This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Certain curative properties, which may be rendered in culinary forms, are possessed by both the wild Dog Rose of our country hedges, and by the cultivated varieties of this queen of flowers in our Rose gardens. The fruit of the wild Rose, which is the common progenitor of all the Roses, bears the name "Hips".
Gerarde has told that "Heps maketh most pleasant meats, or banquetting dishes, as tarts, and such like, the concoction whereof I commit to the cunning cook, and teeth to eat them in the rich man's mouth." The woolly down which is formed inside the hips serves usefully as a medicine for expelling round worms from the intestines, on the lining membrane of which it acts mechanically without irritating this mucous coat. A sauce Eglantine (from the Briar Rose) was frequently served at Balmoral in Queen Victoria's time. This was made from the hips which grow so abundantly on the wild rose trees (in the autumn) by the roadsides on the Balmoral estate, the hairy seeds having been first removed from within these hips, and a sweet puree being then made of the red berries in pulp, with a little lemon juice, or other acid, added. The hairs which line each Rose hip inside around the achene, will, if swallowed, being insoluble, cause an itching of the fundament. Petals of red Roses are found to contain a volatile oil, colouring matter, tannin, gallic acid, fatty elements, albumen, soluble potash salts, insoluble calcareous salts, silica, and oxide of iron.
At Mitcham Rose-petals are dried in a stove, because slow spontaneous desiccation by mere exposure to the sun and air impairs both their astringency. and their colour; the petals of the unexpanded flowers are chosen for drying. The poet Pope has told about the rude savage who "Restrained by none but nature's lenient laws, Quaffs the clear stream, and feeds on hips, and haws".
Rose-leaf jam was a favourite preserve with Queen Natalie, of Servia. Two sorts of this confection are provided, one from Turkey (the land of Rose attar), and a superior kind from Prance: for this latter the petals of pink roses are placed in a small glass pot, which is then filled with pure sugar syrup; the petals merely curl up, but do not become crushed.
When fully ripe and softened by frost, the hips, after removal of their hard seeds, and when plenty of sugar is added, make an excellent confection, which has special curative virtues, and which apothecaries employ in preparing electuaries; also as a basis for several sorts of pills. From Roses the Romans formerly concocted wine, and confections, also subtle scents, a sweet-smelling oil, and certain medicines. The petals of the crimson French Rose, which is grown freely in our gardens, have been esteemed of signal efficacy as remedial for consumption of the lungs, since the time of Avicenna (A.D. 1020), who states that he cured many patients by prescribing as much of the conserve thereof as they could manage to swallow daily; it was combined with milk, or with some other light nutriment, and generally from thirty to forty pounds of this pleasant medicament had to be consumed before the cure was complete. "Take," says an old M S. recipe of Lady Somerset's, "Red Rose buds, and chyp of the tops, and put them in a mortar with ye waight of double refined sugar, beat them very small together, then put it up; it must rest three full months, stirring onces a day.
This is good likewise against ye falling sickness".
The conserve of Red Roses is also helpful for irritability of the bladder with scalding urine, if eaten freely as a jam on bread, or with warm milk. Our grandmothers were given to place fragrant Rose petals over cherry pies before laying on the upper crust. The British Pharmacopoeia of to-day orders a confection to be made of hips, the ripe fruit of the Dog Rose (Rosa canina); and another conserve of Red Rose petals (Gallica) whilst still unexpanded, these petals being beaten to a pulp in a stone mortar, and then rubbed well together with refined sugar. A small teaspoonful of the conserve is a dose. The petals of the Cabbage Rose (Centifolia), which are closely folded over each other like the leaves of a cabbage, have a gentle laxative action, and are used for making Rose-water by distillation, either when freshly gathered, or after being preserved by admixture with common salt. This fragrant water has long enjoyed a reputation for the cure of inflamed eyes (sometimes with sulphate of zinc, or sugar of lead, added in quite small quantities). Attar of Roses is a costly product, because consisting of the comparatively few oil globules found floating on the surface of a considerable volume of Rose-water thrice distilled.
It takes five hundredweight of fresh Rose petals to produce one drachm by weight of the finest Attar, this being preserved in tiny bottles made of rock crystal. The scent of the most minute particle of the genuine essence is very powerful, and enduring.
"Quo semel est imbuta recens servabit odorem, testa diu," said Horace; which Moore has delightfully rendered thus:-
"You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will, But the scent of the Roses will hang round it still".
Tennyson has most suggestively propounded the query: -
"Oh, to what uses shall we put,
The bind-weed flower that simply blows? And is there any moral shut,
Within the bosom of the Rose? "
"Rose-Water" (so called) was at one time the only approved flavour for pound cake; and this "water" was really good old brandy (often of home distillation), or peach, or cherry brandy, in which the petals of Damask Roses had been macerated. To make a conserve of Red Roses, according to the Compleat Housewife: "Take Rosebuds, and pick them, and cut off the white part from the red, and choose the red flowers, and sift them through a sieve to take out the seeds; then weigh them, and to every pound of flowers take two pounds and a half of loaf sugar; beat the flowers pretty fine in a stone mortar, then by degrees put the sugar to them, and beat it very well till it is incorporated together, then put it into gallipots, and tie it over with paper, and over that with leather; it will keep for seven years." Again, in Adam's Luxury, and Eve's Cookery (London. 1744): "To make conserve of Red Roses, as designed for the use of all who would live cheap, and preserve their health to old age: Take one pound of Red Rosebuds, and bruise them with a wooden pestle in a marble mortar, adding by degrees of white loaf sugar, powdered, and sifted, three pounds; continue beating them till no particles of the Roses can be seen, and till the mass is all alike." Concerning Rosa gallica (the Red French Rose), its full-blown flowers are as laxative as those of the Cabbage Rose (Centifolia). Poterius relates that "he found a drachm of powdered Red Roses occasion three, or four stools; and this not in a few instances, but constantly during an extensive practice for several years." The Cabbage Rose contains a sweet extractive matter which is the laxative principle; and a crystalline volatile oil may be obtained therefrom, which is the English Attar of Roses. To smell at a fragrant Rose will often soothe a nervous headache; or to have the scalp gently rubbed, and kneaded with finger-tips first dipped in genuine Rose-water; also by spraying essence of Roses over the scalp with an atomizer.