Wednesday 8 July 2020

Six Centuries of Rose Recipes and Remedies - Part 2

Maid Marion Rose
Maid Marion Rose © Debs Cook

In part 1 of Six Centuries of Rose Recipes and Remedies I looked at rose remedies and recipes from the 16th through to the 18th centuries, and as I said at the end of that post, today I'm looking at the 19th century through to present day 21st century recipes from two of my favourite herbalists and authors. Roses have played their part in the Middle East and Europe on a culinary and medicinal level for centuries, they originated in Persia, where an extensive rose-water trade began as long ago as the 8th century.

The romance of the rose is illustrated in the arts where the rose has long been drawn on for inspiration. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet speaks the famous line 'that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'. Robert Burns described his love as being 'like a red, red rose', and the Greek poetess Sappho, in her 600 B.C. poem 'Song of the Rose', referred to the rose as the 'grace of the earth'. In Renaissance art, the apothecary rose was the most painted of all roses, its red colour (which is actually deep pink) was believed to represent the blood of the Christian martyrs, in honour of these martyrs the petals of the gallica roses were dried and rolled into beads, then strung into beaded chains for religious use which is how rosary beads got their name.

19th Century Recipes

By the 19th century roses were still used in medicinal and also in culinary recipes and they were still found in recipes for home made cosmetics and beauty preparations. Then towards the end of the 20th century, making your own cosmetics and household cleaners fell out of fashion, as manufacturers offered ways to clean your home in a flash with the minimum of effort with handy mass produced chemical concoctions. Using roses medicinally also faded from the radar temporarily, and even the perfume industry in the late 20th century stopped using real rose oil and essence in favour of the cheaper synthetic and mass produced aromas and flavourings. Even worse the rose became something to be valued as nothing more than a colourful and fragrant addition to the garden, although even the fragrance became unimportant in favour of colours and disease resistance.

The 19th century German physician and father of homeopathy Samuel Hahnemann in his book ‘The Organon of the Healing Art’, published in 1810, - which incidentally from its 2nd edition onwards became known as ‘Organon of Medicine’. Described how the mother of Queen Victoria, the Princess of Leiningen had ‘restored her brother the Emperor Alexius, who suffered from faintings, by sprinkling him with rose water.’ He also described how 16th century physician Jacob Horstius had seen great benefits from administering rose vinegar to patients suffering from syncope [fainting]. Hahnemann also believed that the rose possessed a healing power that was most beneficial to certain eye conditions and that the rose was a marvellous restorative.

Interestingly after describing all the uses above for the rose, entries for both the 'Pale Rose' (R. centifolia) and 'Red Rose' (R. gallica), in R.C Wren’s book ‘Potters Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs & Preparations’ first published in 1907, state that the pale rose ‘seldom, if ever, is used internally on account of its fragrancy’ and also that the red rose was ‘seldom used internally’ although Wren did say that an infusion of red roses was ‘used as a flavouring for other medicines’.

Unguentum Aquae Rosae (Ointment of Rose Water)

Roses continued to be a popular cosmetic and medicinal ingredient in the 19th century and most chemist and druggist shops sold rose based cosmetic preparations, syrups, vinegars and ointments in one form or another, so by the mid-19th century pharmacists wanted to have a collection of the recipes they could refer to in their shops to make those preparations on demand. So Peter MacEwan, a well-respected pharmaceutical chemist and editor of ‘The Chemist and Druggist’ magazine, decided that it was time that such a publication should emerge and so ‘Pharmaceutical Formulas: A Book of Useful Recipes for the Drug Trade’ was presented to the pharmacists of the day.

First published in 1864, my 9th edition dates to 1914 and contains the recipe below which was first added to the 2nd edition of the book in 1898. The recipe was for a formula for a fragrant rose cold cream which the author states was ‘taken to be the official representation of cold-cream, and while this preparation is ‘cold-cream’ it should be distinctly understood that the Pharmacopoeia authorities do not publish it as such, or as a standard for retail trade. Cold-cream is not a 'drug' in the sense of the sale of Food and Drugs Acts, but a toilet article, and the officialising of a preparation resembling it does not make a legal drug of it:-

Rose Water, Undiluted - 7 fl. ounces (200ml)
White Beeswax - 1½ ounce (45g)
Spermaceti - 1½ ounce (45g)
Almond Oil - 9 ounce (255ml)
Oil of Rose - 8 minims (0.5ml)

Melt together the white beeswax, spermaceti, and almond oil; pour the mixture into a warmed mortar, and add the rose-water gradually with constant trituration; add the oil of rose; continue the trituration till cold.

N.B. Personally, even if I could obtain it, I wouldn’t use spermaceti today for anything I make for obvious reasons, instead I’d substitute 1 part jojoba oil to 1 part solid coconut oil and mix both together. For this recipe you’d need 22.5g jojoba to 22.5g coconut oil.

Honey of Roses

There were plenty of rose recipes still being prepared daily in English households in the 19th century, most families had their favourites and these were handed down the family or shared with friends and neighbours. Some became popular but the original author of the recipe faded into the past, the recipe below is such a recipe. It was found in an old book that contains many rose recipes, but was simple attributed to ‘anon’.

Take four ounces of dried Red Rose petals, the white heels cut off before they were dried, three pints of boiling water and five pounds of honey. Pour the boiling water on to the dried Rose petals and leave for six hours. Strain and add the honey. Boil to a thick consistency.’ – Anon, 19th Century.

20th Century Recipes

Mrs C F Leyel, a 20th century contemporary of Wren’s, and founder of the Society of Herbalists, included the rose in her book ‘Herbal Delights’ in the ‘Natural Perfumes’ section She obviously didn’t subscribe to Wren’s notions that roses were seldom used medicinally in the 20th century, because in 1937 she wrote that ‘To-day Roses are chiefly used to ease coughs and to comfort the heart. They help the hearing, and are useful at the beginning of hay fever.’ Leyel echoed Culpeper on the power of the rose to aid the ‘retentive faculty’, she added that rose water can be used as a gargle and when ‘mixed with syrup of mulberries is excellent as well as delicious, for quinsies [a throat abcess that forms as a complication of tonsillitis] and sore throats’.

Ice Cream of Roses

I can’t let the 20th century pass by without mentioning one of my favourite writers of herb books, from that century, I refer of course to Mrs C.F. Leyel (1880-1957) also known as Hilda Leyel, found of the Society of Herbalists. Mrs Leyel included the rose in several of her books in ‘Herbal Delights’ it was a ‘Natural Perfume’, in ‘Elixirs of Life’ it appeared in the tonic herbs chapter, and in ‘Hearts-Ease’ Hilda included it amongst the ‘Herbs for the Heart’. She also included recipes using the rose in ‘The Gentle Art of Cookery’ published in 1925, inspiring readers with its 'Dishes from the Arabian Nights', 'The Alchemist's Cupboard' and 'Flower Recipes', the latter chapter containing a wonderful recipe for Rose Ice Cream.

Take one pint of cream, two handfuls of fresh rose petals, yolks of two eggs, sugar. Boil a pint of cream and put into it when it boils two handfuls of fresh rose petals, and leave them for two hours, well covered. Then pass this through a sieve, and mix with the cream the well-beaten yolks of two eggs, and sugar to taste. Add a little cochineal, and put it on the fire, stirring it all the time, but do not let it boil on any account. Put it on ice.’

Glycerine and Rosewater Hand Cream

Another of my favourite 20th century herb authors is Lesley Bremness, I first became aware of her in the early days of my herbal journey when she presented a 5 part programme for Channel 4 in the UK called ‘A World of Herbs’ back in 1989, after watching the programme I bought Lesley’s book ‘The Complete Book of Herbs’ and one of the first home made cosmetic recipes I made was this one from Lesley’s book.

4 Tbsp. Glycerine (60ml)
1 Cup Rosewater (225ml)
4 Tbsp. Cornflour (60ml)
3 Drops Rose Essential Oil
Few drops Pink Cosmetic Colouring (if desired)

'Gently melt the glycerine, rosewater and cornflour together and heat the mixture in a double boiler (or use a glass boil over a pan of water) until the mixture thickens. Allow to cool and then add the rose essential oil, stir the hand cream well. Pour into amber glass jars and label.

Over the years I dispensed with the cornflour and added 125ml of coconut oil, the resulting hand cream melts in to the skin and the hand cream lasts a lot longer.

21st Century Recipes

There are many superb herb books in the 21st century, technically both of the authors I’ve chosen are from the 20th century as their herbal careers started in that era, like mine, but both ladies continue to delight my herbal book shelf and show me things about herbs that I didn’t know, from them both I’ve learnt a lot and I cherish their books.

Herbalist Anne McIntyre Rose Aroma Therapy
© Debs Cook

Balancing Tincture for Menopause Symptoms

Anne McIntyre is my first choice, she is a Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (FNIMH), a Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association (MAPA), and has been practising herbal medicine for over 30 years. She is also the author of around 20 books on herbal medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, the majority of which are in my book collection. Anne has a deep appreciation for the rose as a powerful herbal healer, which became evident hearing her remedy for the blues that she gave a few years ago when I went on a herb walk she was giving, her rosy remedy involved ‘1 sniff [of a scented rose] 3 times a day’ now that's what I call real aroma therapy! I've had the pleasure of listening to talks given by Anne several times and worked with her when I was a trustee of the Herb Society and she became the HS President. The recipe below for a tincture to balance the hormones during the menopause comes from Anne’s 2011 book ‘Drugs in Pots’ and is used with her kind permission.

This blend supports hormonal and emotional balance. Motherwort, sage, rose and chamomile are cooling for hot flushes and are helpful to the liver. Sage promotes digestion and absorption, while rose and motherwort balance hormones and enhance mental equilibrium.

Ingredients: To make 400ml (14 floz) tincture you will need: -

250 g (9oz) each fresh herbs or 100 g (3½oz) dried red sage leaves, motherwort, lady's mantle. Chamomile and rose petals. 500 ml (17 floz) brandy or vodka


1) Place the herbs into a large glass jar.

2) Pour over brandy or vodka and screw the lid on. Leave to macerate fora minimum of 2-3 weeks, up to 6 months.

3) Press through a fine mesh sieve or use a wine press, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible before discarding the herb.

4 Label clearly and store in dark glass bottles.

How to Use:

Take 1-2 teaspoons 3 times daily in a little water. You may continue for at least 3 weeks, and up to 3 months, to benefit from the long-term benefits of the herbs.

Rose Petal Glycerite

Julie Bruton-Seal is my next 21st century herbal choice, her first herbal book ‘Hedgerow Medicine’ co-written with her husband Matthew Seal was published in 2008 and reviewing her book for the Herb Society was how I became aware of Julie who is a practising medical herbalist, iridologist and natural healer, and also a Council member of the Association of Master Herbalists (AMH).

Julie is the author of 5 herb books to date, her 4th ‘The Herbalist's Bible: John Parkinson's Lost Classic Rediscovered’ was released in 2014 and I had the pleasure of proof reading some of the book for Julie and Matthew and I can highly recommend it, I also reviewed the book for my blog. In 2017 'Wayside Medicine: Forgotten Plants to Make Your Own Herbal Remedies' was released and like the Kitchen and Hedgerow Medicine books before them this book is a must have for the 21st century herb lover, gardener and those people like me with an interest in how we used herbs historically.

From Julie’s book Hedgerow Medicine, I learnt about the benefits of glycerites, which are fluid extracts of herbs similar to tinctures but made with vegetable glycerine, so suitable for people that can’t take alcohol. Julie sells vegetable glycerine via her website if you have trouble obtaining it locally.

Take fragrant rose petals and put them in a jar with a mixture of vegetable glycerine and 40% water. Put the jar on a sunny window ledge or in a warm place. Stir occasionally to keep the petals beneath the surface of the liquid. You can add more petals over the season, removing any that have turned transparent. When the last petals have lost their colour, strain off the liquid and bottle. It should have a powerful aroma of rose, and taste heavenly.

Uses: 1 teaspoonful as needed for sore throats or viral infections. For a 'broken heart' or grief, mix half and half with hawthorn tincture and take 1 teaspoonful several times a day. Rose glycerite is a pleasant addition to many herbal tinctures and formulae. As a face lotion for dry or delicate skin, mix half and half with water and apply daily.

Thus for now my dip into six centuries of rose recipes ends, I hope that it has inspired you to make a rose recipe of your own, I have a very good feeling this is a subject I’ll revisit in the future, look out for ‘more rose recipes’ and maybe ‘even more rose recipes’ because there are many other old recipes out there and other stories to tell, as well as looking at the aromatherapy aspects of the rose and ways we can use the rose to make kitchen medicine today.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

The William Turner Garden, Morpeth, Northumberland

William Turner Garden, 2009
William Turner Garden, September 2009
© Debs Cook

As I've mentioned before some of my posts have been moved over from my old blog and I'm taking the opportunity to update them with new information, e.g. garden closures where applicable, changes to the layouts, plus any additional facts I've come across since my original visit and to add more photos where possible. This post refers to a visit I made to the garden in Northumberland back in September 2009. Whilst there we also visited the Chester Walled Garden in Hexham, I never wrote about that visit and its now sadly been closed down back in 2010, so I will write a piece and add soon.

These retro herbal journeys serve a double purpose, as the Coronavirus lockdown has 'grounded' my herbal expeditions this year with many places being closed until the virus goes away, or they are open but in a limited way and are harder to safely access, my herbal core needs a therapeutic lift and by looking back at places I've visited I can remember the days out I've taken and look forward and plan days out maybe later this year and in subsequent years.

Entry on Rosemary from
William Turner's A New Herball
The William Turner Garden is dedicated to the  Morpeth man born in 1508, he was responsible for some very pioneering work in botany and medicine, earning him the posthumous title of 'The Father of English Botany'. Turner will be a herbalist I write more about in the future, his life has a lot of political intrigue and twists and turns to it, but he is best known for his book "A New Herball", which was originally published in three parts between 1551 and 1568 and was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I.

Turner's herbal provided a landmark in the history of botany and herbalism, breaking new ground in its accuracy of observation and its scientific detail. It was the first original book to be written about the botanical and medicinal aspects of plants in English, and the first to include reliable descriptions of the plants themselves and the places where they grew.

Previous English language herbals were all translations of the original Greek texts, and the quality and accuracy of the translations varied greatly. Turner kept the translations from the Greek for the medicinal uses of the herbs he wrote about, but he also added his personal experiences from when he used or prescribed any of the plants. A New Herball contained over 300 species of plants, and those that didn't have a common English name, Turner gave them one where there had been none before.

The William Turner Garden is situated on the edge of the formal gardens in Carlisle Park in Morpeth, and consists of a 'Physick Garden', a long border that contains herbs that were first brought to the UK in the 16th century and the garden was further enhanced in 2012 when the William Turner Woodland Bank was added to it by the Morpeth Lions Club. The club planted 40 trees on the steep bank above the formal beds, many of which were species referred to in Turner's Herball, including Almond, Medlar and Quince.

Carl Linnaeus was a friend of Turner's and named the plant family Turneraceae after him which consists of 120 species in 10 genera (as of 2020) and includes the herb Damiana (Turnera diffusa). Turner was responsible for naming several plants including Monkshood (Aconitum napellus), the Spindle Tree (Euonymous europaeus) 'It may be called Englishe longe cherry tree. The female is plituous in Englande and the butchers make prickes of it' and Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris).

What struck me as odd in 2009 and still today is that there are woodcuts and paintings of Gerard, Culpeper, and other herbal writers if the 16th century, but I have never seen a likeness of Turner, only images of pages of his herbal, given he was Dean of Wells Cathedral and rubbed shoulders with many of his peers, I find it hard to believe no likenesses exist, maybe one does and I haven't found it, I will update if I ever do!

I had a little niggle whilst I wandered around the garden in 2009, because one of the info boards tells visitors that the physick garden is planted with herbs which were used in medicine in Turners time, it then mentions Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and refers to its ability to control irregular heartbeats. In actual fact this property wasn't scientifically and medically recognised until 1785 long after Turner's time. Turner recommended foxglove for treating "farcye" which is I believe is a contagious horse disease which can be transmitted to humans. He recommends putting it between the horses saddle and back and calls it an excellent remedy, he wouldn't have been familiar with the use for treating heart conditions.

Culpeper used Foxglove in ale along with Polypody (Polypodium vulgare) to cure the 'falling sickness' better known today as epilepsy, the remedy being best to treat people that had been troubled by the condition for 20 years or more. He also recommends the use of Foxglove for making an ointment for scabby heads and wounds. Robinson's New Family Herbal also lists the use of foxglove in ointment form attributing it to the Italians who used it to heal any fresh and 'green' wounds, the ointment was made from the juice of the foxglove leaves and lard and was applied to scrofulous sores with good effect.

The day we visited the weather was glorious, but because our visit took place in mid September many of the herbs had gone over, but there was still plenty of interest. Bee's and butterflies were drinking in the nectar and weaving a dizzy pattern of activity around the garden.

As well as information boards about Turner and his life, all the herbs in the display beds had small plaques like the Sorrel one seen above. Each plaque detailed the way Turner used the herb and underneath there was information the way we still use the herb today.

Herbs were also arranged in beds like this one "Herbs for Rheumatism and Painful Joints" which included Comfrey, Marjoram and Lily of the Valley, although Turner doesn't add much about Lily of the Valley in his herbal beyond mentioning its name, but Gerard does say that Lily of the Valley 'The flowers of the Valley Lily distilled with wine, and drunk the quantity of a spoonful, restoreth speech unto those that have the dumb palsy and that are fallen into the apoplexy, and is good against the gout, and comforteth the heart.'

The garden was first opened in 1999 and as time passed the plants did what plants do and migrated to places they weren't supposed to be, some had thrived at the expense of more delicate herbs and some that were originally part of the planting scheme had died off, so in 2019 the Friends of William Turner Group drew up a new planting scheme that would "focus on sustainability and also low maintenance with plants from the Herball chosen to reflect those needs." The group also intend to add new species to the garden over the coming year. I am scheduling a visit in 2021 (coronavirus willing) to Northumberland this time to visit Bede's World and also the Dilston Physic Garden, so whilst there I'll make time to revisit the William Turner Garden to see how it has evolved.

What I will say about this small garden is if you are travelling a long way then make sure you are visiting other gardens in the area, or that you have other places to visit in Morpeth, if you do then add this pretty little garden to your itinerary but I wouldn't recommend going if that's the only place you're going to visit, because its rather small, but if you're going to visit other places in the area, make sure you stop by, Carlisle Park is free to enter and is currently being redeveloped (2020) to include more facilities including a tea room.

Thursday 2 July 2020

Six Centuries of Rose Recipes and Remedies - Part 1

Rose 'Wild Eve'
Rose 'Wild Eve' © Debs Cook

I have a very, very soft and fragrant spot for roses, their heady fragrance, vibrant colours and their silk or sometimes velvet like textures have captivated me since I was a young girl, but the roses have to be fragrant to for me or they are pointless, roses delight the senses with their aroma. In the garden I have many roses, less now than I used to have, and as the garden is being redesigned there is scope to add more, and you can bet that whichever ones I do plant will be fragrant.

The first documented medicinal use of the rose occurred in Theophrastus' ‘Historia Plantarum’ written around the 3rd century B.C. in which he described the properties of the ‘hundred-petalled rose’. By the 1st century A.D. Dioscorides included remedies in his ‘De Materia Medica’ for rose salves and preparations that could treat the eyes, ears, gums and even soothe the intestines, he also described the manufacture of ‘Rhodides’, which were small pomanders made from powdered rose petals, spikenard and myrrh which he said were ‘worn around women’s necks instead of necklaces’ and were primarily used to disguise the smell of body odour. Pliny the Elder also from the 1st century A.D. described 12 varieties of roses that grew in Greece, the most often quoted is his ‘Milesian Rose’ which by its description was most likely the rose we know today as Rosa gallica or the Damask Rose.

This article on the way herbalists and cooks have used the rose over the centuries was inspired by ‘Rose Recipes from Olden Times’ an old book written by Eleanour Sinclair-Rohde in 1939, Rohde is one of the female 20th century herbal authors that I have been researching this past few weeks for an article I will be uploading soon. As I re-read the opening to the book it struck me that a lot of what she said back in 1939 still rang true today. ‘In the days when Roses were valued more for their fragrance, sweet flavour, and medicinal virtues than for their beauty, the petals were used in countless ways. Most folk associate flower recipes with old vellum-bound volumes and regard the recipes therein contained as being of little more than antiquarian interest. Indeed the phrase "Rose recipes" conjures up visions of sixteenth and seventeenth century still rooms, busy housewives and attendant maids in picturesque costumes bringing in great baskets of freshly gathered Roses. It is true that many of the old recipes or "receipts" as the word was more commonly spelt are too complicated for these hurried times but many are simple and practical.

When you think of the ways our ancestors used the rose to scent their homes in times gone by it makes you hanker for those fragrant days, well at least in part! Dried rose petals were laid among clothes and linens, the powdered petals were added to home made candles, they made rose pot-pourri and sweet bags, Ms Rohde informs us of that fact adding that ‘rose petals figured largely in the old sweet bags used not merely for scenting linen but to hang on wing arm-chairs. ‘The mixture of dried Rose petals, mint leaves and powdered cloves recommended in ‘Rams Little Dodeon’, 1606 has a most pleasing fragrance.

Cosmetically they used roses to make soaps, face powders, perfumes, ointments, creams, vinegars, lotions and scented waters. They cooked with them, using them to make conserves, jellies, cakes, puddings, sauces to accompany both sweet and savoury dishes, made wine with them and sweets treats such as Turkish delight. So many of those uses have disappeared in households across the UK today, as people favour buying mass produced food, cosmetics and cleaning products, but it’s simple to make your own, just look to the past and adapt those recipes for the future.

In part one I'll begin by looking at 16th, 17th and 18th century rose uses and continue with the 19th to 21st centuries in part two. The English poet and writer Gervase Markham, born in Cotham ca 1568, Nottinghamshire wrote ‘Countrey Contentments or The English Huswife’ published in 1623 in which he recommended a rose based remedy to cure the ‘frenzy’ which he described as arising from a ‘hot cause’. When this occurred Markham instructed the reader to ‘rub the browes and all his head over with oyle of Roses, Vinegar, and Populeon [an ointment made from the buds of the Black Poplar tree (Populus nigra)].

16th Century Recipes

Rose Water - Anthony Ascham a 16th curate, astrologer and botanical writer from Yorkshire, published a herbal in 1550 ‘A Lyttel Herbal of the Properties of Herbs, &c. made and gathered in the year 1550’, which included his recipe for making Rose Water.

Some do put rose water in a glass and they put roses with their dew thereto and they make it to boile in water, then they set it in the sune tyll it be readde and this water is beste.’ Ascham also added his observation that ‘drye roses put to the nose to smell do comforte the braine and the harte and quencheth sprites.’ - Anthony Ascham's, 1550.

Sweet Briar Rose
(Rosa rubiginosa)
© Debs Cook
'To Make an Especial Sweet Powder for Sweet Bags'

A few years after Ascham’s book was published, Sir Hugh Platt was born, Hugh grew to be a well-respected author and inventor in 16th century London, he was one of Elizabeth I courtiers an accomplished gardener who wrote about agriculture. He was also a collector of receipts for preserving fruits, distilling, cooking, housewifery, cosmetics, and the dyeing of hair. The word receipt is an old word for recipe and was often used to differentiate between a culinary and medicinal recipe.

One of Platt’s recipe books ‘Delightes for Ladies: to adorn their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories with beauties, banquets, perfumes and waters’ included several delightful recipes using both fresh and dried roses. The recipe below is Platt’s version of a scented sachets which during the Middle-Ages were referred to as a ‘plague-bag’, then they were used to keep parasites and disease at bay, by Platt’s time they were being used to fragrance linen and clothing, so became more floral and ‘sweet’ in fragrance.

Take of Red and Damask Rose-leaves of each two ounces, of the purest Orris one pound, of Cloves three drams, Coriander seed one dram, Cyprus and Calamus of each halfe an ounce, Benzoin and the Storax of each three drams; beat them all save the Benzoin and the Storax and powder them by themselves, then take of Muske and Civet, of each twentie graines, mix these with a little of the foresaid powder with a warm Pestle, and so little by little you may mix it with all the rest, and so with Rose leaves dried you may put it up into your sweet Bags and so keepe them seven yeares.’ - Sir Hugh Platt, 1594.

N.B. Platt refers to rose leaves in this recipe, the recipe was in actual fact calling for rose petals. Often in old books and manuscripts up until the early 18th century, rose petals are referred to as leaves, this was due to the fact that the old roses popular in the receipts of the day were referred to as the ‘Cabbage Rose’ or ‘Cabbage Leaved Rose’. The exception to the rule is when recipes for making tea using wild roses were documented, those teas actually used the green leaves of the wild rose in their making.

By the late 16th century, John Gerard included descriptions for 6 varieties of roses, concluding that the Damask Rose was the best kind to use for scent, ‘meat and medicine’. Gerard like many before him believed that the distilled water of roses was good for the ‘strengthning of the heart, and refreshing of the spirits, and likewise for all things that require a gentle cooling’. He also described using the rose water to flavour junket, cakes and sauces and its use to soothe the eyes ‘It mitigateth the paine of the eies proceeding from a hot cause, bringeth sleep, which also the fresh roses themselves provoke through their sweet and pleasant smell.

17th Century Recipes

Damask Rose
(Rosa × damascena)
© Debs Cook
Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper focused mainly on red roses in his herbal, echoing Dioscorides and Pliny’s uses amongst others, ‘Red roses..’ said Culpeper ‘do strengthen the heart, stomach and liver, and the retentive faculty [memory]; they mitigate the pains that arise from heat, assuage inflammations, procure rest and sleep, stay running of the reins and fluxes of the belly; the juice of them does purge and cleanse the body of choler [bile] and phlegm.

Like Gerard before him, Culpeper believed the Damask Rose was the most aromatic rose, he described uses for a syrup made from the damask rose that was an excellent purgative that was good for ‘purging choler’, although I’m positive that the super charged version of his recipe with added fly agaric would not make it in to herbal remedy books of today.

King Edward VI's Perfume

17th century recipes for roses included many recipes for perfuming the home, one such recipe appeared in ‘The Queen's Closet Opened’ which was first published in 1655 and is credited on to a W.M. who was cook to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The book was a phenomenal success allegedly containing the recipes that had been enjoyed by the royal family over the years and before the dawn of the 18th century it had been reprinted 10 times. Sweet waters such as the one in the recipe below were used to perfume the air and as washing waters for the hands.

Take twelve spoonfulls of right red rose water, the weight of six pence in fine powder of sugar, and boyl it on hot Embers and coals softly and the house will smell as though it were full of Roses, but you must burn the Sweet Cypress wood before to take away the gross ayre.’ - W. M., 1655.

Syrup of Roses Jar
Syrup jar used for Syrup of Roses,
England, 1670-1740.
Credit: Science Museum, London.
The Oil Commonly Called the Spirit of Roses

Another popular work of the 17th century was ‘The Art of Distillation’ first published in 1651 and written by John French who described himself as a Dr. of Physick, the work was published in six volumes. In volume 2 a variety of waters both medicinal and cosmetic containing rose petals were described, these included ‘Bezeard Water’, ‘Dr. Stephen’s Water’, ‘Aqua Imperialis’ and ‘Dr Mathias Palsy Water’.

John French was a respected English physician who practised and studied during the time that alchemy was fast becoming the credible science of chemistry. He was well known for his extensive knowledge of chemistry and was respected by scientists of the time such as the chemist and physicist Robert Boyle.

Take of Damask, or Red Roses, being fresh, many as you please, infuse them in as much warm water as is sufficient for the space of twenty four houres; then strain, and press them, and repeat the infusion severall times with pressing, until the liquor become fully impregnated, which then must be distilled in an Alembick with a refrigerator, let the Spirit which swims on the Water be separated and the water kept for a new infusion. This kind of Spirit may be made by bruising the Roses with Salt, or laying a laye of Roses, and another of Salt, and so keeping them half a year or more, which then must be distilled in as much common water or Rose water as is sufficient.’ John French, 1651.

18th Century Recipes

Sir John Hill wrote of four types of roses the Wild or Dog Rose then known as ‘Rosa sylvestris’ now known as ‘Rosa canina’ a tea of the buds he described as being ‘an excellent medicine for overflowings of the menses’. Of the Damask Rose (Rosa damascena) he recommended that the flowers were turned into syrup which he credited with being ‘an excellent purge for children’ adding that there was ‘not a better medicine for grown people, who are subject to be costive [constipated]’. Of the White Rose (Rosa alba) he credited it with the same properties as the wild rose being an excellent treatment for heavy menstruation, adding that the white rose was also good against ‘the bleeding of the piles’. The same properties were ascribed to the Red Rose (Rosa rubra), a tincture made from this type of rose Hill believed strengthened the stomach and ‘prevents vomitings, and is a powerful as well as a pleasant remedy against all fluxes [dysentery].’

To Make Rose Drops

Eliza Smith was the author of a classic 18th century book known as ‘The Compleat Housewife, or Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion’ which was similar in content to Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management published in the 19th century. Smith’s book, first published in 1727 contained culinary recipes, instructions for home decorating, tips on dealing with household problems like removing mildew, and it also included receipts for home remedies for treating a variety of ailments common at the time, such as smallpox.

Eliza was a housekeeper to some of the most fashionable and well to do families of the early 18th century, she died around 1732 but her book was reprinted 18 times after her death, and was one of the most popular domestic books of the 18th century, and is reputed to be the first English cookery book to be published in America in 1742.

The roses and sugar must be beat separately into a very fine powder, and both sifted; to a pound of sugar an ounce of red roses, they must be mixed together, and then wet with as much juice of Lemon as will make it into a stiff paste; set it on a slow fire in a silver porringer, and stir it well; and when it is scalding hot quite through take it off and drop in small portions on a paper; set them near the fire, the next day they will come off’. - Eliza Smith, 1727.

Method of Scenting Snuff

Five young women taking snuff.
Stipple print circa 1825.
Credit: Wellcome Collection.
Roses even found their way in to recipes for fragrancing snuff, which was first made popular in the 16th century, snuff was a powdered form of tobacco that was fragranced with herbs, spices and other aromatic ingredients, the resulting mixtures were sniffed up the nose, it became popular in England after the Great Plague of London in 1665 when people believed it could purify the lungs and nose and help eradicate the airborne beasties that caused disease.

It wasn't just men that partook in a sniff of snuff, many women indulged in the practice as you can see from the stipple print here. Later in 1761 Sir John Hill concluded nasal cancer could develop if people used snuff; he reported five cases of 'polyps, a swelling in the nostril adherent with the symptoms of open cancer'

In 1772 an English translation of ‘Le Toilette de Flore’ written by Pierre-Joseph Buchoz, a French physician, lawyer and naturalist appeared in London, containing remedies and skin preparations for most ailments that the lady of the day would have relied on to keep her family well appeared under the title of ‘The Toilet of Flora’. Amongst the recipes were ones scented with roses which including floral snuff recipes.

The flowers that most readily communicate their flavour to Snuff are Orange Flowers, Musk Roses, Jasmine, and Tuberoses. You must procure a box lined with dry white paper; in this strow your Snuff on the bottom about the thickness of an inch, over which place a thin layer of Flowers, then another layer of Snuff, and continue to lay your Flowers and Snuff alternately in this manner, until the box is full. After they have lain together four and twenty hours, sift your Snuff through a sieve to separate it from the Flowers, which are to be thrown away, and fresh ones applied in their room in the former method. Continue to do this till the Snuff is sufficiently scented; then put it into a canister, which keep close stopped.’- Pierre-Joseph Buchoz, 1771.

The recipes above represented a tiny fraction of the ones that are contained in old medical texts and reciept books, I may revisit the rose recipes from the 16th to 18th centuries in the future, part 2 of this article will follow soon and will look at 19th and 20th century rose recipes, and will conclude with a look at the modern way roses are used in the 21st century.

Rosemary's Latin Name Has Changed!

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus syn. Rosmarinus officinalis)
© Debs Cook

As some of you know I've been on a bit of a herbal sabbatical, so this little snippet of news escaped me until yesterday, I'm sharing it in the event that it may have escaped others as well. Rosemary has been known by the Latin name of Rosmarinus officinalis since Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus published his 'Species Plantarum' in 1753, which is when the international system of naming plants established by Linnaeus began. Back then Sage was in the genus Salvia and Rosemary was in the genus Rosmarinus because both plants were deemed to belong to two different genera.

However back in 2017 rosemary was sent off to the plant version of  Ancestry DNA and after ananlysis it turned out like with humans that rosemary wasn't part of one family but another, so the members of the RHS Nomenclature and Taxonomy Advisory Group got  together and in 2019 they agreed to absorb all the plants in the Rosmarinus genus into the genus Salvia. The group decided that the differences between sage and rosemary weren't sufficient to make them distinctly different, so from now on Rosemary will be known by the Latin name of 'Salvia rosmarinus'!

There's an old joke that I first heard in the 90's about botanists getting bored when it rains so they decide to rename a plant or mess with the genus information to relieve the boredom, did they do that this time? Apparently not, according to Country Life magazine "...the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and many other of the world’s leading plant authorities, agree with the RHS’s view of Rosmarinus, having been convinced by molecular studies that place it in an enlarged and diverse, but genetically coherent genus Salvia. This does not mean that rosemary ‘is not a separate species of plant’, let alone one and the same as culinary sage (Salvia officinalis). Its revised status as a new Salvia species, far from diminishing ‘rosemary’, only heightens its importance."

The two herbs have always been members of the Lamiaceae plant family along with Basil, Mint, Marjoram, Lavender, Hyssop and Thyme and many other herbs, and the new Latin name change doesn't change that fact. DNA studies showed that rosemary belonged with the salvia's and not a genus in its own right, once that fact presented itself the scientists were left with 3 choices: -

1) Do nothing and ignore the differences, they could, but it wouldn't help with further study.

2) They could continue to recognise rosemary as a genus on its own, but that would mean changing the names of more than 700 species of Salvia.

3) The third option, and the one they decided to go with, is to absorb rosemary into the Salvia's as a subgenus. This third choice resulted in only 15 name changes, a lot less than 700 if they'd continued to recognise Rosemary as having its own genus. As well as Rosemary's Latin name change, Russian Sage formerly Perovskia atriplicifoli has also been absorbed into the salvia genus and will from 2019 onwards be known as Salvia yangii, a tad annoying for me as I've only recently mastered Russian Sage's old Latin name lol!

It will be several years until we see Rosemary appear in garden centres and herb nurseries with its new Latin name, plant labels are made and purchased in batches, so garden centres will want to use the old labels up first. I think it will also take a while for the herbal community to unlearn the Latin name we've always known it as. I know I will find it will need some getting used to, and of course even though it will now be incorrect you can still call it by its old Latin name, but henceforth the correct name for the herb is Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus syn, Rosmarinus officinalis), we should count our blessings that at least they left the common name alone!