When the rosebush in front of our house started blooming, we were ecstatic. The roses were stunning: bright orange and yellow outlined in pink, like a sunset. And they smelled AMAZING. Now THIS was a perk of our rental home that we would surely make full use out of, unlike the creepy bathroom under the stairs that has no sink.
So we attempted to make DIY rosewater and homemade rose syrup. Unfortunately, it did not go well. Here’s what we did wrong and how to avoid making our mistakes!
This post is part of our Failed Projects series, where we post our tried-and-failed recipes, DIY projects, and more to help you learn (and laugh) from our mistakes.
Table of Contents
Homemade Rose Water Fail
As soon as the blooms appeared, we snipped off a few of the fluffiest roses and brought them inside, where they thrived in makeshift mason jar vases drinking water supplemented with vinegar and sugar (we read somewhere online that this would help prolong their life, and it totally worked)!
For over a week, the gorgeous roses cheerfully brightened and perfumed our home. They smelled so delicious that we got an idea: could we make something from these?
A quick Google search later convinced us that it was worth a try. Rosewater is fantastic for the skin: it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, soothes irritation, and even balances pH (which is something I’ve never understood, but it sounds exciting and science-y). It was apparently integral to the skincare routine of Queen Cleopatra. Thousands of years of beauty can’t be wrong, right??
We scoured the internet for rosewater and rose syrup recipes, dreaming of all the things we could make from them: we wanted to try everything from DIY facial toner to rose-flavored water kefir to custom cocktails to shortbread cookies to jams and jellies. We couldn’t wait to make the most of our rose harvest!
So, armed with gloves and scissors, we trimmed off as many blooms as we could carry and brought them inside. A few became bouquets, and the rest we plucked until we had a big pile of colorful rose petals.
We washed the rose petals thoroughly – the better to rinse off whatever grime they accumulated from growing next to a semi-busy street in a major urban city – and soaked them in water.
Next, we tossed them into a small saucepot and put them on to boil. According to our research, they would leach all of their color into the water, along with their scent.
Well, they definitely leached out all of their color. After a few minutes, our rose petals looked like boiled cabbage. Or something you’d find in a sewer.
We boiled and boiled until our rose petals were a sad, bleached white. All of their color must have leached into the water, right?
Next, we grabbed our nut milk bag (the name of which will never make me not giggle) for the final step: straining. We carefully poured our precious rosewater through the nut milk bag.
This was our first clue that something might be amiss. Our rosewater was not colored or scented like the roses we’d boiled, and it looked nothing like the delicate pinks and reds in the tutorials we’d seen.
It was sort of a sad, muddy brown. The color of street-side grime and car exhaust. Which, come to think of it, may not have entirely washed off when we rinsed our rose petals …
Still, it had a faint scent of roses. It may not look good, but surely it would taste like rose, right?
We scooped out a spoonful of our homemade rosewater and gave it a tiny taste test.
It tasted like somebody stood next to a bowl of hot, muddy water and yelled ROSE!
Or like what’s left in the tub after someone takes a “romantic” rose-petal covered bath.
Needless to say, we threw the entire batch out and scrapped all of our plans for exciting, rose-flavored and scented things. Maybe we’ll try again next year. Or maybe not.
What Did We Do Wrong?
Before we take a deep dive into our failures as
people rosewater connoisseurs, here’s the one thing we did right: we used roses that were grown without artificial chemicals or heavy fertilizers. That’s crucial because you don’t want to ingest or coat your face with whatever the heck is sprayed on grocery store roses.
That said, it did start to skeeze me out a little bit that our roses sit right next to a semi-busy street. They may not be sprayed with chemicals, but they’re probably dusted with a nice coating of car exhaust and other pollutants, neither of which I want to consume or spray on my face. I think a backyard bush might feel safer.
Now let’s try to figure out where we went wrong. For starters, it turns out that the type of rose matters a lot when making rosewater: the stronger a rose’s color and smell, the more potent the rosewater or rose syrup will be.
The best roses for making rosewater and rose syrup are Damask Roses, Cabbage Roses, French Roses (Rosa damascena, Rosa centifolia and Rosa gallica). I’m not sure what kind of roses we have, but … not those.
In addition, our multi-colored rose petals – although they are absolutely beautiful as actual roses – ultimately muddied the color of our rosewater. A solid-colored rose would have produced a more attractive (and less gag-worthy) result.
We also waited about a week or two into the beginning of our bloom season to harvest the roses – they were definitely stronger scented in the first few days of their bloom.
There were also a few techniques we may have missed:
- One thing we didn’t try was crushing the petals to release their oils, or soaking them overnight – both steps that this recipe for rose syrup recommends before boiling.
- This rose syrup recipe recommends steeping the petals AFTER they’ve been boiled.
- This rose syrup recipe, which is from Italy and therefore more legit, uses fresh lemon juice. (Which would have been great to know, since there’s a lemon tree right next to our rosebush.) Upon further research, this method appears to help preserve the color of the roses, so you don’t get that dirty bathwater look.
All great ideas, which we’ll totally keep in mind if we forget how badly this turned out for us next year when our roses start blooming and try making rose water at home again.
Resources for DIY Rosewater & Homemade Rose Syrup
Now that you’ve learned from our mistakes, go forth and try this at home! Below, we’ve included some helpful resources for DIY rosewater and homemade rose syrup, created by people who actually made something useful (unlike us).
- How to Make Rosewater: This guide on the Beauty Gypsy includes 3 different methods and helpful notes and tips, like what time of day to pick the roses for best results.
- How to Make Homemade Rosewater: The Healthy Maven’s guide includes a few benefits of rosewater, a video, and suggestions for using rosewater in addition to instructions.
- Rose Syrup from Petals & Rose Essence: If you’re eager to try rose syrup but all this talk about grimy street dust has you freaked out, you can buy food-grade rose petals and rose essence and give this recipe a try. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have better results than us with this method.
- What to do with rose syrup & rosewater: Tin & Thyme has a bunch of yummy suggestions on using your homemade rose syrup, and Practical Self-Reliance (whose blog – and blog name – we LOVE) has tons of suggestions for using edible roses, from recipes to soap.
What to do with Fresh Rose Petals
Whether you’ve decided to embark on your own rosewater homemade adventure, or you’re just staring at a pile of freshly harvested rose petals thinking “what now?” and rapidly spiraling into a rose-scented existential crisis … we have a few suggestions.
- Candied Rose Petals: This looks super easy and only uses a few ingredients. They’d make a beautiful garnish or gift for your fanciest friends!
- Rose Petal Jam: This recipe starts out like you’re making rose syrup, except then you add lemon juice and pectin to make a delicious jam that’s full of rose petals.
- Rose Petal Wine: This “Country Wine” recipe made from rose petals and grape juice sounds deliciously boozy.
- How to Use Rose Hips: This fantastic guide on Grow Forage Cook Ferment has over 60 different ways to use rose hips, which definitely makes me want to “forage” in my neighborhood for more roses to experiment with!
Did this make you want to attempt a rosewater homemade project, or did it cloud your rose-colored glasses? Ba-dum-ssh! Drop us a comment below!
If you do manage to successfully make DIY rosewater or homemade rose syrup (or some other rose-themed project), tag us on Instagram and use the hashtag #practicalimperfection! We’d love to see your success. Also, it will make us feel a whole lot better about our failure.
Until next time,
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