Food & Wine

Smell the roses

Smell the roses

Roses, once the darling of the English garden, have come of age. Not only do they beautify lovely little flower beds, but they taste nice too, and any chef will tell you how they elevate a pretty dish into a magnificent feast for the eyes.

Roses have been used in different ways for centuries, not only as a culinary delight but even as a skin treatment. It has also long been prized as an ingredient in certain beverages.
Petals were widely used in Ancient Rome, as part of celebratory events, and they were most often strewn all over the banqueting table, including over the dishes. Pound cake was made with rose water in the 18th century USA, and Middle Eastern cuisine is famous for its use of fragrant rose water and crystallised and dried petals.

Indeed, roses appear in a great variety of Middle Eastern dishes, for example, the Persian delicacy of stuffed pumpkin and roses. Traditional Greek baklava is always served with a drizzle of rose syrup, and the ancient Chinese used rose petals to treat pain directly related to injury, as well as menstrual discomfort and intestinal complaints. Rose-flavoured ice cream is sublime, as are the sherbets and sorbets made from the syrup of this flower.
Now the rose comes to the drinks cabinet, just in time for summer’s first flowery, tentative stirrings of warmth. The petals have a transient, delicately sweet flavour, sometimes with a hint of sourness or trace of loamy darkness, sometimes a strawberry-like freshness, or even a hint of spice. The rule of thumb is the lighter the rose, the more subtle its colour.

The petals can be frozen into ice cube trays, where they liven up the punch bowl; a delicate pink gin, infused with the flavour of a summer morning never goes amiss, even a cup of freshly brewed rose tea is a treat which is worth spoiling yourself with, even if only occasionally.
Unfortunately, many of the modern hybrid varieties have no smell whatsoever, and a word of caution is to always make sure your petals (any edible flower) is from an approved or known source. The pesticides which are sprayed on roses are highly toxic, and there will be no feeling of goodwill after having inadvertently imbibed those.
Flowers, including rose petals, should never be overdone. Just a hint – a wispy tendril – of the delicate aroma is enough to bring to mind an evocative, beautiful hint of mystery on a summer’s evenings.

Benefits of rose petals
• Studies show that when inhaled, rose essence has a sedative effect, which alleviates the repercussions of insomnia and fatigue, and provides relief from stress and mild depression.
• Ancient Ayurveda principles say the petals activate two of the essential doshas (energies) in the body, in turn regulating the nervous system, heart and mind, and working as a natural aphrodisiac.
• Rose water is a natural, mild astringent for all skin types. It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and relieves skin irritation, normalises and balances oil production; and softens the skin while toning at the same time.
• Along with their antibacterial properties, rose petals contain phenyl ethanol which help to dry out acne, and the moisturising compounds seal and soften the skin.

Enjoy a delicious summertime recipe, for long, languid evenings under the stars.

Pink greyhound

Serves 2
• 120ml gin
• 120ml grapefruit juice
• 120ml rose water
• Ice
• A splash of sparkling water.


Pour everything, except the water, into a shaker.
Give a good shake then decant into glasses, and top with sparkling water.
Serve with a slice of grapefruit and a scattering of rose petals for effect.

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