Roses Fragrant and Delicious

Spring 2003

Toki Oshima drawing
Toki Oshima drawing

By Ellie MacDougall

Roses may not seem an obvious candidate for the dinner table, but their presence can turn the relatively mundane into something quite extraordinary.

Buying and Planting Roses

Hundreds of named rose varieties exist, and large categories of roses do well in various environments. Studying rose catalogs in print or online or visiting rose gardens can help you find just the right plant for just the right spot. In general, roses prefer at least four to six hours of direct sunlight per day and well-drained, fertile, loamy, deeply dug soil. Good air circulation will help avoid fungal diseases.

You may purchase dormant plants – preferably large, number one plants, which will bloom abundantly the first year after planting. Plants should have at least three strong canes but no long sprouts, as these deplete a plant’s reserve. The root ball should be wrapped so as to keep it comfortably moist.

Dormant plants can be planted in early spring, earlier than potted plants, as they have no tender foliage to be damaged by a late frost. Bare root plants should be pre-soaked in water for 24 hours and planted with the bud union 1 inch below the soil surface. The hole should be large enough so that the roots can be spread out. Pack soil under, around, and over the roots, and water the plant thoroughly. Mound the base of the plant with 6 inches of soil, keep the mound moist and leave it in place until growth starts, about 10 days later. Then, carefully remove the mound – preferably on a cool, humid, overcast day.

You can plant potted roses pretty much the same way. Remove the pot carefully so that the root ball is disturbed as little as possible, place the plant in the hole, fill the hole with soil, and water the plant thoroughly. Actively growing roses do not have to be mounded.

Constant moisture is vital. Actively growing roses require at least 1 inch of water weekly, all at once, more in sandy soil. Overhead watering in early spring, before growth starts, will keep the canes from desiccating. After growth begins, water the soil or water the plant early in the day so that the foliage will be dry before evening (to minimize disease).

Dealing with Disease

Aside from Japanese beetles, who adore roses, the major hurdle with roses is fungal disease. Baking soda has proven surprisingly effective in controlling powdery mildew. For more details, see the ATTRA publication “Use of Baking Soda as a Fungicide” at

Compost teas have managed many plant diseases successfully. For details, see “Notes on Compost Teas,” a supplement to ATTRA’s “Compost Teas for Plant Disease Control.”

E-Rase™ is a natural fungicide made from jojoba oil. It kills on contact by smothering the mildew mycelium and preventing spore formation and dispersal. E-Rase™ is manufactured by IJO Products, LLC.

One of the most interesting “anti-fungicides” is unpasteurized cow’s milk. Brazilian researchers discovered that water mixed with as little as 10% milk was as effective as conventional fungicide sprays, with effectiveness increasing as concentrations were increased. Whether pasteurized milk from the supermarket shelf works the same way is yet to be proven.

Feeding Roses

If you want profuse blooms, fertilize roses regularly. A favorite amendment is alfalfa meal, top dressed and watered in or brewed into a tea (2 cups of meal in 2-1/2 gallons of water, steeped for two to three days, covered, and applied at the rate of 1/2 to 1 gallon every six to eight weeks). Apply it only to the soil surface, as the rapid decomposition of alfalfa will generate heat that could damage the roots if dug into the soil. Blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, fish meal, kelp meal, composted manures and, of course, compost are all greeted with enthusiasm by roses.

Cooking with Roses

Crystallized Roses

2 oz. gum arabic (available at health food stores)


rose petals

1 lb. granulated sugar

Dissolve 2 oz. of gum-arabic in 1/2 pint of water. Gather the roses when the petals are dry. Separate the petals and spread them on cookie sheets with edges to keep the liquid from spilling out. Sprinkle them with the gum arabic solution, using as many petals as the solution will cover. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, then let them dry for 24 hours. Put 1 lb. of granulated sugar and 1/2 pint of cold water into a pan, stir until the sugar has melted, then boil fast to 250 degrees, or to the thread degree. Keep the syrup skimmed. Pour it over the petals. Let them soak for 24 hours, then spread them on wire trays and dry them in a cool oven with the door ajar.

Rose Water

A favorite warm weather drink of mine is sweet mango lassi – yogurt, mango nectar, a little sugar and a hint of rosewater. To make the rose water, bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil and pour it over 1 cup of fresh rose petals. Let them steep for 15 minutes. Drain off the liquid and store it in a cool, dark place. Or freeze it in cubes, adding a few fresh petals to each cube, for color.

Rose Petal Tea

8 oz. black tea

1-1/2 cups dried rose petals

3/4 cup lemon verbena leaves

2 tablespoons dried lemon peel

In a large bowl, mix together the tea, rosebuds, verbena leaves, and lemon peel. Strong light will affect the delicate taste of the tea, so package it in an airtight container and store it in a cool, dark place.

Rose Petal Jam

1 quart fragrant rose petals, tightly packed

3 cups water

1 package pectin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 cups sugar

Heat water to boiling. Pour in the petals. Steep for 20 minutes, pushing petals into the liquid occasionally. Strain and reserve petals. Measure the liquid and add water to make 3 cups. Mix the liquid with pectin and lemon juice. In a large pot, bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Add the sugar and bring to a hard, rolling boil for one minute. Immediately remove from heat and stir in reserved rose petals. Stir for a few minutes to prevent the petals from floating. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Scroll to Top
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter of happenings at MOFGA.