Chicken Food For Free Part 5 Rose Petals - Nutritional & Medicinal Value

In my previous post on roses, I showed how we had planted up all areas of our forest garden using this fabulous and versatile flowering food plant. If you have just landed on this topic then you might want to go back and start with this article, you can find it here. In the following three articles I will look at each separate food provided by the rose; petals, leaves and hips, in detail and share how, what and when my birds consume them. This will include how I have used roses medicinally, useful varieties to purchase, growing tips and sharing how you too can benefit from this wonderful plant and propagate it from cuttings. The other great advantages of the rose is that if you plant those cultivars known under the classification of 'wild' or 'briars', they will self-seed. Before I look at my own use of petals however, I'll just take you on a short voyage and detour into the past, as if from the pages of Omar Khayyám and look at that most well known and most coveted product of these flower petals; the distillation of rose essential oil.

Polish hen eating rose petals - organic forest garden

Action shot - Above Bungle our golden black-laced Polish hen snacking in our David Austen English rose bed.

Rose Essential Oil - A Fragrant Feast in Figures

Grasse, France's Perfume Capital
Rose Essential oil is one of the most expensive and prized of all oils, it is my understanding that here in France at least, it carries no fixed price as its value changes according to harvest and weather conditions and that its price is quoted on the stock market. In my French Aromatherapy handbook which is a freebie from one of the manufacturers of the essential oils I purchase, it reveals that it takes 4,000 kilos or 4.4 US tons of petals, that is, 1 hectare or  just under 2.5 acres of rose bushes to make 1 kilo of rose essential oil. Interestingly I was just reading Theresa Scarman's fascinating article on rose essential oil and she writes that for Iran's certified organic rose oil production, they require over 2 tons of roses, that equates to 1.2 million flowers, to produce 1 kilo of oil, a harvest hand-picked at dawn, over the six week season. 
Nur Jahan with Jehangir's portrait
There is a beautiful Middle Eastern legend of how the rose petal came into use as a perfumed oil and thus a medicinal. At the end of the 16th century, the wedding feast of Mehr-un-nisa (the future Mughal Empress Nur Jahan) and The Emperor Jehangir took place, requiring gardeners to create an elaborate water feature including a circular canal and fountains and fill them with rose petals. In the midday heat Nur Jahan and her husband took a boat upon the canal and were overcome by the beauty of the luxuriant perfume. Dipping her hand in the fragrant waters, the Empress noted that the surface of the water was oily and when she removed her hand found that her fingers were covered with a delicious fragrant film. Nur Jahan was a well-educated, charismatic and cultivated woman, who came to have unprecedented influence over the Mughal court at the height of its power. She had many interests outside of the affairs of the Empire, from creating perfumes and gardens to architecture and poetry. Although today her memory is relatively overshadowed by that of her niece Mumtaz Mahal, whose iconic tomb is known throughout the world as the symbol of eternal love, what could be more everlastingly romantic than to be associated with the idea of creating rose essential oil!

My own experiments with making rose oil and rose water and their uses for our poultry

One of the main roses I use for both cooking, medicinals and which my hens very much enjoy is, not surprisingly, rosa gallica Officinalis, or The Apothecary Rose. Pictured here below in close up growing in our garden and beneath it, companioned with the damask rose, 'Quatre Saisons'. The latter is thought to be the rose mentioned in Herodotus in the 5th century BC as growing in the gardens of Midas. This too is a great eating rose!

rosa gallica Officinalis The Apothecary rose

rosa gallica Officinalis and Quatre Saisons
'The Apothecary', is an easy rose to grow as it reproduces by suckering, thus enlarging itself and its flowering capacity year by year. It does well in full sun and it needs cool roots with ready access to the water table, otherwise in dry seasons it is prone to powdery mildew. One of its great uses for poultry (and ourselves), is for making rose water, on which I have an article here on the blog (link at end). I used it to treat conjunctivitis in my hen Clementina in conjunction with the herb euphrasia. Rose water also has  calmative and anti-inflammatory properties, which as my hen had a swollen face and as conjunctivitis is stress related, was perfect and worked well and quickly. I froze a whole batch of rosewater for medicinal use and the fact that it is very cold when used also helps with reducing swelling!

Rose water compresses for a hen with a swollen face and eyes
I have also made an attempt to make a small quantity of rose petal infused oil, which is very easy to make and involves heating the dried petals in an oil of your choice to 65°C or 150°F. At this temperature the cells which hold the plant's essential oil rupture and diffuse into the carrier oil. I will be writing an article on how to make calendula and tagetes infused oils for chicken's feet treatments shortly, so will explain the process in full then. Rose infused oil, like lavender, can be used for stress and I often use it to calm an injured bird who may need treatment. I've also applied it as a balm, mixing it with melted beeswax, to the chickens' feet.

Rose Petals - Nutrition

Beautiful Polish chamois crested rooster
Below is the fantastically prolific rose, a noisette first raised in 1879 by J. Schwartz and named after the wife of the editor of the practical gardening magazine La Revue Horticole; 'Mme Alfred Carrière', it is growing high up against an east facing wall next to one of the hen houses/chicken coops. I also have another large specimen of it trailing over a wirework arbour, which I grew from a cutting. Unlike most old roses it is perpetually in flower and its petals are very much appreciated in particular by our Polish chamois brothers, who politely stand underneath it waiting for a delicious creamy bloom to fall.

Organic forest garden with rose canopy
Not so patient and in action shot below, Cuckoodora pulling down petals from the David Austen rose, 'The Alchemist', for her chicks. Of course, the ideal situation is that our poultry eat the petals off the ground once they have fallen and in fact many do, it is just I happened to be in the garden filming at the time and was able to take this candid shot!

Hen pulling down rose petals for chicks
Although all my poultry seem to enjoy eating petals one of the things I have noticed is that it is a particular food mother hens seek out for their chicks. I decided to look into this and see if I could identify the reason for it. As I have so often written, I absolutely believe that birds know more about their optimum nutrition than we ever will.

If we look at rose petals as a form of nutrition then their main values are as sources of:
Vitamin C - supports both the physical and nervous systems
Vitamin A - critical for vision, supports bone and cell growth
Vitamin E - important for nerve impulse transmission and muscle co-ordination
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) - critical for growth, nervous system and forming feathers
Bioflavonoids - antioxidants, act like a shield to protect but also to repair.

Hens eating rose petals organic forest gardenWhat is interesting in considering these nutrients is that many of them are involved in growth and in regulating stress and battling oxidisation. Something that must be very near to a mother hen's heart! If we take Vitamin C for example, then this is sometimes known as the  'grandfather of traditional antioxidants' and thus involved in maintaining optimum electron flow in the cells. In my experience it is the 'go to' vitamin an adult bird will consume when under stress and incidentally it is the first one to be depleted. Vitamin C is also responsible for the better absorption of iron, necessary for growth particularly in the young and active chick. It is also essential for collagen synthesis, thus important for the structure of the bones, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments. Similarly with Niacin, which promotes growth and when deficient can cause retarded development, poor feathering, loss of appetite and motor dysfunction. Rose petals also contain a small but readily bioavailable amount of calcium, thus a useful addition to the diet. Stress is something one can expect as a potential problem for both mother and chicks when living an active foraging lifestyle and the fact that they can find the essential nutrients to combat this within their forage somehow seems to me to be rather satisfying!

Rose petal ice cream
Hope you have enjoyed this article and if you have, then think about sharing it, giving it a plus or maybe joining the blog or my YouTube Channel. The next article in this series will discuss rose leaves as a fodder crop and also share information on propagating roses. When thinking about rose petals, however, don't forget yourselves and the glorious dishes you can make with them! The recipe for the ice cream (left) can be found on my Youtube channel.

All the best and hope to see you next time,


Thanks for the photos of Grasse and Nur Jahan from the Pinterest boards of 'all things French' and 'UC Gallery Portraits' respectively.


Growing roses in a forest garden to feed poultry Food for Free. Fabulous Forage Part 4 Roses for Food & Forest

For me the rose is the quintessential forest garden plant, from canopy to ground cover there are so many to choose from ... read more

Treating eye Problems & facial swelling. Herbal Infusions-Compresses-Eye Baths

Sharing two home-made infusions for the treatment of eyes. They are both edible so there is no problem if your bird drinks more


©  Sue Cross 2016

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