Yes its that time of the year when you drive (or hopefully bike!) down the road and fill your lungs with the intoxicating smell of wild roses on the roadsides on the west coast. There are a couple of common native species of rose that inhabit the pacific northwest. Those are Rosa nutkana, Rosa gymnocarpa, and Rosa Woodsii. Some other species that are non-native that might be found are Rosa canina, Rosa rubiginosa and Rosa rugosa. It is tricky to differentiate between these species but most often non-native species will have thorns that curve downward and native species will have straight thorns. The thorns are also typically smaller on native species versus non-native. There are exceptions to these rules however. To learn more about identifying rose species check out this awesome guide Roses of the Inland Northwest to nerd out about roses.
Roses of all varieties are edible to a certain extent, and they provide us with a very gentle and also effective form of medicine. So its no wonder every year I see the wild rose bushes around the island ravaged by pickers, unable to control the overwhelming desire to delight in all that is rose! Unfortunately other creatures also love the rose and like many other plants us humans are drawn to, roses need to be ethically harvested. It is the petals that a harvester is typically after in the early summer, and the petals are often harvested by directly pulling them off the flower itself. The petals however are important in the plants reproductive life, as pollinators are both attracted to the petals and can land on the flower due to the petals. By just removing the petals, you are doing the plant and the pollinators a great disservice! There is a better way to harvest rose petals, and that is by pruning the plant. Pruning is a way in which as harvesters we can contribute to the health of plants. Pruning a flower back encourages new growth and ensures that energy from the plant isn’t wasted on a flower that won’t reproduce.
How to Prune a Rose
Pruning a rose can be easy. When you are setting out to do your amazing rose harvest this year, bring a pair of pruners with you. Make sure they are clean first by dipping them in bleach or alcohol and that they are sharp to ensure a clean cut. Now you are ready to prune. Check out the stem below the flower you are hoping to pick. Find the nearest leaf of five and cut the stem back to that.
Make sure to cut on an angle that goes with the growth of the leaf of five. If there is a bud, cut to the nearest bud.
After you are done wildcrafting and have returned home to do your processing, remove the petals from the core of the flower which is bitter.
Other Helpful Tips for Harvesting
Ethical harvesting is an extremely important part of being a herbalist or wildcrafter. There is an art to it, and many people develop their own unique way of contributing to the health of the plant communities that surround them. Here are some general tips to consider for your harvesting.
- Consider the rose population in the area you are harvesting. Are there other rose bushes around? How many? What species are they? If you are harvesting from one of few or the only plant in the area, find a new location. Some wildcrafters feel strongly about only harvesting 10% of a plant “stand” in one area. Since roses on Salt Spring specifically are pretty prolific, it is a genus we don’t have to be overly concerned about. However, it is more prolific in some areas of the island than others. Keep plant populations in mind and don’t take more than necessary.
- Consider how you might be able to contribute to the health of the roses you are harvesting from. Maybe bring a container of compost tea along with you to supply the plants with some extra nutrition. This could enable the plant to produce more blooms.
- Try to get in the habit of visiting the same plant stand every year. This way you can fully understand and appreciate the life cycle of the rose. You can visit in the winter to harvest the hips as well. When we make relationships with certain places we harvest, we can better monitor the health of what we are harvesting and the surrounding ecology.
- Make sure it looks like you were never there. That is one way to know whether you are over-harvesting or not. If where you are planning on picking already looks like its been harvested then find another location. Try to find somewhere off the beaten path where there isn’t a lot of human foot traffic. This will also ensure you won’t get caught (if you are harvesting in a park) as it is illegal.
- If you can hear the pollinators at work, find another spot!
- Plants with lots of essential oils like Rosa species as best picked in the morning or on a cloudy day. Heat and sunlight will cause essential oils on the plant to evaporate.
- And lastly, make sure to take a moment to appreciate what you have taken. Everyone can develop their own way of showing gratitude after a harvest, what that looks like is up to you.
Rosa spp. as Medicine
Roses make wonderful medicine as you will be hard pressed to find someone unwilling to ingest them! Rose, or Rosa spp. ( any species from the Rosa genus) can be an effective anti-depressant and aphrodisiac. It can also help with sinusitis ( used as a nasal wash), mastitis and conjunctivitis. Its also just plain yum! My favourite way to use rose petals is just to dry them for tea but they also make a nice oil.
Wilted Rose petal oil
Rose petals can be macerated in olive oil by doing whats called a wilted plant oil. Fresh plant material contains a lot of water, which can make your oil solvent rancid so some fresh plants are best wilted first before putting them in oil. Oil is a decent solvent when essential oils are present, which is most certainly the case for rose!
To wilt your rose petals, first weight your plant material and record the weight. Then lay them out on a drying rack for a day or in a dehydrator for a brief period of time. Let them dry out to 50% of their fresh weight. This means if your original harvest weighed 100g you would want your wilted weight to be 50g. After you have wilted your petals, you are ready to put them in oil. Sunflower or olive oil are great for making oil extracts. Use the ratio 1:7, weight to volume, to calculate your oil amount. For instance, if your wilted plant weight is 50g you will be using 350ml of olive oil. Mason jars are great for making oil macerations, so add your olive oil and plant material to your jar and let the magic happen! Make sure your mason jar is perfectly dry, as any water will possibly make your oil rancid. After a month or so of maceration, put your jar with the lid on in a pot of hot water and double boil your oil extract for an hour or so. Hopefully by now your oil will smell delicious. Strain your plant material from the oil and enjoy rose all year long.