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A&E >  Food

Rose parade

Wild roses are all around us, and surprisingly for foodies, the petals can offer color, flavor and fun

Sylvia Fountaine

Walking through the world in June, it’s almost impossible not to notice everything in bloom. 

One of the most aromatic blossoms to come into season is the rose. Spicy, musky and sweet with hints of the exotic, roses are a clear signal that summer is finally upon us. Wild roses are said to be the very first roses, ancient perennials, long predating humans. Their soft-pink, five-petaled blossoms are easy to spot around here. They’re plentiful and abundant in natural areas within and surrounding Spokane. These rugged shrubs bloom annually in late spring and early summer, and carry their hips into winter, providing food for birds and color for the eyes. 

What do wild roses have to do with the Seasonal Kitchen? 

Inviting these into the kitchen connects us with the seasons and cycles of the earth. They’re only here for a short while, and believe it or not, culinary uses abound. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate summer’s arrival than by collecting their fragrant petals and creating something delicious. 

Cooking with rose petals is nothing new, but perhaps a little forgotten. Dating back many centuries, roses are woven into the history and recipes of many cultures and cuisines around the world – most commonly found in Indian, Middle Eastern, Persian and Turkish food. All rose petals are edible, as long as they are free of pesticides. 

Last summer, when a longtime friend, Tonia Schemmel of San Juan Island, invited me over to make Wild Rose Petal Jam with her, I jumped at the chance. In June, the island is crawling with wild roses.

“My favorite season is rose season,” Tonia told me. “These fragrant beauties can be considered a bit of a nuisance where I live – prickly rambling briars – but I have come to love their tenacity and resilience. They are at once tough and vulnerable yet enticingly sweet and intoxicating, a beautiful balance.” 

After picking and sorting through two cupfuls of deeply fragrant wild rose petals, we made her simple recipe for Wild Rose Petal Jam, which she shares with us here. Delicious on buttered toast, spooned over vanilla ice cream or swirled into yogurt, its flavor is one that woos the taste buds and soothes the being. On particularly hard days, I have eaten a spoonful of this jam and somehow felt calmed and loved. In Ayurvedic medicine, rose is deeply respected because of its ability to balance disorders of the heart, both physically and emotionally. 

To Schemmel, roses are healing and magical. She finds uses for the whole plant.

“An elixir made with petals, thorns, leaves, stems and hips can be deeply nourishing for nerves and can be used as a calmative similar to Rescue Remedy – and it tastes euphoric,” she said. “All wild rose varieties are edible and hold profound therapeutic value. The entire plant is alive with nutrients. Abundant in C and B vitamins, polyphenols, antioxidants – the list goes on.”

In the kitchen, we often associate rose petals with sweet dishes, perhaps from memories of Turkish Delight. But rose petals are often used in a savory context, too. They marry well with saffron, honey, dried apricots, cardamom, almonds and pistachios. 

In Indian cooking, rose petals, rosewater, dried rose petals and even rose petal powders are used to lend a floral essence and fresh flavor to many traditional dishes – from rice puddings to curries and kebabs. Those who have read the book “Like Water for Chocolate” will surely remember the recipe for Quail in Rose Petal Sauce, a pivotal culinary exploit and one that expanded many a cook’s mind when it comes to roses.

In this Moroccan recipe for traditional Ras el Hanout spice mix, rose petals – along with cinnamon, clove, cumin, turmeric, pepper and coriander – are used to flavor tagines, or can be used as a flavorful spice rub for chicken, fish or lamb. Toast the whole seeds first and grind, then combine with the ground spices and dried rose petals. To use, simply season your chicken, fish or meat with salt, rub generously with Ras el Hanout spice mix, and pan-sear, finishing off in the oven if necessary. A cooling Persian dip or salad, Mast-o-Khiar, is served alongside rice and meat and makes for a refreshing condiment, or it can simply serve as an appetizer with warm, toasted pita bread. Made with yogurt, cucumber and garlic, it’s similar to tzatziki, but the addition of toasted walnuts, plumped raisins and rose petals gives it a distinctively Persian twist.

An easy way to enjoy the flavor of rose petals at home is to start with making a rose petal simple syrup. When added to summer cocktails or sparkling water, it captures their flavorful essence. In this recipe for Rose Petal Sangria, a bottle of rosé wine is steeped with fresh rose petals, rose petal simple syrup, and a splash of Elder Flower Liqueur, like St. Germaine. Served over ice, this makes for a pretty and refreshing summer drink, perfect for backyard gatherings.

Rose petals can also be steeped into sun tea, frozen into ice cubes and floated in punch, or added to your daily salad bowl. Sprinkle petals over desserts or ice cream, for a pretty garnish or, for a deliciously exotic summer treat, infuse homemade vanilla ice cream with petals, along with saffron and cardamom like they do in India.

Remember to only use rose petals you know to be untreated with pesticides. Dried, food-grade petals can be found in the bulk section at some grocery stores, including Huckleberry’s Natural Market, and can be substituted for fresh. Use 1/3 cup dried petals for 1 cup fresh petals

Wild Rose Petal Jam

1 1/2 cups filtered water

2 ounces (approximately 2 cups lightly packed) wild rose petals

2  cups organic cane sugar, divided

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fruit pectin, such as Pomonas Universal Pectin

Place water and roses in a sauce pan. Bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. Add 1 ¾ cup of sugar into the simmering petals. Stir to dissolve the sugar crystals. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice. Pay attention to the gorgeous vibrant color that emerges. Simmer 10 minutes. Mix the remaining ¼ cup sugar and pectin in a bowl. While stirring the jam add the pectin mixture sprinkle by sprinkle to insure pectin incorporates without clumping. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes. It may seem quite loose for jam, it will firm up as it sets but does remain more of a silky syrup with luscious bits of petals. Keeps for 2 months in the fridge, to keep longer, freeze or can.

Yield: 3 cups

Rose Petal Sangria

1 bottle rosé

1/3 cup rose petal simple syrup (see recipe below) 

1/3 cup elderflower liqueur, such as St. Germain

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh wild rose petals (washed)

Place all ingredients in a pitcher and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Yield: 4 servings

Rose Petal Simple Syrup

1 cup washed fresh rose petals (or 1/3 cup dried, food-grade petals)

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Bring all ingredients to a simmer, stir until sugar is dissolved. Let roses steep for 12 to 24 hours. Strain.

Moroccan Ras El Hanout Spice Rub

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seed 

1 star anise pod

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons nutmeg

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground peppercorns

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon clove

1/2 teaspoon cardamom  

Generous pinch saffron

2 tablespoons crushed dried rose petals

Lightly toast cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and star anise pod in a dry skillet over medium low heat, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Grind in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Place in a small bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients. To use, season chicken or fish with salt. Lightly coat with Moroccan Ras Hanout Spice Rub and pan-sear.

Persian Yogurt and Cucumber Dip with Rose Petals, Raisins and Walnuts (Mast-o-Khiar)

1/3 cup raisins 

4 to 5 Persian or Turkish cucumbers

3 cups thick drained yogurt 

1/4 cup minced green onion 

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill 

2 tablespoons chopped of fresh mint 

1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely minced 

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon rose petals, fresh or dried  

Cover the raisins in water to plump for about 30 minutes. Drain. In a large bowl, combine the raisins, cucumber, yogurt, green onion, walnuts, dill, mint and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with more green onion, walnuts, mint and rose petals.

Yield: 4 servings

The Seasonal Kitchen is a monthly feature. Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods she’s making in her kitchen, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home, www.feasting

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