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.
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.