Rose Hips: Attractive and edible

People have grown roses for many centuries and for many reasons. Today we grow roses mainly for the beauty they bring to our yards and homes. But in centuries past, the rose and its fruit were revered for its value as food and medicine, as well as its beauty.
Rose hips, sometimes called rose haw, are a superb source of vitamin C, having a much higher content than citrus fruit. During World War II when imports of citrus products were limited, rose hips became especially popular in Great Britain. Volunteers spent many hours gathering hips from hedge rows for making rose hip syrup for the Ministry of Health to distribute, particularly to children. Where roses grow wild in North America, they were important in the diet of native peoples for hundreds of years.
In addition to their rich content of vitamin C, rose hips also contain other beneficial vitamins and compounds such as pectin. All these result in rose hips being used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, as well as giving possible protection against cardiovascular disease. Rose hips, and especially tea and products made from them, are often found listed for a range of ailments from colds to digestive disorders, as well as being a laxative and diuretic.
This somewhat spherical fruit of the rose, usually red to red-orange but sometimes purple, is seldom seen on our modern roses. However, the old-fashioned shrub types, especially the rugosas, bear them abundantly.
Besides being healthful, rose hips offer the adventurous cook a strange and different ingredient. Rose hips have a fruity, spicy, and tart flavor and can be used fresh, dried, or preserved. Rose hip syrup, puree, jam, jelly, and sauce can be used as is or as a flavoring in other recipes. Hips of the dog rose are used for aroma in “cockta” — the popular fruity soft drink of Slovenia.
The simplest use is to steep them for tea, often found blended with hibiscus or flavored with mint, cloves, sugar or honey. Boil whole rose hips, or pour boiling water over them and let steep, for about 10 minutes so they expand and split open to let the water at the seeds inside. Others crumble or chop the hips, especially if dried, then pour boiling water over them and let steep for a couple minutes, then strain. After making a tea, strain the leftover hips and try serving with butter and salt, or use in soups and stews as native Americans cooked with them.
The hips are usually left on the bush until after the first frost, which makes them turn bright red and slightly soft. By leaving them on the rose bushes, this signals the plant to stop producing flowers and to start preparing for winter—what you want it to do. You should be able to gently squeeze ripe hips, but they shouldn’t be too soft or wrinkled. Make sure when gathering rose hips to not use any from bushes that have been treated with pesticides not labeled as safe for food crops.
To prepare, trim off the blossom and stem ends with scissors, cut in half lengthwise, remove the tiny hairs and seeds in the center, and rinse. Never use aluminum utensils or pans as they tend to destroy the vitamin C.
To dry hips, simply spread the prepared halves in a single layer on screening or trays and place in a dehydrator, an oven set on the lowest setting, or in a dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Store in glass jars in a dark, cool place.
Leonard Perry is a Horticulture Professor Emeritus at University of Vermont.

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