The Art of Darkness

Rose Beads

April 16th, 2008 by Cobwebs

Rose Beads (Photo from Mother Earth News)Spring is finally here, which means roses will soon be in bloom. I have a selection of antique roses–dog rose, apothecary’s rose, and a couple of others–which are vastly superior to modern hybrid roses in terms of fragrance. They do have one quirk, however, in that all the roses on the entire plant bloom more or less simultaneously and then drop their petals with a single mighty Fwoomp. If you find yourself similarly possessed of a windfall of rose petals–or if you don’t mind harvesting and dismantling a lot of hybrid roses–rose beads are an intriguing and unusual way to use them.

The general idea is to turn the petals into a sort of dough via a combination of chopping and gentle heat, then roll them into beads and dry them. The amount of petals you need depends upon the number and size of beads you want to make, but bear in mind that the finished beads shrink by more than half, so get more petals than you think you’ll need.

The more fragrant the roses, the longer the beads’ scent will last. Dark red petals will result in wine-colored beads; other petals will give you brown or black beads, so plan accordingly. (Note: Be careful not to use roses that have been sprayed with chemicals or which have had a systemic pesticide applied. “Toxic” may be a goth watchword, but not when smeared on one’s skin.)

You will need:

  • At least 4 cups clean rose petals

  • Food processor, blender, or spice mill

  • Cast-iron pot

  • Fine sieve or several thicknesses of cheesecloth

  • Rosewater or rose essential oil (optional)

  • Powdered cinnamon, cloves, and/or nutmeg (optional)

  • Darning needle or coat hanger

Many recipes recommend snipping off the white heel from the base of each rose petal. These little bits are somewhat tougher than the rest of the petal, so removing them might make for a slightly smoother paste, but it’s also rather time-consuming. If you want to be authentic, snip away. (This is a good, mindless thing to do in front of the TV.)

Use the food processor, grind the petals as small as possible. You’re going to turn this stuff into a homogenous dough, so the smaller you can get the petals to begin with the smoother your finished product will be.

Put the ground petals into the cast-iron pot (you don’t absolutely have to use iron, but it reacts chemically with the petals to create a nice dark shade, so it’s preferable). Barely cover with water, bring to a gentle simmer, and keep over the heat for 1 hour. Be very careful not to boil; it drives off the petals’ fragrance. Remove from heat and cool for 24 hours. Put back on the heat, simmer for another hour, and cool for another day. Repeat twice more, adding water if necessary. The petals should have completely given up by this point and become a soft mass.

Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down on the petal pulp to remove as much water as possible. You can save the liquid for cooking, or add some to lemonade for a refreshing beverage.

Now form your beads. The pulp will work a lot like clay, so you can roll it into balls or flatten it and cut out shapes. Remember that the beads will shrink by at least 50% so make them larger than you think you need. You can dampen your hands with rosewater or essential oil to add fragrance as you work with them. If desired, roll the beads in powdered spices before drying.

The beads need to be slightly dry before you pierce them or the pressure will distort their shape, so place on paper towels for about 24 hours until they’re firm but still moist (the time varies with heat and humidity, so check them often).

Depending upon how large you want the holes in the beads, either pierce them with a darning needle and string them on carpet thread or poke them onto straightened coat hangers. Make sure that the beads don’t touch each other or they might stick together.

The beads should be placed in a warm, dry place to dry thoroughly. Take care with the temperature: Too hot and they might lose their scent and color; too low and they may mold before they dry. Placing them in an oven at a very low temperature or in a warm attic works well.

Once dry, the beads can be eased off the wire and strung as you choose. They’re surprisingly hard when thoroughly dry. You can seal them if you like, but that will reduce their lovely scent. Note that they’ll also pick up other odors, so don’t store them in your ashtray or in an old sardine can.

There’s some indication that rose beads were originally used for rosaries, which make a pretty accessory even for the heathens amongst us. The beads are also a nice way to use roses from a special occasion such as a wedding (or a funeral).

Posted in Doom It Yourself, Paint It Black | 5 Comments »

5 Responses

  1. Marie Says:

    Very cool, I will have to try this next time Brad buys me roses.

  2. Dawn Says:

    How would you seal them? What would you use? Thanks.

  3. Cobwebs Says:

    Any kind of craft sealer should work. You can get aerosol sealers at a craft store, or paint on polyurethane or shellac.

  4. audreybmorin Says:

    Keep in mind that, if you seal them, then you’ll also seal the smell in… probably not what you want to do.

    This technique goes back to the Middle Ages.

  5. Prince Rogers Nelson Says:

    And now I must make these from the rosebush I planted in honor of my deceased cat. *bookmarks*

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