How to grow food-safe roses

For a rose to be reliably food-safe, it should be grown organically and without sprays. If you're lucky, you might already have wild or old species roses growing this way right under your nose.

No hedgerows? No matter. A new or existing rose bush can be brought into the fold. Both rose bush and soil need to be tended organically for the products of the rose to be considered organic. The rose bush itself can be transitioned in about a year, but the soil can take several years if you've been using modern gardening synthetics. Mixing in compost can help this process along significantly by creating an active microbial life in the soil.

For best success and least maintenance, start with the right rose -- maybe a tough but charming species rose or one of its hybrids, or one of the modern "shrub" or "landscape" roses. Select for fragrance, color of bloom, and color and size of rose hips (important if you intend to harvest those fruits of the rose plant). Be sure to choose a hardy (zone 5 or lower) variety genetically bred for disease resistance. They can be found at most nurseries, online, and in catalogs.

Many rate the species rose Rosa rugosa highly for its brightly-colored, edible hips that some describe as having a taste not unlike apples. The shrub rose cultivar Rosa 'Dortmund,' which smells like apples, also will grow here.

The hips and the petals are the parts of the rose most commonly used in the kitchen, although the leaves are not toxic and can be used decoratively by dipping them in chocolate. The petals should be harvested in the early morning when dew levels are highest. They can be used fresh, crushed, or distilled. The hips can be used fresh or dried.

Harvest rose hips in early autumn when they're at the peak of their coloration. Fresh hips should be washed and can be used whole, or cut open and scraped clean of seeds to use the skins. To dry them, discard any with bruises or discoloration, then rinse in cold water, dry, and spread on a waxed paper-lined tray. Put them in a dry, undisturbed spot for a couple of weeks for them to dry. They will get darker in color, hard, and a little wrinkly. Rub off any stems or remaining blossom ends. Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Those hips that you leave on the bush will provide a treat for the birds and make an attractive display into the winter. Your wildlife, as well as your dinner guests, will surely love the extra attention.

Alisa Blatter is a food and garden enthusiast who lives on Mt. Washington with her husband and son.


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