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.

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