Drying Bulgarian rose to make rose tea 

Rose petals laying on a paper towel

I am fond of the idea of being a chic rose girl, but unfortunately, I’m seldom a rose girl in practice, especially when it comes to fragrance. In my mind, a rose girl effortlessly spritzes on a rose perfume and a rosewater facial spray before she slips into a crisp poplin wrap dress to grace an exclusive garden tea party. She is cosmopolitan, elegant, timeless. In reality, I find many rose-forward fragrances somewhat headache inducing, sharp and pungent instead of delicate and jammy. I suspect that it’s because these sprays and perfumes smell somewhat synthetic — or maybe it’s the opposite situation, and they actually feature too strong of a concentration of rose oil. In any case, I’ve yet to come across a rose scent that works for my nose.

Hand holding lilac bulgarian rose

Despite my general dislike for most things rose personal care, I’ve always been a rose tea enthusiast. In my early 20s, I’d religiously order rose milk tea with lychee jelly from the T4 boba shop by San Jose’s Hostetter light rail station. Sure, my drink came in a plastic cup with a giant teal logo on it, but it felt elegant and refined — old money, even — to order a rose milk tea.

Plus, I like rose teas because they feature a refreshing and realistic smell. I think realistic is the operative word here. A rose straight from a rose bush emanates a soft, delicate scent. It doesn’t smell like something that belongs on a glossy slip of paper wedged in between a Tiffany & Co. magazine ad. There’s something about the floral sweetness that complements the creamy milk perfectly. As a bonus, rose is also supposedly great for easing inflammation and stress, but personally, I don’t think it had much of an impact on the constant state of stress that plagued my early 20s. 

Harvesting rose petals to dry

Stopping to smell the roses in our garden, I thought to myself, what if I turned the blooms into tea (and miraculously avoided giving myself food poisoning)? We have a wide variety of roses out in the yard, but the most fragrant ones are the Bulgarian roses, specifically the lilac-colored Bulgarian roses by my mom’s nook of dainty woodland creature planters. The Bulgarian roses smell fresh and green, but they also project a lovely hint of sweet honey. 

Hand holding lilac bulgarian rose

Drying rose petals

I really approached Operation Rose Tea with zero planning, simply plucking the petals straight from the stem without snipping off the flowerheads. (I’ve seen tea companies sell jars of dried rosebuds, and I’m guessing you get a more concentrated flavor that way.) I simply left my harvested petals on a paper towel sheet to air dry by a northeastern window, but you could also use a dehydrator. Luckily, the weather has been dry enough to the point where I’ve only needed two to three days to air dry my rose petals. I’ve been drying petals in batches, waiting until the blooms are on the cusp of dying before harvesting their petals.

(Side note: I’m not entirely certain if our rose bushes started out organic from the nursery, but we’ve only used organic fertilizers over the last few years, so I felt comfortable enough to consume the roses.)

After drying my rose petals, I popped them into a textured glass canning jar that I picked up from Dollar Tree

Bird's eye view of dried rose petals in a jar

How I steep dried roses

Prepping my dry rose petals for rose tea has been a straightforward process — I either pour boiling water over my dried roses or boil the dried petals in water on the stove for a couple of minutes. I think loose-petal tea is fine, although the dried petals do unfurl in water to the point where I inevitably get them in my mouth while drinking. The next time I brew rose tea, I think I’ll pop the dried petals into a tea diffuser to let the rose flavor steep in a more contained vessel! 

All in all, I’d consider Operation Rose Tea a success. I haven’t given myself food poisoning…yet. Should I try my chrysanthemums next? I know that mums are edible, but I’m a bit wary that my big-box mums may have been treated with pesticides at some point!

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