My rosa rugosa roses are blooming, both red and white.
These hardy roses — that smell like roses — take Maine winters in their stride. Year after year, I transplant a new rose or two, trying for long stems and more colors, but few come back. Indeed, I only have one non-rugosa that has made it through the winter.
I ‘"planted" my white rosa rugosa about 17 years ago. A friend gave it to me. It was no more than a stick — no leaves, nothing. But I stuck it in the ground at the back corner of the house. Now it’s a massive bush. If I don’t cut it back this fall, it’s going to take over my house.
The red one I planted 3 yeas ago and it’s starting to spread its wings. Already sporting a lot of roses this spring — ah, summer now.
Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” That was back when a rose was a rose. Today, they’ve "hybridized" their smell right out of them. Now, he’d likely write: “A rose ‘tis not a rose without its smell.”
But the rose is a remarkable plant, at least the natural ones like the rosa rugosas that still "smell as sweet.” They taste good too. I took photos of my roses today and then plucked a handful of the petals to eat. They taste like they smell. The petals also make a wonderful tea. You can also make tea from the leaves and dry the leaves and petals for year-round tea. Then, in the fall, you can eat the small apple-like hips right from the bush or cut them in half and dry them for tea. Any which way to eat or drink what the rose bush offers, you are getting a high dose of vitamin C — and unlike the vitamin tablets, there’s no fillers or binders. Just nature’s natural nutrients.
And roses are jam-packed with good stuff. They’re good for circulation, for the liver and the appetite. With the high vitamin C content, they help stave off colds.
Rose water had been used for centuries by the ladies for their skin, and it is indeed good for the skin. Rose water alone can be used for eyewash and our gramma’s favorite was rose water and glycerin for their faces. I still make my own rosewater and then add (vegetable) glycerin every year. Rose water is also a great mouthwash. For all these uses, it isn’t just the smell that’s beneficial. It has antiseptic and antibacterial properties to boot. I use rose essential oil when I feel a toothache trying to get a start —stops it quick.
I gather the rosebuds to dry and have a crystal bud vase I put them in for a “spot of Victorian” to enjoy all year.
But maybe the most unusual use of roses was devised by Nostradamus, 500 years ago. Long before he started his soothsaying, he practiced medicine as an apothecary. Back in his time — indeed, still in England and Ireland — an apothecary was a pharmacist who also practiced medicine.
He lost his wife and two children to the Plague. So he set out to find something to combat it. He quickly acquired a great reputation with his "pills" that seemed to protect against the Plague. He turned to the rose. He would gather the petals, dry them, crush them and roll them into pills. He then instructed people to put them under their tongue and suck on them all day.
Who knows why it seemed to work, if indeed it did. We now know that it was fleas that carried the Plague. I wonder. Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes – they detect our presence by smelling the carbon dioxide we exhale. Did the odor of roses kill the smell of the breath? Rose water does.
Maybe, along with carrying deet or “woodsman dope” on my jaunts into the woods, I should carry some rose water. Indeed, natural insect repellents often include rose. Here’s one, for example:
2 tbsp. almond oil
15-25 drops rose geranium essential oil.
Dab a few drops on your skin or clothing, and in between your dog's shoulder blades.
Maybe it’s time to heed the advice of a 16th century poet who wrote: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast. She now lives in Morrill.