Getting Hipsey with Roses

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Last year I started what I hope will expand into a medicinal botanical sanctuary. Besides the classic culinary herbs, rosemary, sage and thyme, which make a wonderful dispensary in themselves, I planted ten Rosa rugosa bushes. This wild rose is a humble and hardy plant. It grows along the New England coast, setting it’s thorny self - it is a pricker bomb! - against the assault of wind and sea. In June, the 3- 4 foot shrub bedecks itself with simple hot pink blossoms which ooze with fragrance.

Many an herbalist has clambered over the rocky seacoast in search of the Rosa rugosa petals. They are delicious and nourish the heart, offering a sense of peace.

As a symbol of love, rose petals can sustain us through episodes of grief or stress, especially if we feel that tension in the chest.

I like to think of this plant as a hardy old woman who has withstood the stormy times. She has a thorny side and sets clear boundaries with others, and yet her heart is also wide open, loving with a wisdom that comes from time and heartbreak. If you are having a rough day, imagine this elder-woman stepping into your kitchen with her medicine bag. She would make you a cup of rose petal tea, sit with you and listen with all her heart. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us.

Making simple remedies, such as rose petal tea, really isn’t that complicated or time consuming. Even so, summer flies by so quickly and I often find myself too distracted to follow up with even simple plans to harvest and make medicine. When my roses bloomed in early June, I picked a few handfuls and set them out to dry, but I think they are still sitting on the shelf collecting dust. Fortunately, some of the best medicine makers I know, make a fabulous rose elixir, sweet and delicious. Try Woodland Essence (Rose Glycerite half price right now!) or Avena Botanicals Rose Petal Elixir, if you want to experience the heart-lifting power of the floral side of this botanical.

The upside of neglecting my flower harvest is that the bees were busy, and the bushes (now 4 feet tall) funneled all their energy into seed production and produced the most glorious rose hips I ever saw. We have had a lot of rain this summer. The hips produced by Rosa rugosa, which typically tend to be large, are ginormous this year thanks to excess moisture. Really fat and juicy.

Rose hips are loaded with seeds as hard as rocks, so when I pick them I like to nibble around the edges, savoring the sour leathery fruit and spitting out any stray seeds. This sour flavor is the sign that your hips are rich in Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids.

Eating rose hips, or drinking as a tea, is a wonderful way to boost immunity and support the integrity of blood vessels, decreasing bruising, spider veins and hemorrhoids.

Until today I have never made a product out of rose hips, even though I have seen many recipes for them, from jam to syrup to face cream. While making dinner (chicken parm), I grabbed a small saucepan and got my creative juices flowing.

Here’s what I made, and I don’t mind saying, it tastes divine!

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Getting Hipsey Honey

Ingredients:

1 quart large fleshy rose hips, stems and greens removed

2/3 cup water

1/2 - 1 cup honey, depending on taste and plumpness of hips

Make it:

  • Dump prepared hips and water into blender, food processor or Vitamix. Blend briefly. You could at this point pick out seeds, but I didn’t. Transfer into medium saucepan and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

  • Grind cooked hips and water with a food mill. I used a tomato sauce maker and the seeds nearly broke the thing, but it worked. Let me know if you find some easy way to remove all those seeds!

  • Return seed-free pulp to sauce pan and add some of the honey. Gently heat and stir, just until warm enough to blend together. Taste. Add more honey if needed. Taste again and smile! Use the honey in tea, on toast, on a banana, or over raspberry ice-cream. Sigh!


Interested in learning more about Plant Medicine? Join us at the BotanicWise MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference, Sept. 27-29. Register by September 1 to be eligible to win a ticket to the private Teacher’s Dinner!

Elder Magic

Look carefully as you drive along rural meadows next to wooded stream beds and you might spot the first of the elder blossoms.  Deb Soule insists that this plant is magical, and I have to agree withher. In fact, after a little digging I found plenty of lore surrounding the mystical qualities of this shrub. Planted near wells and the doors of just-married, much superstition surrounded this plant in European history.  Witches that spring out if you cut it down, were also warded off by the shrub itself. In Germanic societies elder became the symbol of life and death, as well as luck and protection.  

I couldn't resist publishing this close up of the elderflower umbel.  Each tiny flower has 5 tiny magic wands!

I couldn't resist publishing this close up of the elderflower umbel.  Each tiny flower has 5 tiny magic wands!

I had my own magical experience with elder many years ago.  The perfectly ripe flowers at my grandfather's farm were ready for harvest, but I was so exhausted I had trouble motivating myself to get them. Since flowers don't last long, I forced myself and soon was immersed in the tall spindly branches loaded with ivory flower clusters. Quite suddenly I felt the sensation of gentle hands on my back and shoulders and a great happiness filled me. By the time I had finished my task, my energy and spirit were restored. Perhaps just the act of getting outdoors and doing something I love helped me feel better, but I feel convinced there was a bit of magic in the air about those bushes. 

Traditionally the flowers of this plant have been used for nasal and sinus congestion. Steeping the fresh or dried blossoms makes a refreshing tea that helps alleviate inflamed mucus membranes.  This is my go-to tea for head colds and sinus infections. However the flowers have many wonderful culinary uses, originating in northern Europe.  From batter-fried umbels (that’s what the flower clusters are called) to cake imbued with a cordial of the blossoms, the taste is unique and possibly acquired.  These days I have less time to make medicine, or even forage for wild foods, but I never fail to pick the elder blossom and make my favorite Scandinavian specialty: Elderflower Salt.  This traditional recipe can be adapted to suit modern tastes.  I simply toss the separated flower clusters with celtic sea salt, garlic scapes, lemon rind and a bit of red pepper flakes.  After curing in the sun, I store this salt in pretty jars, perfect for spontaneous gifts to herbal friends. It makes a marvelous rub for grilled meat, fish or veggies. 

The berries of Sambucus nigra have also been used by herbalists for centuries to ward off flu.  All kinds of delicious concoctions can be created from the berries, but always they are cooked before ingesting, as the raw berries are somewhat toxic. Two of my favorite elderberry tonics are Elderberry Elixir by Avena Botanicals and Elderberry Syrup by Tooth of the Lion Apothecary.  While the first is sweet and delightful to the palate of a child, the second is an artful combination of yarrow, goldenrod, elderberry and ginger. It makes a delightful before-bed-aperitif. 

I am gathering a collection of recipes using elder flowers and berries and would love to feature yours.  Feel free to email me, or make a comment here, and toot your horn a little if you have a product to sell.  I will be posting all recipes on my online forum, GingerJuice.