The Scent of June

Wild RoseWhen I think of June I think of strawberries and roses.  Both occupy a place in my imagination where they exist in their perfect form.  I remember being a child and having wild strawberries; they were marvelous tiny bursts of sweetness.  And then there were the strawberries bought at the farmer’s market in Belgrade where they were piled high and just the smell of them was delicious.   I have never managed to replicate those experiences.  The strawberries I have today, while quite decent when bought from local farms, are never quite as marvelous as those in my memory.  I know that some of that is due to the obscuring mists of time but some is also due to breeding fruit for looks rather than flavor, a practice that has left us deprived of nutrients as well as flavor.

I’ve had a slightly better experience with roses – coming closer to the original experience – though many that one finds in gardens have no scent.  Originally, there were only a dozen species of rose.  Then people got involved and hybridized to the point where we now have about 100 species and thousands of cultivars.  For the life of me I cannot understand why one would breed a rose that had no scent, no matter how perfect the shape or glorious the color.  To me, scent is the very essence of the rose.  I suspect that it is also much harder to grow a scent-less rose without resorting to pesticides and fungicides.  The essential oil that gives a rose its heady, alluring scent is also strongly anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal.  While it functions as an attractant for pollinators it is also the rose’s main line of defense.

Fortunately many wild roses grow in my park.  They are one of the original species, rosa multiflora.  They don’t look like a florist’s shop rose having just 5 petals.  But smell one and you will know it is a rose.  Every time I pass a bush I stop to sniff the blossoms.  I try to store that scent so I can carry it with me even after the blooms are gone.

In herbal medicine roses are used in a variety of ways.  In addition to being anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory they are also astringent so can be used in infusion to tone tissue in the digestive and urinary tracts.  Rose infusion or rose water makes a wonderful gentle toner for all skin types.  The essential oil is calming and helps to improve mood and focus.  Once the blooms have gone the rose begins to form fruit, the hips.  Rose hips are filled with vitamin C and like the petals and leaves are mildly astringent.  Both the petals and the hips can be made into an infusion, syrup, jam, or tincture.

A simple way to preserve the scent and flavor of roses is to infuse the petals into sugar.  Be sure to use organically grown roses that have not been sprayed with pesticide.

Rose Scented Sugar

Remove the petals spread them out on a wire rack and allow them to dry overnight.  This will help to concentrate the scent.
Lightly crush them and layer them in a jar with granulated sugar using about 1/2 cup of petals for every 4 cups of sugar.
Leave to infuse for at least two weeks.
Store in a dark place to preserve the flavor.
Use the sugar to add a subtle taste and scent to desserts and beverages.

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