Wild roses


Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

We know summer has arrived in the North when we catch the sweet scent of heart-shaped wild-rose petals as it wafts on the boreal breeze, a reminder of the divine essence that surrounds us.

The subtle yet sublime scent of wild roses has been captured by ancient cultures through distillation into attars, essential oils, and aromatic rose water used by the likes of Cleopatra. Rose essential oil was prized in aromatherapy circles before it was called aroma- therapy. It takes 5,000 pounds of fresh rose petals to make one pound of pure, authentic oil.

The wild-rose bush offers a diverse range of healing properties, as the roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits of this northern shrub are useable. Most of the rose plant is edible. We tend to focus on the flowers and hips, but the leaves, the peeled thorny stems, and the roots can also be used for nutritional purposes.

In spring, before the petals open, a tea infusion of the astringent leaves can be used as a blood-cleansing tonic. The roots can also be used for this purpose. High in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, the leaves contain bioflavonoids and tannins good for treating stress, infection, diarrhea, thirst, and gastritis.

Rose petals make an excellent backwoods “bush bandage” for cuts and scrapes, and they fit perfectly over fresh bug bites to take the heat out of the wound and stop inflammation.

The petals also have an emollient effect and help retain moisture in and on the skin. When infused in oil or used in the bath, rose petals are excellent for dry, mature, and dull skin. Petals can also be used to make skin salve or cream, or added to apple-cider vinegar or vodka and used as a cleansing facial tonic. One of my favourite pampering treats in the summer is a rose-petal facial steam; when I’m done, I use the water to soak my feet.

When harvesting rose petals, don’t over pick from one bush. When taking the flowers, leave one petal behind to ensure there’s a landing strip for bees so the flower can be pollinated, which will allow a hip to develop.

Petals are lovely in a hot infusion, but equally lovely in a sun tea. Rose-petal jelly is always a treat—light and delicate, yet complex and divine. It can be made with fresh petals in the summer or with dried petals any time of year. The flowers and leaves can be added to salads, jams, and jellies, and they look great on top of a cake. Try using the rosehips as a base for ice creams or sorbets, or even as a sauce for fish or other wild meats.

Yukon’s wild rose—known as nichìh in Gwich’in—is beautiful from spring through autumn. It’s a low shrub with stems covered in thorns, prickles, and leaves, with three to seven leaflets. The fragrant flowers are usually solitary on the stem with pink petals, many with yellow stamens. Sepals are prominent and green with glandular hairs on the back. Fruits are fleshy, red hips, elliptic or pear-shaped, with browned sepals still intact and erect.

Wild roses are seen virtually all over the circumpolar North, but are frequently found along riverbanks, woodland clearings, or burns. In North America, wild roses grow from Quebec to Alaska, and south to New Mexico.

Wild-Rose Petal healing ointment

1 cup (250 ml) wild-rose petals 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) almond oil or sunflower oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) jojoba oil
1 tsp. (5 ml) vitamin E
1 to 2 oz. (30 ml to 60 ml) beeswax (depending on desired consistency)

1) Place rose petals and oil in a double boiler.
2) Warm slowly on medium heat. Let simmer for 20–40 minutes. Stir often. 3) Strain petals and wipe pot clean of all petals.
4) Add beeswax to pot and let melt.
5) Add strained oil. Once blended, pour into a jar.
6) Cap jar only after the ointment has cooled and solidified.

Wild-Rose Petal ice Cream

This treat has a sweet and delicate flavour!

2 1/2 cups (625 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) half-and-half cream 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) cane sugar
5 egg yolks
2 tbsp. (30 ml) fresh or dried wild-rose petals

1) Place both creams and sugar in a medium-sized pot or double boiler.
2) Warm on medium-low heat until it just reaches a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar.
3) Add rose petals and continue cooking, barely simmering for 10 minutes. Make sure not to let it boil.
4) Remove from heat and let petals infuse the cream mixture for 45 minutes to an hour.
5) Strain out petals. In another pot, whisk egg yolks and slowly add the rose-infused cream, stirring gently.
6) Heat slowly on medium-low heat, stirring until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
7) Chill in fridge. Freeze in an ice-cream maker.

Rose Petal Jelly

The word lovely sums up the aroma and flavour of this delicate and visually pleas- ing jelly. Many years ago, I used to make this recipe and sell it in a fancy jar at the annual Christmas Spruce Bog Craft Sale, in Whitehorse. The best part of this jelly- making process is going out and gather- ing the petals among the bees. The colour variation of the petals—from a dark pink to a light pink—is visual medi- cine, and it feels exhilarating to fill your gathering basket with an abundance
of flowers from this aromatic plant.

2 1/2 cups (625 ml) wild-rose petals (fresh or dried)
2 cups (500 ml) water
2 cups (500 ml) cane sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) white grape juice 1/2 cup (125 ml) red grape juice
1 package (57 g) powdered pectin 2 tbsp. (30 ml) rose water

1) Place petals, water, and 2/3 cup (150 ml) of the sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
2) Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
3) Remove from heat and let stand overnight. This allows the petals to release their fragrance into the sugar water.
4) Strain flowers from syrup and pour the rose syrup in a large pot.
5) Add grape juices and pectin, and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 1 1/2 minutes.
6) Add the rest of the sugar and stir; bring the liquid back up to a boil. Boil the mixture hard for 1 minute or more. Remove from heat.
7) The jelly is ready when it coats the back of a spoon and has the consistency of syrup. You can check by placing a teaspoon of jelly on a plate and letting it cool; the surface should wrinkle when pushed with your finger. If it’s still runny, continue boiling and testing until the jelly sets.
8) When jelly is ready, stir in rose water.
9) Skim off any foam that has formed on top of the jelly.
10) Pour into jars, leaving 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) of space at the top of each jar. Secure lids and heat seal. Makes 3 cups (750 ml) of jelly.