By JOYCE COMINGORE
Special to The Breeze
"A rose is a rose is a rose," even Gertrude Stein has rephrased her saying to this statement. Now the Herb Society is declaring 2012, the year of the rose. Yes, the rose is an herb, a woody perennial of the Rosa genus, Rosacea family. Today, the Herb Conference is going on at the Extension office on Palm Beach Boulevard, from 8:50 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Speakers are Dolly Tomlinas, current president of the Greater Fort Myers Rose Society and a horticulture therapy consultant for the Tidewell Hospice; Lee Kudaroski, former president of the Rose Society and a consulting rosarian and flower show judge; and the keynote speaker, Britt Patterson-Weber, the Naples Botanical Children's Garden and Butterfly House coordinator, is pursuing her masters of agriculture degree. Then Vicki Chelf, from Worden's Farms and a cookbook author, will present a cooking demo at 11:15.
There will be a break at 12:15 for lunch on our own and time to travel to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates for a "Making an Herb Mound" demonstration from 1:30-3 p.m. I am there.
In 1991, the International Herb Association established National Herb Week to be celebrated every year during the week prior to Mother's Day. Every year since 1995, the International Herb Association has chosen an herb of the year. All IHS members are invited to help in the selection process. There are three categories of herbs: culinary, medicinal and ornamental. To qualify for selection, the herb of the year must be outstanding in at least two of the three major categories. The rose fits all three categories.
Herb societies, groups and organizations from around the world work together each year to educate the public about their chosen herb. In keeping with their promoting the herb of the year, they have just published and are now selling their book, "Rose, Herb of the Year, 2012." It is available online at www.iherb.org. The Herb of the Year program has established their selections up to the year 2015.
First of all, roses are ornamental. Everyone tries to grow at least one rose bush in their garden. One of our most beloved fragrances is that of the rose. A perfumer needs 60,000 roses to produce 1 ounce of pure essential oil, but you can capture the essence in your own home by bruising petals and adding them to a pan of water, heat gently for a few minutes then leave them to infuse for a few hours. Or, just use the petals in a potpourri jar or in a sachet bag. They are one of the most common elements in potpourris.
Finding roses with a deep scent is the key. Hybridization has caused modern roses to lose their fragrances because they are not being bred for scents. The fragrance of the rose is the key to the taste of the petal. If using, it is important that you taste and smell each type of rose because some are bland, some are bitter and some taste just as they smell, follow your nose.
The number one criteria on the use of the petal is to be sure no pesticides have been used on the roses or systemically in their soil that will end up in the petals. Edible plants need to be chemically free. Do not use roses you bought in stores, the lack of pesticide chemicals can't be verified. Cut off the white at the base of the petal because it is bitter and affects the flavor in the recipes. You can use them to make rose water, jellies, jams, cakes, cookies, ice cream and syrup. They can be crystallized with sugar, dried or used fresh as a garnish. Petals can be used to add color to food.
Medicinally, their oils and coloring ability make them useful for medicines, like syrups, eyewashes, tonics and gargles. Rose hips, the swollen fruit of the plant after the petals have fallen are rich in vitamin C (much more than an orange), plus having a high level of calcium, iron and phosphorus. They become bright orange or red when left on the bush. Many of our modern cultivars don't have rose hips because their petals are so tightly packed, it prohibits pollination.
They say that the rugosa bush is the most flavorful of the rose hips. Used in soups, puddings, nut breads, vinegars, candies and jellies, rose hips can be found in health food stores. My latest Herb Companion magazine has recipes for rose petal infused vinegar, syrups, sugar, candied petals and scones.
Roses have long been a culinary staple and recognized for their medicinal qualities since the early Roman and Greeks times. They used the petals in their baths, threw them on the floors of their banquet halls and before their chariots. Wreaths of roses have been found in ancient tombs. Medicinally, the essential oil of rose has antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic as well as antiviral propensities. Cosmetically, we find their perfume used in lotions, body and hair products, bath oils and salts, as well as being a great perfume.
Roses are steeped in history, especially British, and are the symbol of love, even virtue and festivity. Colors of roses are symbolic. Red symbolizes passion and love; Valentine's Day is a busy day. White, of course, portrays purity; yellow in Victorian days conveyed jealousy, but now we celebrate joy and friendship with it; and pink says grace, elegance, refinement. Then there is the black rose, given on 50th birthdays by "diabolical friends?" It is artificially colored or dead, dried up fossils. But never fail to send a person's preferred color if you aim to please.
Celebrate the rose, Herb of the Year 2012 - may you have a rosy year!
Now is the time to harvest your herbs, and have you thanked a tree lately?
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener; tree chairman of District IX, a member of the Federated Garden Club and a member of Garden Club of Cape Coral.