To a Wild Rose


Forager Alexander McNaughton, of Vancouver Island BC shares a rhapsody and some practical tips about one of his local seasonal favourites – wild rose. 

AM: I speak plant; I am fluent in many subspecies dialects both wild and cultivated. This time of year I spend my early mornings conversing with the Wild Nootka Rose of our region, Rosa Nutkana. The language can only be heard during the soft wooly hours between 5 and 8am, with the strongest voices being heard as the dawn light creeps over the grove of ancient shrubs.

When fluent in wild rose, several sub-dialects come easily to the fore – the language of honeybees and wild solitary “bumble” bees drunk on rose nectar, the language of the unknown Lepidoptera that lays in eggs to mature in the un-open buds of rose, the soft morning honkings of the goose and goslings resting in the grassy sea meadows between the rose and the sea, the shrill trilling of the many wild thrushes and robins resting on the canes, the language of the wild deer that sleep and take shelter in the thickets that the stillness of morning allows you to finally hear.

Step into the flow and allow it to carry you, feel the energy of the time and place, listen deeply and be in the moment. Only begin your harvest when full grounding is achieved or the rose will let you know by pricking you or sending one of the bees to sting your hand. I’m not kidding about this! Tangle with the bull and get the thorns; the grove can easily repel you and not allow you passage if you blunder about in your own world. Take the act you engage in seriously and respect the lifeforces around you. 

How to identify

This 6ft tall thorny shrub is easily identified in season by its pink hued blossom and yellow pollen filled center, typically 5 petals form around the green hip, although a double petalled variety is also found in our region as well as several smaller species of wild rose. Nootka is the undisputed queen of springtime fragrance, follow your nose to the rose grove.  

How to harvest sustainably

Choose only perfectly formed flowers, leaving anything bearing insect evidence behind, don’t disturb the grub filled buds they will be obviously deformed. Do not harvest unopened buds even if not containing insect life, take only “todays” flower and then only 1/4-1/5 of what you see available. Many species rely on the nectar and heavy pollen of this springtime favourite. Avoid disturbing sleeping bees they don’t appreciate it. 

Rosa Nutkana growing wild, Vancouver Island

How to prepare and preserve

Refrigerate once picked. Do not crush. Infuse into honey, dry for tea or other applications, make into vinegars or simple syrups. Infusions can include whole leaf, flower and hip; strongest florality will be achieved after 12-24 hours steeping. Do not cook or boil, infuse raw and cold. Infused metals can be dried after infusion or a secondary water infusion can be made after the first syrup. Dried rose can be powdered into spice blends; rose chilli salt rosagarita anyone?

Flavour pairings

Rose is strongly floral and aromatic with pleasing tannic qualities and a dried stonefruit flavor when dried. Herbal pairings include lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme or other thyme. Subtle herbaceous notes complement the florality, as does lemon and lime zests. Spice pairings include cardamom, cinnamon and cloves; lemony peppercorns such as “poivre des cimes” or Sancho, take care not to overpower the floral quality of the rose. Try pairing with electric daisies (spilanthese) dried or fresh for extra pop in a killer limeade; add a steeped hibiscus concentrate for deepest flavor and color, works with dried Sumac too! Pairs with clear spirits as an obvious choice; but don’t overlook champagne or prosecco based cocktails or other good quality vermouths or cassis liqeures.

My “go to” is a rose lime hibiscus limeade which is always on hand; poured over ice with a splash of Botanist and herbaceous (less sweet) tonic if I have it, and a branch of citrus thyme. Just add two or three tablespoons of rose hibiscus concentrate to the G and T and finish with rose buds and petals.

What does it add to the cocktail to have rose petals floating in it? Delicate fragrance and visual appeal; adding the rose cordial concentrate adds colour to the glass, mostly from the hibiscus we add to the steeping. The flower petals if chewed on impart pleasant tannins and rose flavour; and of course the aroma of the rose grove that you visited that very morning.


Further Reading


Make a simple rose syrup >>

What to do with rose hips >>

More depth about this incredible and useful plant family >>

Plenty of cocktails that use rose! Our Foraged Cocktails section >>

Follow Alex on Instagram  >>

A wild rose gin and tonic


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