What do red bell peppers, broccoli, and papayas have in common? They’re uber sources of vitamin C. But there’s another source of vitamin C. Here’s a hint: It’s located right at our doorstep.
Where can you find rose hips? Not at the grocery store. Go outside. Now look for rugosa rose bushes. You know, the bushes that blessed us this summer with pink and luxuriously fragrant, palm-sized blooms. These very bushes are now ablaze with red and orange rose hips.
Rose hips, also known as haw or rose hep, is the edible fruit of a rose. They are loaded with vitamin C. In fact, they are one of the richest plant sources available. Two medium-sized rose hips (or one of the larger hips) have more vitamin C than a medium orange. Amazing. Plus, they contain vitamins A, B, E and the minerals calcium, iron, and phosphorus.
What is vitamin C? Sometimes called ascorbic acid, this vitamin supports your immune system. Big time. It also helps your body use the iron you intake from food. Your body also uses Vitamin C to make collagen. That’s the springy type of connective tissue that makes up parts of your body and helps heal wounds. Oh, and it’s an antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage. We need between 75 and 90 milligrams per day. FYI: A medium orange has about 70 milligrams, but many other foods are good sources, too.
Roses and their fruit “hips” have a long tradition of medicinal use. And it’s no wonder. There’s a saying that roses in general are good for “the skin and the soul.”
During World War II, when German submarines were sinking commercial ships, it was difficult to import citrus fruits into parts of Europe. The people of Britain were encouraged through letters to The Times newspaper, articles in the British Medical Journal, and pamphlets produced by Claire Loewenfeld, a dietitian working for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, to gather wild rose hips to make a vitamin C syrup for children.
Can you see that happening these days, making syrup from wild plants to improve the health of our children?
In China, the hips are known as jin ying zi and are mainly used as a kidney chi (energy) tonic, an astringent prescribed for urinary problems.
What do rose hips taste like: They have a tangy, yet sweet flavor. A little on the rich side, I think. If you haven’t tried one, find a bush and with a gentle twist of the hand, pick a hip and bite into it. Then take a moment to admire the different colors: Ruby-red on the outside. Salmon-orange on the inside.
So, all this talk of wild food, what can you do with rose hips? Lots. Rose hips can be used in a wide variety of dishes, including syrups, preserves (rose hip catsup is superb) jams (my favorite is rose hip-orange marmalade), jellies, teas (often mixed with hibiscus), sauces, breads, pancakes, muffins, and desserts.
And, wouldn’t you know it, fall is the best time for gathering rose hips. Here are some tips on how to collect and use these tasty tidbits.
Gather rose hips after they turn bright orange or red, or after they’ve been kissed by frost. To dry hips, spread them on a cookie sheet. Place them in an oven set on the lowest setting. Better yet, use a dehydrator. Or simply put them in a dark, well-ventilated area. After drying, store them in glass jars in a dark, cool place.
To prepare rose hips for tea, cut off the bloom stem, cut the hip in half (and again in quarters, if large), and scrape out the seeds and hairy pith. This can be very tedious with tiny hips, so save the small hips for jellies. (Rose hips used for jellies don’t need to be seeded or scraped.) Janice Schofield, author of Discovering Wild Plants, says most people prefer to de-seed their rose hips, but it’s not absolutely necessary. A half and half mixture of rose hip juice and apple juice makes a tasty jelly.
When dried, use rose hips in place of raisins. Bake them in banana bread or sprinkle them on top of oatmeal. And for a unique dessert, jazz up your next pumpkin, apple or rhubarb pie by replacing some of the pumpkin with pulp made from rose hips. Here’s a recipe for Rose Hip Nut Bread, adapted from the classic book, “Cooking Alaskan”:
ROSE HIP NUT BREAD
Rose Hip Nut Bread
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup seeded and chopped rose hips
2 TBL melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, slightly beaten
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts, sesame or sunflower seeds
In a large bowl, mix the first six ingredients. Sift together dry ingredients and blend with wet mixture, stirring only until moistened. Fold in nuts or seeds and spoon into a greased, 5x8-inch bread pan, muffin tins or 9x9-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour (less for muffins and 9x9 pan).
If you don’t have time to make jelly, bread, or sauce, freeze the hips for later. Simply gather your rose hips, clean them and either chop them or put them in a pan with a little water and cook them gently until soft.
There you go. Roses aren’t just beautiful to photograph and smell during the summer. They’re incredibly edible, all year.
GARDEN JOB JAR
1. Plant garlic cloves for next year’s harvest.
2. Make compost from leaves, kelp and fresh grass clippings.
3. Begin the process of drying out geraniums, begonias, fuchsias, and other plants you want to overwinter.
4. Trim back (to the ground) yellowed bleeding heart and other perennials.
5. Get serious about drying tomatoes and making green tomato salsa.
6. Be bear aware. Don’t leave smokers (fish, not humans) outside. Place all wet and potentially “fragrant” garbage in plastic bags (and tie them off) before setting them in roll carts or dumpsters.