The rose is Herb of the Year for 2012? At first, this seemed somewhat strange, but upon reflection, the rose is a perfect fit with the definition of herbs. The explanation I use is, "any plant that can be used for culinary, medicinal, fragrance or cosmetic purposes." That seems to cover all the bases, and certainly includes the rose, which is used in all four ways.
First, and perhaps most unexpected, is the culinary.
Euell Gibbons, the wild-plant expert who published several books in the 1960s, has a chapter in his book, "Stalking the Healthful Herbs," titled "How to Eat a Rose."
He begins with a recipe for uncooked rose jam, basically a blend of shredded rose petals, lemon juice, sugar and powdered pectin. This does not appeal to me, but his candied rose petals sound delicious to the eye as well as to the tongue. Rose water is a fragrant, flavorful liquid that has been used since Roman times in food and wine as well as in cosmetics.
Most rose recipes use the petals, but rose hips have high amounts of vitamin C and can be made into rose hip fruit soup or rose hip jam. One cup of rose hips has as much vitamin C as 12 dozen oranges.
The medicinal qualities of the rose are based mostly on rose hip syrup.
During World War II, there were no citrus fruits to be had in England, so children were dosed regularly with this food supplement. I can still taste it! The leaves reportedly can be infused for a liquid that is astringent and touted as a tonic. As with other medicinal herbs, I would be very cautious in their use.
The red rose is listed officially as a drug plant, with the petals used to mask unpleasant odors in medical preparations.
The fragrance of the rose is familiar to almost everyone, and roses are used to scent a wide array of cosmetics and perfumes. Potpourris and sachets bring the fragrance into the home and most popular fragrance lines have a wide array of rose-scented offerings.
For ornamental use, fresh or dried, the rose is incomparable.
From weddings to funerals, and all the happy occasions in between, they are easy to obtain, need little arrangement beside being settled in a container, and always give pleasure.
I grow roses, but I take the easy way out with climbers or shrub varieties.
With the development of the Knock Out rose in the last few years, I have acquired two red, one pink and one yellow, all growing enthusiastically and needing no care but a bit of pruning when their size becomes unwieldy.
My climbers vary in performance.
I have a yellow Lemon Meringue on the side wall of the garage which is 3-4 years old and blooming well this season. The red and white Fourth of July graces the back door area. A white Iceberg on a trellis is just 2 years old and has not done well so far. I will give it another year to prove itself.
And then there is my New Dawn. This beautiful rose covers about half of the front of my house and is in full bloom much earlier than usual this summer. Early in the winter, the cobbled-together links of rope, wire and nails that supported it up to the top of the second floor windows blew down in a strong wind, so I had to cut it way back. Now, you would never know it had been damaged, and I am really enjoying the scent and sight of the pale pink blossoms.
I have revised my early skepticism, therefore, and truly salute the rose as herb of the year.