Rosehips are the fruit of the wild rose shrub and while the summer flowers are edible, the true foraging jewel is the hips which are an abundant sight from autumn to early winter. Admittedly, they’re not the friendliest of fruit to gather. TIP: Never wear your favourite wool jumper when picking rosehips. The thorns will have a laugh, proceed to teach you a ten-minute untangling lesson, and turn your jumper back into a ball of yarn.
And let’s not get started on the laborious preparation job to avoid getting a bad case of the mouth itches (see ‘known hazards’ below). Itchy feelings aside, we don’t want to put you off these bright scarlet wonders, they are well worth the effort for the rich, sweet syrup they produce. It has an incredible flavour that no commercial products can rival. Just think cranberries on floral steroids.
Besides their unique flavouring skills, there is another very good reason to hold them in high esteem – they’re incredibly good for you! One rosehip possesses ten times more vitamin C than that of an orange. It was for this reason, around five hundred tonnes of rosehips were collected, made into syrup and distributed as nutritional aid by the Ministry of Health during the Second World War.
In our eyes, the rosehip has to be one of the best wild fruits out there. AND their season is coming to an end. So get outside, find nature’s closest supply and stock up.
Seasonal period: Mid-autumn to early winter
Where to find them: Hedgerows, woodlands, parks, motorway verges, wasteland, canals and rivers.
How to recognise: There are a number of wild rose varieties the most common is the dog rose (Rosa canine), and can be found everywhere from hedgerows to wasteland. The deciduous plant is a 1 to 3 m high shrub with arching stems and curved prickles. The leaves are pinnate with toothed margins. The flowers are are usually pale pink, but can vary between a deep pink and white, have prominent sepals that eventually grow into bright orange-red hips, which are 1–2cm long, shiny and smooth.
The apple or Japanese rose (Rosa rugos) is a dense shrub which can grow 2m tall. It has a very sharp set of prickles and dark green, leathery leaves. The dark pink to white flowers are cup-shaped and very fragrant. The large orange-red hips that look somewhat like cherry tomatoes, and said to be the tastiest of all the hips, are around 2.5cm wide.
The burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) is a short shrub, around 1m high, with straight prickles and bristles. The flowers are a creamy white and sometimes pale pink. The little 0.5–2cm long leaves are pinnate with toothed margins. The hips are blackish-purple in colour.
Harvesting: The best time to harvest rosehips is after the first frost. Frost helps sweeten the flavour. However, if you can’t wait, just pop them in the freezer for a couple of days before use. They should be firm to touch and look shiny, smooth and bright in colour.
Cleaning, preparing and storing: It is possible to use whole, fresh rosehips but we highly recommend removing the seeds and irritating hairs before eating them.
To do this: Trim off the stem and blossom ends with a pair of scissors or small knife. Hold securely and slice in half, then remove the inner seeds. Once this is done, rinse the hips under cold water and prepare as you choose.
To store: Pop them in the freezer or dry them out and store them in a dark cupboard for later use.
Cooking: Rosehips can be used for a wide range of things from jellies and jams, to soup, wine and a wonderful rosehip liqueur. The most common use for rosehips is to simmer them (fresh or dry) into a tea or turn them into the famous syrup (see recipes below).
With its rich and complex sweetness, the syrup is a wonderful flavouring for just about anything; from ice-cream, chocolates (see recipe below) and desserts. It can be used to flavour dressings, vinaigrettes, oils and salads. Pairs beautifully with chicken and fish.
Medicinal uses: As well as being used for its high vitamin C content, rosehips are also used for all sort of stomach disorders including spasms, acid deficiency, and ulcers. They are also used for diarrhoea, constipation, lower urinary tract and kidney disorders, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chest ailments, fever, quenching thirst… and the list goes on. You name it, they can lend a helpful medicinal hand.
Know hazards: The unfriendly thorns + the seeds and short itching hairs that you do not want to go anywhere near your mouth. So alway remember to wear thick gloves when picking and take the time to properly prepare before popping one into your mouth.
Responsible foraging: Unless you are 100% sure of what it is and 100% sure that it is edible, DON’T EAT IT! Harvest only what you need from healthy shrubs. Consider pesticides, herbicides, pollutions and dog pee. Think about all that could, might and will have drifted onto your plants and pick wisely. Always read the foraging rules in your local parks and green spaces, and if you’re foraging on farms or private properties, be sure to get permission from the landowner before you start picking. Leave some on the bush to share with foraging birds.