Rose hips glow like rubies in the fading colors of autumn. They are red to orange colored, round and fleshy – pregnant with a belly of seeds. These tiny jewels bestow a wealth of medicine to those who take time to harvest them. They are easy to dry in baskets or paper bags. Make them into a delicious tea that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Identifying and Using Rosehips
Most rose plants have hips that are useable including all of our northwest native roses, rugosa rose, cabbage roses and heirloom varieties. 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 spring 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 bright colored petals, fragrance and sweet nectar. And why do they do this? One reason is that they need pollinators to reproduce – a common urge across species.
Wild roses have five petals, while garden varieties can have numerous rows of petals. All rose flowers share similar characteristics in the center of the petals. They have a single thick pistol right in the middle (female part), surrounded by many thin stamens (male part). Each stamen has a little sack of pollen at the tip. The top of the pistol has a sticky bulb that can catch pollen. This narrows into a tube that leads down into an ovary. The ovary has several compartments that are filled with ovules.
Let’s get some action. A bee flies into the center of a rose to drink nectar. While taking in the sweetness, its fur rubs against the pollen-filled sacks on the stamens and then brushes pollen on the tip of the pistol. Microscopic pollen grains travel down the tube and into the ovaries where they fertilize the ovules. These swell into seeds.
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 orange to red and 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.
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. 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 these options:
Pretend you are a squirrel and gingerly eat the red fleshy part from the outside while avoiding the seeds. My 3-year old 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.
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. Friends, including herbalist Heidi Bohan, swear that once you get in a rhythm it is easy to do and well worth it.
Make rosehip jelly or syrup and strain out the seeds. You can find some great recipes online or in herbal books.
Buy dried deseeded rosehips. These 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 mixing with a little water so they are not hard in baked goods. You may be surprised to find that powdered rosehips add 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. I like to grind them up into a fine powder in a coffee grinder before using them in cooking. Here are two of my favorite rosehip recipes:
Cranberry Rosehip Relish
1 12oz. bag of cranberries
1 cup fresh rosehips or 1/2 cup of dried rosehips (cleaned, seeds removed)
The juice of 1 orange
Honey, agave nectar or sugar added to desired sweetness
In a medium-sized pan gently heat cranberries, rosehips and orange juice until the cranberries and rosehips are soft and cooked. Add honey or other sweetener to taste. You will be surprised at how much you need to add to counteract the bitterness and tartness of the cranberry. Let the relish cool before serving it and keep refrigerated for up to several weeks.
Easy Rosehip Jam
I originally learned this recipe from Tracy Bosnian and Cascade Anderson Geller about 15 years ago, and it has become part of my family’s regular cuisine. It is one of the easiest and most delicious recipes I know!
- Spread rosehips out onto a plate and remove any remaining seeds or stems.
- Grind rosehips into a fine powder in a coffee grinder.
- Add apple cider or apple juice to the powder until it forms a jam consistency. Let sit 5 minutes and add more fluid as needed.
- Optional – Add honey or other sweetener to taste.
- Place in a jar and serve immediately or refrigerate.
Use as a spread on fruit, bread, cakes or cookies. This will last two weeks when refrigerated, and you can also freeze it. Rosehip jam is a tasty way to deliver Vitamin C to your family during the cold season. You can modify the recipe by adding cinnamon powder, vanilla, orange peel and other spices. You can also add other juices like raspberry or tart cherry concentrate.
Rosehip Seeds – Itching Powder?
One day a group of summer youth interns and I were deseeding rosehips at the Skokomish Healing Garden. My friend Sonja Gee shared that when she was growing up in Germany kids would make an itching powder by grinding up the seeds of rosehips and then sprinkle it down other children’s shirts. We all got a laugh out of this, but a week later the director of the program was reaching up on the top of refrigerator and found a cookie sheet of drying rosehips that the youth had sneaked past us. Luckily, it did not drop all over her!
Rosehip Seed Oil
A few years ago I discovered rosehip seed oil as an ingredient for making lotion, salve and skin oil. While this is not something we can make at home, I have totally fallen in love with it and incorporate it into my cosmetics. I have purchased it from Aubrey Organics, Mountain Rose Herbs and Majestic Mountain Sage. Much of what is on the market comes from Chile, where rose has been a beloved medicine since time immemorial. Chileans have pressed wild rose seeds to extract the oil for many generations. It has historically been used for healing skin problems, reducing aging spots and wrinkles, and hydrating dry skin. Science has confirmed this traditional knowledge. Rosehip seed oil is high in Vitamins A an E along with essential fatty acids. It can be used directly on the skin or it can be added to other cosmetics.
Rosehips are so loaded with nutrients that they can be considered a super food. They contain the Vitamins A, B complex, C, E, K and minerals including calcium, silica, iron and phosphorous. Rosehips are particularly high in bioflavenoid rich antioxidants including rutin that help 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 Scandanavia 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.
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.
Use 1 heaping teaspoon of 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 Vitamin C content with boiling, it may increase extraction of minerals and pectin.
See the post on Wild Rose Flower for more information about northwest roses