Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Prairie Rose

When most of us think of a rose, we picture a voluptuous plant in a well-tended garden. However, our domestic rose is nothing more than a wild thing that has been tamed.

There are dozens of species of wild roses climbing, rambling and trailing all over North America.

One of these, the Prairie Rose, is in full bloom right now in middle Tennessee.

It can be found in a variety of habitats, from roadsides, to fields, to creek banks and forest edges.

The trailing vines can grow 7-14 feet long, and are covered in glossy pinnately compound leaves averaging 3-5 leaflets, with 3 being the most common configuration.

The stems are smooth, and armed with small, curved thorns.

The gorgeous, fragrant, bright pink blooms fade to white as they age, making for a lovely range of pastel hues in a large thicket of Prairie rose.

It should be noted that there is another native wild rose that goes by the same common name, found primarily in the Midwest. The eastern species is Rosa setigera, while the Midwestern species is Rosa arkansana.

In Latin, rosa means, quite simply, rose. Setigera means bristle-bearing.

There are two other rose species in Tennessee that can be confused with Prairie Rose (both just a beautiful!).

The first is Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris). It can be distinguished by having 7 leaflets, dull foliage, and is, as its name suggests, usually found in wet habitats.

Rosa palustris Marsh.
CT Botanical Society
The other is Carolina or Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina). Unlike the other species, it is a shrub that only grows 3 feet tall. It has 5-7 leaflets, dull foliage and straight thorns. Carolina Rose is typically found in drier habitats.

There is one other rose commonly found in our state, and almost every other state except for the most arid places: Japanese Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora).

This is an invasive exotic brought over from Japan in 1877, first as root stock for cultivated roses. Then it was promoted by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service for use as a "living fence" and erosion control. It has since become a noxious pest, taking over both open and wooded habitats alike, choking out everything in its path.

If that wasn't enough, Multiflora Rose is often colonized by mites that carry a virus known as Rosette Rose disease, which stunts and often kills nearby roses of all species.
They can be distinguished from the native rose species by their panicles of multiple blooms that are deeply fragrant.

Virtually every culture the world over recognizes the rose in some form. They have been a prized addition to gardens for 5,000 years, when cultivated roses were believed to have originated in China.

In ancient Rome, Phoenicia and throughout the Middle East, the massive rose gardens were considered just as important as their staple crops,

The rose has always held powerful symbolism, representing strong human emotions like love and passion. Sometimes, the rose even represented war. During the famed War of  the Roses in Great Britain during the 15th century, a different colored rose represented each side: white for York and red for Lancaster.

Image result for war of the roses
Roses have had many uses throughout history, beginning with their luxurious petals.

Rose petals have been used for perfume, cosmetics, confections, medicine and even confetti for Roman gladiators.

Roses are still the preferred ingredient for perfumes today. The fragrance is extracted via steam distillation, which captures their volatile oils. It takes one ton of petals to make one cup of rose oil.

The byproduct of this process is rose water, which is used in food flavorings, cosmetics and even for medicinal and religious purposes.

As far as their food value is concerned, petals have typically been used as an exotic ingredient in desserts. Candied rose petals were even a popular treat in the United States during the late 1800's.

The petals of any species can be consumed, although their flavors vary widely, ranging from sweet to tart and from bland to spicy. Some are downright bitter. Usually, the darker the petal, the more intense the flavor.

Rose petals can be tossed into salads and soups, or candied for use as a dessert garnish. They can also be used to flavor beverages, tea, jams, jellies, syrup, honey, oils, liqueurs and vinegar.

Here is one tutorial on how to make rose syrup:


If you wish to prepare rose petals for consumption, make sure they are un-sprayed, and be diligent to remove the bitter white parts.

After the blooms fade, their unique fruit forms, known as a rose hip.

The best time to gather them is after the first frost, which is said to improve their flavor. However, some rose hips taste better than others. The largest ones are said to taste the best, with a flavor likened to apricots or persimmons. 

You might be tempted to just pop them into your mouth, but that would be ill-advised.

Prairie Rose hips
The seeds enclosed in the flesh of the hip are covered in tiny irritating hairs. If you don't notice them going down, you will definitely be aware when they come out again. Many foragers have learned the hard way that rose hip fuzz is the original itching powder.

The seeds are best removed by a food press or mill. You can also cook the fruit down and remove the seeds that way.

The strained pulp has a variety of culinary uses. Blended in a blender the pectin in the fruits gives the pulp the consistency of applesauce.

Rose hip puree can be used to make syrup, jam, jelly, chutney, beverages and sauces, or even dehydrated and turned into fruit leather.
When the hips are dried, they can be ground and added to breads, cookies, cakes, and other desserts. The dried hips also make a deliciously tart tea which is extremely high in vitamin C.

In fact, rose hips are usually up to 50 times higher in vitamin C than citrus. They also contain beta carotene, vitamins B3, D, and E, malic and citric acids, fructose, sucrose and zinc.

Even the seeds of most species can be ground into a flour and used in cooking, adding a good source of vitamin E.

Not surprisingly, with such a long history of cultivation, roses also have had a variety of medicinal uses.

In traditional Chinese medicine, roses have been, and are still used, to remove blood stagnation, nourish the skin and improve digestion.

In Ayurvedic medicine, rose water is used as an eye wash and applied to the face to heal dry skin.

Rose hips have had a variety of medicinal uses, in both raw and cooked form.

They were used to treat scurvy, infections, chest congestion and bladder problems. The astringent nature of the fruit can also soothe diarrhea and stomach issues. It was commonly eaten with fatty and fried fruits to aid digestion.

Native tribes have had many uses for the wild roses growing in the fields and forests of North America.

The Cherokee made a root decoction from Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) to treat dysentery, and a bark and root tea for internal parasites.

Other native species were also great sources of healing to Native Americans and early settlers alike. Boiled roots ground into a paste were used to alleviate skin irritations. Root tea was used to cleanse the eyes, and as treatment for headaches and back pain.

Wild roses are also very important to wildlife.

They can grow into dense thickets that provide cover for many species, and a safe place for birds to nest and rear their young. The foliage is browsed extensively by deer, the flowers are enjoyed by a variety of pollinators, and the hips are an important winter food source for countless wild animals.

Prairie Rose's arching vines can currently be found rambling over fences and bluffs and fields, some forming magnificent stands that are alive with the electric hum of bees.

A rose by any name is beneficial to both man and beast; but there is something especially compelling about the effortless beauty that is found in our native wild roses.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower: Jewelweed

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


University of Illinois Extension

Eat The Weeds

Acupuncture Today

Plants for a Future

Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Place - "Wildman" Steve Brill

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart


  1. Lovely! I don't think I've ever seen a wild rose, but I love cultivated varieties so now I will be on the lookout. I've never met a rose I didn't enjoy and these little beauties are no exception. Also I knew roses were used for a variety of things, but I had NO idea about the seeds, lol. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. What a wonderfully informative post about prairie roses... Wouldn't my son, who objected to redbud flowers and dandelions in the salad, just LOVE having rose petals in the soup??!!! :) Fun idea. :) My kids may not thank you for the info, but I do. :) I love gathering ideas of foods in the wild... just in case they were needed.

    1. There is indeed wealth of food all around us! Thank you for stopping by. PS: I always enjoy your photography. :)

  3. I've never heard of rose syrup. So intriguing!

    By the way, I'd love to have you post on my new blog hop (open all weekend) at, if you're interested.


    1. I would love to! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  4. Hey, thank you for posting this on my blog hop. As you know, I thought the rose syrup sounds so interesting.


  5. This is great - I love all the info. The foliage on those roses is wonderful so light and delicate.
    Carole @ Garden Up Green

  6. I learn SO much from you every week!! This is fabulous. I've been searching for jewelweed since last week, LOL! I think I need to wait until it blooms. Now I'm on the hunt for rose hips ;-)
    Hope to see you again on the Homestead Blog Hop Today.

  7. There is a lot of prairie rose growing wild around here but I never knew you could make a syrup with it. Something new to try for sure. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  8. What beautiful delicate flowers! Thanks for all the info!

    Thanks again for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope you'll join us this week too!