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November 9, 2023

Plant of the Month: Wild Rosehips

Plant of the Month: Wild Rosehips
Rosehips glow like rubies in the fading colors of autumn. These tiny, round red-to-orange-colored jewels bestow a wealth of nutrients and medicine to those who take time to harvest them. They ripen during the cold and flu season just when we need their immune-boosting medicine.

Rose Plants with Good Hips

All of northwest native roses and non-native varieties including rugosa rose, cabbage roses, and heirloom varieties have small fleshy fruit called “hips” that can be used for a variety of food and medicine. Avoid gathering rosehips from plants that have been treated with herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers unless they are organic. Domesticated roses have much larger hips but they are usually not as flavorful or medicinal as wild varieties.

The Creation Story of a Rosehip

In springtime, rose plants form tightly-fisted buds that are protected by green leaf-like sepals. These unfurl to reveal soft petals that bloom into fully developed flowers. Roses attract insects and other pollinators with their brightly colored petals, fragrance, and sweet nectar. And why do they do this? Like so many other plants, pollinators help them to reproduce. Once the flower is fertilized, the petals begin to wither and fall off.  The base of the flower develops to protect the growing seeds. The outer flesh becomes an orange-to-red color and is sweet. This attracts birds and other animals that eat the ripe fruit and deposit seeds near and far. Thus, a new rose plant is born.

Rosehip Medicine

Rosehips are so loaded with nutrients that they can be considered a superfood. They contain the Vitamins A, B complex, C, E, K and minerals including calcium, silica, iron, and phosphorus.  Rosehips are particularly high in flavonoid-rich antioxidants including rutin, which strengthen our heart and blood vessels, and prevent degeneration of tissue. They contain carotenes including lycopene that have been linked with cancer prevention. Natural pectin found in rosehips is beneficial for gut health.

Perhaps the most common use of rosehips throughout history has been for prevention and treatment of colds and flu. Wild varieties have the highest concentration of Vitamin C, with some estimates reporting 30-50 times the Vitamin C of oranges. During WWII, oranges could not be imported into Britain and Scandinavia so about 500 tons of rose hips were collected and made into “National Rose Hips Syrup” that were distributed as a nutritional aid by the Ministry of Health. Natural health stores carry many types of rosehip remedies including teas, syrups, and capsules. Most grocery stores now carry rosehip tea.

Nibbling a rosehip

Eating Rosehips

Rosehips are sought after by birds, squirrels, rabbits, wild game, bears, and humans alike. Their outer flesh tastes like a cross between tart apple, plum, and rose petal. When they are ripe, they are delicious. But here is the catch – people cannot eat the hairy inner seeds of rosehips because they irritate our intestines. Other animals and birds can eat them with no ill effect and benefit from the many nutrients including essential fatty acids. We humans have three options:

  1. Pretend we are a squirrel and gingerly eat the red fleshy part from the outside while avoiding the seeds. My daughter has become an expert at eating rugosa rose hips. She cannot get enough of the sweet and tart fruit that is almost jam-like. This is much easier to accomplish on larger varieties of rosehips.
  2. Deseed rosehips by cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds with a tiny spoon or round-tipped knife. This is a labor of love that I have not had time for in years. Committed plant enthusiasts swear that once you get in a rhythm it is easy to do and well worth it.
  3. Make rosehip jelly or syrup and strain out the seeds. Read on to see my Easy Rosehip Jam recipe!
  4. Buy dried deseeded rosehips, or read on to learn how to dry your own! They can be made into a delicious jam or can be added to a variety of dishes including soups, sauces, and desserts. Add to wet ingredients or rehydrate by letting them sit with a little water so they are not hard in baked goods. You may be surprised to find that a little powdered rosehip adds depth and tartness to chili or black bean soup.  

You can purchase dried rosehips in herb stores, food coops, and online from herb distributors like Mountain Rose Herbs. Sort through them on a plate to make sure seeds and stems are removed, then grind them up into a powder in a coffee grinder. Below are some of my favorite rosehip recipes, and instructions for drying them yourself!

Drying Rosehips

Harvest rosehips in autumn when they are bright red or orange. They get sweeter after the first frost but you run the risk of them getting brown spots soon after. Pick hips on a dry day to prevent molding. They are easy to remove from the plant with a little twist. I place them in a flat basket and process them by pinching off the brown sepals. This leaves a little hole in the hip that serves as ventilation for the drying process. Leave them single layered in a basket or paper bag in a dry room with good airflow  Keep them out of direct sunlight. Move them around every day and wait until they are completely dry before placing them in a storage container like a glass jar. This can take up to 10 days. You can also deseed rosehips to dry them if you have the time.

Cranberry Rosehip Sauce

From Elizabeth Campbell (Spokane/Kalispel)

1 12 oz. bag of cranberries

1 cup apple cider (raspberry if available)

½ cup orange juice or 1 teaspoon of orange zest

        ½ cup dried deseeded rosehips, ground in coffee grinder

4–8 tablespoons honey, sugar, or other sweetener

In a medium-sized pan heat cranberries, cider, and orange juice until they come to a boil and the cranberries pop open. Stir in rosehips and sweetener. Remove from heat and let the sauce thicken as it cools. Add more cider to thin consistency if necessary.

Easy Rosehip Jam

This easy and nutritious jam only has two ingredients: dried, deseeded rosehips and apple juice. No cooking needed!   

Supplies: a coffee grinder, several plates, a bowl, a spoon, deseeded rosehips (available at herb stores, natural health food stores, and online), apple cider or apple juice, and cookies, crackers, or sliced apples for sampling. Honey, cinnamon, and vanilla extract are optional.

Spread rosehips onto several plates. After students wash their hands, have them remove any remaining seeds or stems. Grind rose hips into a fine powder in a coffee grinder and then place them in a bowl. Add apple cider or apple juice to the powder until it forms a jam consistency. Let the jam sit for 3–5 minutes and add more fluid as needed. Optional — Add honey, vanilla, or cinnamon to jam for additional flavor. Spread jam on sliced apples, crackers, or cookies, and pass out samples for students to try. You can place extra jam in a jar and refrigerate for up to two weeks.  

Rosehip Tea

Use 1 heaping teaspoon of dried rosehips per cup of boiled water and steep 15 minutes. Some people prefer to boil rosehips, which makes a stronger, darker brew. While you will lose some Vitamin C content with boiling, it may increase extraction of minerals and pectin.  

One of my favorite winter teas is “Rose Mint” – a combination of rose petals, rosehips, peppermint, and spearmint. It has a sweet and lively flavor that even dubious herbal tea drinkers enjoy. Another favorite from herbalist Elizabeth Campbell (Spokane and Kalispel) is Christmas Tree Tea—a combination of rosehips and Douglas fir needles. It’s delicious and a perfect beverage for the holidays.

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