showy cultivar any day. Not only are they more beneficial for insects and other wildlife but are also much easier to look after, more robust and better suited to their environment.
So my obsession with big, beautiful, temperamental and highly scented roses is quite out of character. I don’t love the exquisite wild roses of our hedgerows any less because of it and from them I make a lovely cooling and astringent tincture as well as using the hips later in the year. Our wild roses are not that highly scented however so to make the delicious, sweet, aromatic rose tincture that makes even the iciest of hearts begin to thaw, I really need to use cultivated roses. That’s my excuse anyway.
Most people tend to use either Rosa damascena, The Damask Rose, or Rosa gallica, The Apothecary’s Rose, to make aromatic tinctures and both produce some lovely medicines.
I’ve been quizzing different herbalists for a while about which roses they prefer for tincture making but it was Stephen and Carol Church, whose rose tincture is the most divine I have yet to taste, whose advice and method I have stuck with. They recommended using ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ a lovely pink English rose with a beautiful, strong scent. It apparently has the highest yield of volatile oils of all roses. I bought one last year and have been experimenting this summer with their directions.
They advise macerating the petals in the alcohol for no more than 24 hours, a much shorter amount of time than usually allowed for tinctures. What this achieves is extraction of the volatile oils but without all the tannins which make rose tincture quite drying. Part of the nature of rose as a medicine is that it is cooling and drying but there are plenty of times when I want to work with the aromatic healing qualities of rose without using a medicine that is overly astringent. Besides, it tastes so much more delicious this way and that, as you know, is a big part of the magic of Rose. In her first growing year, my plant has yet to produce the abundance of flowers that Stephen and Carol’s do so I have just been experimenting with small quantities this summer. To make a specific tincture, that is one from fresh petals, try using a 4o% vodka, 1:2, which means one part rose petals by weight to two parts vodka by volume. Remember that rose petals are very light however so you need to cram a lot in! I actually didn’t have enough flowers blooming all at once to get the right proportion so I double infused it instead and it has still come out nicely.
Here ends the informative part of this post, the rest is just gratuitous rose indulgence. You have been warned!
My husband’s favourite rose in the garden and possibly mine, were I to have favourites, is the floribunda Margaret Merril. She has it all, beauty, elegance, scent and attractiveness to insects. She starts as a perfect creamy bud with a blush of pink…
…and opens to form a perfect, white, deliciously scented bloom.
Along with the Apothecary’s Rose and Gertrude Jekyll, I have one more pink rose, ‘Scepter’d Isle’. Though not as sweetly fragranced as some of the others, she has a delicacy of presence that is healing just to look upon. This picture, taken after a heavy rain, does not really do her justice.
We have two miniature roses on the kitchen windowsill. The pink one I found in the middle of the road last year without a pot. I always wonder how it could have ended up there, victim of a lovers quarrel perhaps? I was quite happy to give it a home and it is much loved and admired now.
I have also found a passion for orange, yellow and apricot roses this year. I fell in love with ‘Graham Thomas’ during our trip to Mottisfont Abbey, home of the National Collection of Old Roses, and found it impossible to leave without one.
‘Lady Emma Hamilton,’ my most recent acquisition, has the cheeriest disposition and the sweetest of scents.
‘Wollerton Old Hall’ is another new addition, a very generous early birthday gift from my lovely colleague and fellow rose obsessor, Laura. Isn’t it just beautiful?
And I have shown off my joyful little miniature climber ‘Warm Welcome’ before. Bred by my uncle and given to me by my Dad, its a firm favourite in my garden and is covered with small but wonderfully vibrant blooms.
My wish list is ever expanding and includes the gorgeous dark bloomed Rosa gallica ‘Tuscany’, a rambler to cover the ugly old tank by the gate and the lovely ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ which I have much admired at The London College of Physicians gardens. We are in the process of getting rid of our car parking space in order to accommodate them all!
What are your favourite roses? For medicine making or for pure enjoyment?