The bright, red fruit of the wild rose adorns its bare-thorned stems through the frost and snow of winter, often in the company of snowberry and red osier dogwood creating a bright visual bouquet on winter walks. These fruits are called hips and they hold the seeds of the wild rose which are surrounded by the thick fleshy skin which are known to be particularly high in Vitamin C, ounce for ounce about 20 times higher than oranges.
Rose hips have been used by cultures around the world as snack foods, herbal teas, syrups, jellies and cordials. Herbal teas are made by simply infusing dried rose hips in hot water for a few minutes adding a lovely flavor to herbal tea blends, or can be used alone with honey. We have been including them in our bitters, and herbal liqueurs.
Rose hips are so high in Vitamin C, that in England during World War II it was considered a civic duty to make rose hip syrup made with hips from the hedgerows cooked with sugar to provide much needed replacement for the unavailable citrus. Studies have shown that while there is some loss of vitamins during cooking it is fairly minimal, and once preserved remains stable. Better yet is to use an alcohol extract to capture and preserve these beneficial vitamins. We use rosehips in many of our foraged cocktails ingredients such as our Northwest Bitters.
What are Rose Hips?
At the base of each rose flower is a round seedpod which ripens through the late summer into a bright red fruit of fall and winter, known around the world for its healthful benefits. It is famous for its high Vitamin C content, and also contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and K, and studies have shown it to be anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Harvesting and Processing Rose Hips
Rose hips can be harvested anytime after they have turned red, and as long as they remain red and firm enough to handle, usually through the winter months, though they lose nutritional value as the season progresses. Freezing helps to soften the cells and make them easier to break down for syrups, and makes them more flavorful, though they are still useful and flavorful prior to freezing. If you’d like the benefits of frozen hips earlier in the season you can simply put them in the freezer for a day.
Throughout our region in the Pacific Northwest you can find patches of wild roses in hedgerows, along trails, and perhaps in your own backyard. You can use the hip from any rose, including the ones in your yard as long as you are sure that systemic fungicides and pesticides have not been used. Harvest the hips either with or without the stems, taking care not to cause harm to the branches, and making sure to leave plenty for the birds and wildlife who rely on the winter forage, who help to spread the seed as well.
Should you remove the seeds or not?
On this point opinions and techniques part ways. The seeds themselves contain cyanide, as do apples and many other fruit seeds. More problematic though, the seeds inside the rose hip are protected in fiberglass-like fuzz which we definitely don’t want to ingest, it is hard on our digestive tract. So, the short answer is that if you are using rose hips in alcohol extracts and jellies you can probably leave the seeds in, as long as you are straining the whole mass out. However, if I am using rosehips for a puree-like jam or for tea I definitely take the time to cut them in half and scrape out the seeds with a tiny spoon (not my fingernail as I’ve learned the hard way, the glassy hairs get under my fingernail and persist for days). If you aren’t sure of your potential use, I would take the seeds and their hairy fiber out, while fresh, and then dry the hips, it is much harder to do this after the hips are dry.
Rose hips are easily dried in the house at normal room temperature in single layers on paper or in baskets with good airflow, or dried in a dehydrator with an eye on the heat, keep it low to maintain the nutritional value. Once dried they can be stored in tightly sealed glass jars for years. Note: I always keep my recently dried and stored herbs and food in sight until I’m sure they were thoroughly dried, checking my jars for moisture.
A simple rosehip cordial can be made with a cup of rosehips, brandy and sugar. A simple recipe here: http://www.givingground.com/page37.html . If you attend any of our Foraged Cocktail classes you will learn how you might use them in bitters, syrups, amaros and more.
Studies referred to in this article:
Vitamin C in rose hips after cooking: http://www.bmj.com/content/1/4243/559
Study showing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of rose hips: http://www.naturalhealthresearch.org/review-rose-hip-2/