Only a Rose by Paul Andruss
This most romantic of flowers has been lauded by poets across the ages as a symbol of love, sacred and profane.
The Plantagenet King Henry II, that great robber baron who ruled an empire covering England and half of France, loved only one woman, and it wasn’t his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. No, she spent most of her married life as her husband’s prisoner to stop her plotting. The woman Henry loved was his beautiful mistress, the fair Rosamund: Rosa mundi – Rose of the World.
Legend has it Henry attempted to conceal his affair from his wife by keeping Rosamund in a maze, specially constructed at Woodstock in Oxford (and just for the record Bob Dylan didn’t play there either). Eleanor, no slouch in the brains department, confronted the girl in the middle of the labyrinth and offered her the choice of dying by poison or a dagger. Like most legends it is unfortunately untrue. Rosamund retired to a convent when Henry tired of her and died before her 30th birthday.
The earliest record of breeding roses comes from China 2,500 years ago. Due its long cultivation there are now a couple of hundred species and thousands of cultivars, with new ones introduced every year. This makes it very difficult to know much about its historical origins. All we can say for certain is the rose is been used as a perfume and flavouring for almost 4,000 years.
The earliest records are from Iran where rose jam, made from the fruit or the hip (now known to be richer in vitamin C than oranges), is still popular. Rose water, traditionally made by steeping petals in water, is used in Middle Eastern cooking, flavouring things such as Turkish delight. Attar of Roses is the essential oil used in perfumes. Records show the Greeks were using distillation about 100 BC, so it is likely rose was as a scent since Roman times. Which might explain the following…
Damask Rose (By Kurt Stüber)
The crimson velvet-petalled Damask rose, so beloved of perfumers for its heady musk fragrance, was believed to have been brought back to France from Damascus, during the Crusades. Genetic analysis showed it was a melange of a Mediterranean rose, growing from France to Turkey, another from the Western Himalayas and a third from the Central Asian steppes that grows all the way to China. Its parentage makes it likely it was first cultivated in the Ancient Persian Empire and perhaps even brought to Britain by the Romans.
Given all that is there any wonder, there is nothing like the rose?
Today we think of roses as large blousy blooms. But modern roses largely originated in the late 18th century, thanks to Napoleon’s first wife the Empress Josephine. After Napoleon crowned himself emperor he divorced Josephine ‘a commoner’ to marry into the ancient royal family of the Holy Roman Emperors. Josephine retired to her beloved Chateau of Malmaison outside Paris, which she filled with exotic animals and flowers, the rose being chief among them. A mere 20 years later over 2,000 new varieties had been produced by her gardeners.
Botanical wild Rose (essential oils.com)
To see any family resemblance we have ignore modern roses in favour of the wild rose, growing in hedgerows. A wild rose has 5 single petals surrounding a central boss of anthers and stamen, and a hard teardrop-shaped berry called a hip; a fleshy calix surrounding plump seeds. Looking at this it becomes easy to spot its cousins the prunus and the rubus.
Against a Cheery blossom background are peach, bramble apple & rose (various)
The most unlikely relative to the rose and yet probably the best starting point is the Hawthorn. Sacred to the old white goddess of old Europe the hawthorn was known as the May Tree because it bloomed at the traditional start of summer. Its flowering gave rise to the old verse: ‘Ne’re cast a clout ‘til may is out’, meaning don’t discard your heavy winter clothes until the May tree blooms for that’s a sure sign summer’s coming. The Hawthorn is related to the blackthorn, or Sloe. Between them their respective fruits point to all the rose’s most delicious relations.
Hawthorn fruit (unknown)
The Haw of the Hawthorn is an unremarkable small waxy red berry. Yet imagine the fleshy seed coating expand and juicy and the hard waxy skin thinner. Suddenly you have apples, pears and quinces – the original golden apple of Greek mythology.
For those not familiar with the quince it is like a large woody pear that can only be eaten after bletting, similar to the crab apple and the medlar. Bletting it the lovely process of letting the fruit ripen until rotten. The more brown and squidgy, the sweeter it tastes.
Medler Unripe & bletted by Takkk
And they wonder why some fruits fell out of flavour.
Originally marmalade got its name from quince jam (http://www.paul-andruss.com/sea-sick-mary/). Easy to make it becomes a luminous stained-glass rose colour and tastes of Turkish delight, but is not sickly.
Eating and cooking apples were developed from the crab by increasing their size and sweetness and it was the same story for the savagely thorny wild pear with its two inch long fruits. Incidentally the word pear means fruit.
Sloe by-SA 3.0
The sloe or wild plum is another deeply thorny plant. Its inedible blue-black fruits are usually steeped in gin to impart flavour. The sloe represents the other side of the rose family having reduced the number of seeds to one per fruit.
Another close cousin is the bramble or blackberry and raspberry. Here each individual seed is held is a tiny soft-skinned juicy parcel. The seeds are designed to pass through the animal’s digestive system and be delivered safe and sound in a starter-kit of manure.
The bramble berry represents an intermediate strategy between the apple’s many seeds in one fruit and the plum’s one seed per fruit. It has one seed per individual fruit but clusters multiple fruits into berries for easy eating.
On the sloe side of the family tree (pardon the pun) is not only the plum, but the cherry, almond, apricot and peach. Nectarines are merely a version of smooth skinned peach.
Hanami Festival by-SA 3.0
Cherries are split into two types, those with spectacular blossom and those with edible fruits. The Japanese Hanami festival, or the viewing the cherry blossom dates back to the 700s and is meant to remind the Japanese that the beauty of life is fleeting and something to be treasured in the moment.
Peaches were first cultivated in China. According to legend a froth whisked from their flesh was believed the food of the celestials, or the gods to prols like you and me… (or at least, me anyway).
Its cousin the apricot comes from a harsher climate around the Black Sea. It was first cultivated in the ancient kingdom of Armenia in Northern Turkey, which a millennia before was the home of King Midas, whose touch, in legend, turned everything into gold. Almonds found in the same area range eastward through Persia, now modern Iran.
People do not realise that almonds are the seeds of a thin green fleshed apricot like fruit. Almonds are the nut kernel of the fruit and look very similar to its cousin the apricot’s seeds. To distinguish them almonds are called Sweet Almonds while apricot kernels due to their high cyanide content are the Bitter Almonds so beloved of crime thriller writers.
Recently apricot kernels have been touted as containing a substance that fights cancer. However excessive consumption can cause cyanide poisoning. It is claimed you should not exceed a daily intake of 10 to 12 kernels a day. But for heaven’s sake DON’T take my word for it!
Almond orchards were badly hit in California due to the decade long drought and the ensuing world shortage forced up the price. This made marzipan, a luxurious confectioner’s paste of ground almond and sugar increasingly expensive. But take heart all ye with a sweet tooth, a Dutch scientist has now perfected away to remove the cyanide from ground apricot kernels, meaning they can be used to make cheap marzipan. And best of all: it shouldn’t kill you!
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.
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You can find two directories for Paul Andruss on Smorgasbord – Writer in Residence: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/writer-in-residence-writer-paul-andruss/
and Paul’s Gardening Column: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-gardening-column-by-paul-andruss/
I hope you have enjoyed this comprehensive guide to the rose as much as I have…..your questions are always welcome. Thanks Sally