For more, see: Recipes to Use Spring Blooms.
Fragrant Rose Water
Roses aren’t just beautiful to look at — they can also be used to make delightful, delicious rose water. It appears in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese cuisines in ice cream, cakes, baklava, and marzipan, and rose water can also flavor lemonade, sodas, shrubs, or cocktails. Also called a “hydrosol,” this aromatic floral water can be added to the base of homemade lotion, sprayed on linens to refresh the scent, or used as a natural air freshener.
Making your own rose water is easy, and it will last for months in the fridge. Find the most fragrant roses possible, and, of course, make sure they’re free of toxic pesticides. (If you use store-bought roses, make sure they’re intended for culinary use.) Try this recipe with other fresh flowers and herbs, such as orange blossoms, lemon balm, or lavender.
For this recipe, use a lidded saucepan with about a 12-quart capacity and a convex lid (a glass lid is ideal for seeing what’s going on inside the pot). You’ll also need two small and sturdy heat-safe bowls, such as ramekins, ceramic bowls, or glass bowls. If you have one, a heat-safe glass measuring cup works well for the second bowl.
• 6 cups fresh rose petals
• 6 cups water
• Large zip-close plastic bag filled with ice cubes, plus more ice cubes as needed
1. Gently shake the petals to remove any dirt or insects.
2. Place a small and sturdy heat-safe bowl upside down in the center of a very large saucepan.
3. Arrange the rose petals around the sides of the bowl.
4. Pour just enough water into the saucepan to cover the rose petals; the water level should remain below the top of the upside-down bowl.
5. Balance another bowl right side up on top of the first bowl; this is what will catch your rose water.
6. Cover the pot with the lid flipped upside down.
7. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. After it starts to simmer, put the bag of ice on the inverted lid.
8. Adjust the heat if necessary to maintain a gentle simmer.
9. When the ice cubes melt, pour out the water and add new ice cubes to the bag.
10. As the steam rises inside the pot, it will condense on the underside of the cold lid and drip into the open bowl.
11. Peek inside the pot occasionally; when you have about 1 cup of rose water in the bowl (which will take approximately 1-1/2 hours), turn off the heat. Let cool.
12. Uncover the pot and carefully lift out the bowl of rose water.
13. Using a funnel, transfer the rose water to a sterilized glass bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or until cloudy material forms on the liquid.
Aromatic Rose Cultivars
These exceptionally fragrant cultivars will make delicious rose water.
• ‘Madame Hardy’ (pictured above): white damask rose; hint of lemon; grows 4 to 6 feet tall
• ‘Leda’: white flowers with red edges; winter hardy
• ‘Jaques Cartier’: large, pink flowers; bushy plant; repeat blooming
• ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’: raspberry-purple flowers; grows as a shrub but will climb; one of the most fragrant roses
• ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’: pale, pink flowers; continuous bloomer
• ‘Gertrude Jekyll’: popular; pink rosettes; repeat flowering
Some antique rose cultivars can be traced back to the Roman Empire, but the term “antique” refers to any cultivar that dates prior to 1867. These cultivars are known for their especially rich fragrance and longevity, requiring little upkeep. In fact, many older cultivars shrink with the amount of pruning usually done for newer cultivars — spring pruning or too much pruning can reduce blooms. Most older cultivars that bloom only once per year do well with light pruning after they flower, in midsummer.
Emily Han is a forager and drink-maker with a passion for bridging herbalism and beverages. This excerpt from Wild Drinks and Cocktails is courtesy of Fair Winds Press.