Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Roses wild and tame

Photo: Alberta wild rose by Mark Gordon Brown

Roses are revered flowers. Ancient wild ones are the originals from which the numerous variations we see today: shrub roses, rambling roses, and tea roses, to name a few.

Roses in various colours are symbolic: red roses speak of love and are associated with Valentine's Day. Yellow ones may be given as gifts of farewell. White roses stand for purity and innocence.

This flower has also been used to symbolize secrecy. Referring to secret meetings as sub rosa is derived from the Roman custom of hanging an actual rose over the meeting place when confidentiality was required.

Floral essences made from rose petals have long been used in a variety of perfumes and cosmetics. In Turkey, for instance, the city of Isparta is known for the cultivation of damask roses. The petals are distilled into perfumed oil called attar of roses, or rose otto. Its fragrance permeates the region.

On a recent visit to London, I forgot my hand cream and bought some Rose Otto from a health food store in Southampton Row. It's the best and most fragrant cream I've ever used.

Especially in Middle Eastern countries, roses are used in food. Rose syrup is poured on pastries or eaten with custards, and rose petals are made into jam. Rose hips are also used to make jelly and jam, and they can be steeped into a tasty and nutritious herbal tea.

A clump of bright pink shrub roses flanks the entrance to King George Station. No matter how roughly they are cut down, they always come back. I love their toughness, as well as their beauty and perfume.

I make it a point to stop and smell these roses every day -- they remind me of growing up in a small town on the Canadian prairies. This rose is the floral emblem of the province of Alberta.