Gardening

Stop and eat the roses? How to select & use edible roses in your garden.

Stop and eat the roses? How to select & use edible roses in your garden. thumbnail
The Tyrant and I love growing interesting and unusual varieties of food in our edible organic landscape. Gardens don’t have to be designed as ugly rows of plants. Ideally, they can serve multiple functions, and providing a relaxing, beautiful environment for humans is an important function.

What in tarnation? One of the things we love about gardening is growing unique and unusual foods that you won't see at a grocery store.

What in tarnation? One of the things we love about gardening is growing unique and unusual foods that you won’t see at a grocery store.

Given our somewhat limited space, there is usually quite a bit of spousal bickering that has to take place before we agree on any given plant that will be added into our system, especially if it’s a long-lived perennial plant.

My primary consideration: is it edible? The Tyrant’s primary consideration: does it produce beautiful flowers? Thankfully, there are plenty of plants that match both these criteria, so our marriage has managed to stay intact through trials on over 400 varieties of edible garden plants.

Introducing Edible Roses

One such plant that we squabbled over years ago was roses. When The Tyrant informed me that we would be putting in roses that year, I initiated protest. Why should we waste gardening space on a large perennial plant that didn’t produce food just because it was pretty?

However, once she educated me on the fact that plenty of rose varieties do in fact make wonderful edibles, I acquiesced. I’m glad I did because roses are actually one of the most multifunctional plants we grow – and, yes, they’re delicious.

Edible Roses: What, How, and When to Use Them

In case you didn’t know, roses have quite a family (Rosacaea): they’re closely related to almonds, apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and other fruit you’ve probably eaten.

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Rose hips getting ripe. Can you see the resemblance to apples, their close relatives?

Rose hips getting ripe. Can you see the resemblance to apples, their close relatives?

What parts of a rose are edible?

1. Rose Leaves

You don’t want to eat these as a salad green, but they are good in a tea leaf mix. On their own, they have a flavor similar to black tea, but they don’t contain caffeine. Pick the leaves when they’re young for best flavor.

2. Rose Buds & Petals 

We like to pick unopened rose buds and dry them for tea. Certain varieties (see recommended varieties below) make an absolutely divine rose bud tea that tastes every bit as good as they smell once a little sweetener is added to the tea.

Mmm. Dried rose buds for tea from one of our Rosa Rugosa plants. These taste every bit as amazing as they smell.

Mmm. Dried rose buds for tea from one of our Rosa Rugosa plants. These taste every bit as amazing as they smell.

Rose petals are also edible – you can add them fresh to a salad, chop them and put them in honey to be used as a spread (popular in Greece), candy them, add them as a garnish on dessert, or any number of other creative uses.

3. Rose Hips

What has more Vitamin C than oranges and tastes like a tangy apricot? Rose hips, aka the fruit of the rose plant. (Rose hips are technically a “false fruit,” but still…)

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As you can see, a good rose bush can produce quite a few hips. Pick them once they're uniformly ripe (orange or red, depending on the variety). Unlike apples or pears, they'll continue to produce all season until first frost.

As you can see, a good rose bush can produce quite a few hips. Pick them once they’re uniformly ripe (orange or red, depending on the variety). Unlike apples or pears, they’ll continue to produce all season until first frost.

Each variety of rose produces different sizes, colors, and flavors of hips (see below for the best varieties). The ones we grow ripen red or orange. We pick them, cut them in half, remove the seeds, and then use the hips in tea, jams, puddings, sauces and more. They truly are delicious in these applications, with a flavor most proximate to their close relative, the apricot.

Best Edible Rose Varieties

Not all roses are created equally edible, however, since they’ve largely been bred/hybridized for ornamental purposes. The older varieties are often quite good since they were used/bred for food production as well as ornamental qualities. The best varieties offer both great flower fragrance AND large, tasty hips.

The two best edible rose varieties that we know of are:

  1. Rosa Rugosa – these are bush varieties that are perfect as 3-4′ tall, round shrubs (buy plants here); and
  2. ‘The Generous Gardener’ – a climbing variety, bred by renown rose breeder David Austin, that grows great on a trellis, fence, or arbor (buy plants here).

Both varieties are very hardy and require minimal care. We mulch heavily around the base of our roses 1-2 times per year, and occasionally top-dress the soil surface under the mulch with worm castings or compost. The aim of both of these practices is to boost biological soil fertility, allowing trillions of microbes to partner with the rose, thereby providing it with all the nutrition and pathogen protection it needs. In our area, Agricultural Zone 7B, we only water our roses during really hot dry spells.

Even if you don’t want to use these roses as food, they’ll still provide gorgeous flowers and your pollinators will love them. We hope this information helps you grow a more beautiful edible home landscape!

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KIGI,


 Other edible flower articles from Tyrant Farms that you might enjoy:

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