Imagine you head out to your rose garden to snip off a few stems – not for your sweetheart, but for your dinner plate. It may sound strange, but growing edible roses is a time-honored tradition.
Roses always come to mind when I think of love and passion. Roses for Valentine’s Day, wedding bouquets, or to express sympathy. But eating roses?
The truth is that roses aren’t just a pretty face – they’re an edible plant. You can consume the petals, leaves and the hips (fruits) in a variety of ways, from rosehip tea and grilled rose petals, to roasted rose stems.
Best Rose Varieties For Eating
Roses are part of a large botanical family. They’re related to almonds and cherries. There are over 4,000 named species of roses and they’re one of the most popular plants developed by breeders.
Older heirloom varieties are best for eating and for hips. Many of the newer hybrids have been developed to produce abundant flowers. An exception to that is some of David Austin’s roses, which he breeds for culinary use.
Look for roses that have been grown on their own roots and not grafted. Also, note that roses that are fragrant taste better.
Rosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’
This shrub rose is attractive, fragrant, and good for both cut and dried flower arrangements. It grows five feet tall and three feet wide. The flowers blossom throughout the summer and into fall. It has large, orange-red hips. It grows well in zones 4 to 9.
There are several wild rose cultivar developed by David Austin, the famous horticulturalist. They come in a variety of colors.
Geranium has bright red flowers followed by good-sized, red hips. Alba produces single, white flowers that have a strong, old fashioned rose fragrance. It produces exceptionally large, flavorful, orange-red hips.
The Generous Gardener
This is an English Climbing Rose that was also bred by David Austin. It produces large, cup-shaped flowers that are pale pink in color. The blossoms have a strong, delicious fragrance.
This variety is disease resistant and grows 15 feet high with an abundance of flowers. It has large, orange hips. This type grows well in zones 4-11.
Lady of Shallot
Yet another edible rose bred by David Austin. This is an English Shrub type. It’s a hardy, vigorous, and disease resistant rose. The flowers are apricot-yellow, with cup-shaped blooms.
The fragrance has hints of spiced apple and cloves. It’s particularly good as a tea. It has a bushy growth habit and does well in poor soils. Lady of Shallot is ideal for beginner rose gardens and grows in zones 4-11.
You may have wild roses on your land or be able to find some on public property. If so, you’re in luck. Wild roses have particularly tasty buds. They also produce plentiful hips.
Wild roses produce one round of flowers per season, so if you’re harvesting buds, leave plenty for the plant to make flowers and subsequently hips. Be sure if you’re foraging to pick from plants that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Planting Edible Roses
Roses have an unjustified reputation as being the cranky pants of the plant world. While they can be challenging, they should definitely shouldn’t be crossed off your list. Growing edible roses is a worthwhile challenge.
When choosing a planting location, look for a sunny slope. Typically, hot air will move up or down the slope. This gives your roses full sun and lots of air circulation.
Roses do best in slightly acidic, well-drained garden loams. If you don’t have the perfect soil, no problem, add plenty of compost and some cottonseed meal.
Look for varieties that are hardy and disease resistant. Buy from reputable rose suppliers who offer a guarantee on their plants, such as David Austins and Jackson and Perkins.
Shrub and climbing roses are often the oldest varieties and the easiest to grow.
When to Plant
You can plant roses anytime during the growing season, so long as they’re in the soil 8 weeks before the first frost.
Good air circulation is vital and promotes vigorous and healthy plants. Roses are prone to fungal and mold issues. Proper spacing and good air movement help to control foliar diseases. Pay close attention to the recommended growing space for your edible roses.
Caring for Edible Roses
Roses like to dry out in between waterings. Water deeply and in the morning. Do not use overhead watering because it encourages fungal diseases.
Mulch roses to retain moisture and keep roots cool. This also discourages weeds, which compete with growing roses for nutrients.
You want to fertilize using an organic, food-safe fertilizer since you’ll be eating your roses. Apply the first fertilizer of the season when you have several inches of new growth. Stop fertilizing 8 weeks before the first frost in your area.
Problems and Solutions for Growing Edible Roses
Roses are undeniably prone to a variety of issues. The good part about growing edible roses is that they don’t have to be pretty – just tasty – so some problems can be ignored or dealt with minimally.
Aphids attack a huge variety of plants. Here’s how to spot and deal with them.
Spider mites hang out on the undersides of leaves and they suck the life out of your rose plants. You’ll usually know you have them when you see tiny, fine webbing on your plants.
Spray your roses with a blast of water and then apply neem oil to keep them away.
Rose Bud Borers
Rose bud borers enter the young buds of rose plants and prevent them from blooming. Pick them off of your roses when you see them and prune away any infected buds.
Rose chafers are beetles that feed on rose blossoms, fruits, and leaves. They skeletonize rose leaves. Pick them off if you see them, or you can cover plants with a row cover during June when they feed.
These beetles have pretty, iridescent shells, but they can decimate a rose plant, chewing holes through leaves and flowers. Pick them off plants and drown them in soapy water.
This fungus can prevent blossoms from opening and can damage leaves and canes. You may notice a fuzzy coating on plants. Prune and destroy any parts of the plant that are infected and keep roses pruned so they have plenty of air circulation.
Powdery mildew can brown leaves and disfigure plants. You’ll first notice what looks like a dusting of baby powder on your plants.
Keep roses pruned to improve air circulation. Water in the mornings at the base of plants. You can also spray plants with a mix of 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add to a quart of warm water.
As the name implies, black spot is a fungus causes dark spots on the leaves of plants. It spreads via moisture and is more common in humid areas.
Keep the area around your roses clean and prune to help ensure your plants have plenty of air circulation.
Canker is a fungus that causes canes to look dead or discolored. It enters plants through wounds in the canes and leaves. It’s spread by insects, dirty tools, and water.
Prune away infected areas, and keep gardens clean and weed-free. You can also apply an organic copper-based fungicide if things get bad.
Garden plants can (and should) perform multiple functions. Roses make beautiful landscaping specimens, are useful crafts and make wonderful dishes. Like many flowers, they also have medicinal and culinary attributes.
Sure, they’re beautiful, but the best part of growing edible roses is getting to eat them. One caution: don’t eat roses from a floral shop. Roses sold commercially have been sprayed with many chemicals to get that perfect “look”.
Harvest in the morning after the dew is gone. That is when they have the best fragrance and taste.
You can use rose leaves in tea mixes or as you would spinach. The flavor is similar to black tea, but like herbal teas, it’s naturally caffeine-free. Harvest leaves when they are young by clipping them from the stem. You can use them fresh or let them dry for future use.
Leaves from roses contain polyphenols which are a source of antioxidants. Polyphenols have been found to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Rose tea is also said to relieve menstrual cramps and pain.
The buds are bursting with flavor. You can use them in tea, cocktails, on desserts, or to make a chutney. Pick buds from the rose bush just before they start to open. This prevents a flower from blooming, so be sure to leave a few on the plant if you want flowers.
You can also dry them to use later. Place harvested rosebuds out in a single layer on a screen tray to dry indoors for a month or use your food dehydrator on low for three to five hours.
Rosebuds go a long way in adding flavor. For a cup of tea, you only need one or two.
Rose petals make your dish look attractive and appealing. Some fun ways to add petals to your dishes are to garnish desserts, ice cream, and salads.
In France, they are a popular garnish on sorbet. The Greeks add them to honey for a wonderful spread. You can harvest the petals without cutting off the entire flower. This means the flower keeps growing and reproducing.
Rose hips are the fruit of the rose and, like apples, are actually the swollen part of the plant’s stem. Hips are high in vitamin C and a serving has 76% of the average recommended daily value for an adult. They also contain vitamins A and E.
Harvest when they’re uniformly ripe, either red or orange, depending on the variety. Unlike apples, roses continue to produce all season until the first fall frost.
Cut the rose hips in half to remove the seeds. You can eat them raw or use them for teas, jellies, vinegar, and it even makes great wine.
Cooking With Roses
This video demonstrates making a delicious salad with rose petals:
These candied rose hips from Recipes From the Wild make a fabulous and healthful snack for the kids. They should be stored in an airtight, glass container in a cool location.
Rose Petal Vinegar
Rose petals make a useful cooking or skincare vinegar. It relieves itching bug bites. Dilute it 50/50 with water to spray on sunburns, or use a cotton ball to dab on acne.
Rose vinegar also makes a nice starter for a vinaigrette based salad dressing, which is tasty over bean dishes, salads, or on rice.
- 1/2 cup of rose petals
- White or apple cider vinegar
Fill a 1/2 pint canning jar with the rose petals. Pour warmed vinegar over the petals till it is 1/2 inch from the top of the jar lid.
Cover with a plastic jar top – not the metal ones as metal reacts with the vinegar and can spoil the flavor.
Store in a cool dark place. It will keep for several weeks.
Just because most people think of roses as decorative flowers doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a spot in the food garden. Growing edible roses is rewarding because you get both a beautiful floral display and a tasty treat.