“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” spake the great Bard, though he may not have been alluding to the flower at all. And there are many magnificent rose hybrids today that are a lot of show, but hardly any legendary fragrance.
R is for Rosa. The Indian desi Gulab or musk rose (Rosa moschata), a very fragrant rose variety, is closely related to the Damascus rose (Rosa damascena) that originated in Persia. It produces small flowers (2 to 3 inch across) with red or pink petals. The petals retain their delicate fragrance long after drying, which makes them an ideal ingredient for potpourris. The desi gulab is grown on a large scale for the ayurveda and cosmetic industries.
Rose oil is an essential ingredient in itr, oil-based Indian perfumes. Rose water is used in the preparation of many Indian and middle-eastern dishes. A hint of fresh roses is what makes the rasgulla taste so refreshing. Gulab ark (rose extract) is also a key ingredient in Hamdard’s ever-popular summer drink Rooh Afza. Milk shakes made with Rooh Afza are part of my childhood memories – what a deliciously pretty pink that milk shake is!
Gulab, along with the fragrant mogra (Jasminum sambac), is (was?) the flower of choice, to decorate a newly-wed couple’s room (a bed of roses?). Some of the rose petals strewn on our bed got into the gaps of the mattresses and delicately perfumed the bed for months!
I have a couple of plants in my garden . These are hardier than the hybrid tea roses and don’t need to be fussed with much. Just prune them twice a year – at the start of the cooler season, and at the end of summer. Because of inadequate sunshine, I get too few blooms. But I put them to good use this year. I made Gulkand (rose-petal preserve) (I could have dried them). A couple of teaspoons-ful . Gulkand is the traditional sweetening agent in the Indian meetha paan.
(rose petal preserve)
rose petals of fragrant roses such as the musk rose
few grains of citric acid crystals
Pluck roses in the morning, at the barely-bloomed stage. Remove the petals. Rinse them in cool water, and drain. There is no need to pat dry. Spread a layer of rose petals in a clean, dry glass jar. Sprinkle with granulated sugar – 1 (level) T for each flower. Muddle using the back of a spoon. Repeat till you have used up all your petal. Add citric acid and mix. Leave in the sun to cook for a week or more, mixing every other day.
You may have gulkand on its own, by the spoonfuls, or use it in recipes calling for rose petals. Ayurveda assigns cooling properties to gulkand and it’s consumption during the hot season is believed to be beneficial.
Recipes using the Rose or its extract, just the antidote to the summer heat: