1 by erin stewart sm (1347 of 54)

My Favorite Roses to Grow for the Apothecary

Roses are some of the most delightful, luscious plants in my garden. I grow several different species and varieties, but there are definitely a few that are my favorites for herbal and aromatherapy use. I have limited growing space in my urban backyard, so my roses of choice need to be healthy, fragrant, and high producers.

Dual-Purpose Repeat Bloomers

My absolute favorites are dual-purpose repeat bloomers, meaning that they bloom all season long (for me, that means late April to early May all the way through frost in October or November) and make tasty, edible hips in addition to their aromatic blooms.

Many of the rose species that are highly fragrant and suitable for use in the apothecary are old roses that are once-blooming. This means that they produce a single flush of flowers in May or June and then are finished blooming for the year. The roses that are often distilled for their essential oil, Rosa damascena, Rosa centifolia, and Rosa alba, are once blooming. So is Rosa gallica, the classic apothecary rose.

I grow several of these once-bloomers, but my most productive, vigorous plants tend to be the repeat blooming Rosa rugosa roses. If I could only grow one kind of rose for my apothecary it would be this one. The plants are vigorous, healthy, produce beautifully fragrant flowers that make lovely  hydrosols, and their hips are so delicious. My favorite variety is a double-flowered variety with bright, rich pink petals. It sends its classic rose fragrance all through my garden when it’s blooming. I am also growing Rosa rugosa Alba this year and I’m already a fan of the first few flowers she’s opened so far.

I harvest the petals from my rugosa roses all season long. It seems like my drying racks are always filled with them. Six plants produce more than enough for my own apothecary use in teas, food, remedies, tinctures, skin care, etc. and for hydrosol making, as well as to share with friends.
Tip: Harvest only the petals, leaving behind the stamens. The bees will continue to visit the roses even without the petals and will pollinate the hips you’ve left behind – you’ll have a delicious harvest of rose hips in the fall!

Highly Fragrant Once-Bloomers

The once-blooming old roses, including the ones mentioned above, are often highly fragrant. They make beautiful essential oils and hydrosols and, once established, can produce masses of blooms. When we have more growing space, I want to dedicate more of my garden space to these special old roses. They’re absolutely beautiful. I do grow a few of them. I’ve found that I prefer the rugosa hips over these, however, so I don’t think of them as truly dual-purpose plants in that sense. That, combined with their short blooming season, leads me to prefer the rugosas, at least for now.

David Austin Roses

I love David Austin’s roses. They’re full and lush, some with hundreds of petals and a wide variety of glorious color combinations. I grow several and I love having them in the garden. I don’t tend to use many of them in the apothecary, though. Their petals are edible and are nice in honeys and for culinary use, but I’ve found that not many of them have the strength of fragrance I want from an apothecary-use rose.

That said, there are always exceptions to this. If you want to try a David Austin rose for your apothecary garden, look for the varieties that are both very healthy and “exceptionally fragrant.” (You can search their catalog by fragrance strength.) I added their Munstead Wood variety, bred by David Austin, to my garden this year and I’m finding it to be quite lovely. It has a few blooms on it right now and they are highly fragrant – probably the most aromatic of all of their varieties that I am currently growing. I’ll be harvesting Munstead Wood for the apothecary this year. Other varieties with weaker scents are tasty and lovely and the pollinators love them, but they aren’t my favorite for remedies. They’re therapeutic in the garden, but not nearly as therapeutic in the apothecary as some of the others I’ve mentioned.

Other Ornamental Roses

Roses are all edible, but not all roses are equally medicinal. I think it’s also important to note that you don’t want to use store-bought or florist-bought roses in your food or apothecary. Most cut roses are heavily sprayed with biocides and chemicals that you don’t want to ingest.

There are many ornamental roses that I love growing, though I find that I don’t use them in the apothecary nearly as much as my favored old roses. If you want to grow a more ornamental hybrid for your apothecary garden, look for varieties that are highly fragrant and very healthy. The darker colored petals will hold their color best when dried, whereas lighter petals might take on a more tea-stained hue.

There are so many beautiful roses to grow. Which varieties are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear about which ones you love.

Much love,


Erin Stewart is an herbalist, NAHA certified aromatherapist, organic gardener and urban homesteader. She grows over 150 kinds of aromatic and medicinal plants for her own apothecary and distills essential oils and hydrosols in her PNW garden. Erin is the founder of Floranella and of AromaCulture’s herbalism + aromatherapy magazine.

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3 thoughts on “My Favorite Roses to Grow for the Apothecary”

  1. Pingback: How to Make ‘Pot de Rose’ – Floranella

  2. Hi Erin! I am new to herbalism, so I am still learning. I am confused…sometimes I see what looks like fresh rose petals and rose buds in body oils, but I read everywhere to make sure the plants are “dry” before putting it in a body oil. The petals & buds look pretty in the oil! I can’t imagine the same for “dried up petals” in an oil. Can you please clarify when to do one and not the other? Or are fresh & dried ok to add to an oil? What am I missing or misunderstanding? Lastly, how does one dry their plant material? Is there a machine of some sort? Thank you for your wonderful articles!

    1. Erin Stewart

      When we make infused oils, we almost always use dried herbs. Introducing water to the oil via fresh plant material increases the risk of the oil spoiling or growing mold, so this is why dry plant material is preferred. The only major exception to this is when we make St. John’s wort infused oil. That needs to be made with fresh plant material to effectively extract the hypericin, which is one of the desirable constituents we’re after when we make that oil.

      I talk about drying herbs in this article: https://floranella.com/how-to-preserve-herbs/ =) Hope that helps! <3

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