There is something nicely poetic and sensuous about this project, taking rose petals and concentrating their loveliness into hand-worked beads. The end result is a fragrant, compact set of beads that you can string and use for adornment or meditation. Rose petal beads would make a sweet Valentine’s Day present; or provide a fantastic way to reuse the petals from roses you receive. (It’s too sad to see them in the trash).
Strings of beads have been used for prayer and meditation for ages, they help to center and focus. Scented objects such as rosaries have also been used in many religions. On feast days, early Christian priests wore garlands of rosebuds or beads made from rose petals, ground and blended with fixatives into an aromatic paste, then rolled into balls and pierced with a needle. It is a lovely idea to make an object to hold during meditation practice, and most people find that it helps to focus.
Here is a method inspired by a 19th-century recipe for rose petal beads that will yield lovely, scented beads that are surprisingly hard and durable. You will need nothing more than rose petals (red and fragrant are recommended), water, a saucepan and a needle or hanger, plus string for stringing.
Gather the roses and chop the petals as finely as you can. Put them in a saucepan and barely cover with water. (If you have a cast iron skillet, the iron will impart a nice deep hue to the beads.) Heat for an hour but do not let it boil. Repeat this for three or four days and if necessary, add more water. It is important to never let the water boil but to warm it up each day over a moderate heat.
When the petals have reached the consistency of clay, you are ready to start the beads. Place the mixture in a colander or sieve and press out as much water as possible. Make the beads by working the pulp with the fingers into balls. When they dry they will shrink by about half, so you can start big. When thoroughly well worked and fairly dry, press on to a bodkin (a long needle, or you can use thick wire or a metal hanger) to make holes in the center of each beads. Until they are perfectly dry the beads have to be moved on the bodkin from time to time or they will be difficult to remove without breaking them. When dry, remove and string them.
Inspired by Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume by Mandy Aftel (Gibbs-Smith, 2001).