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Rose Hips


It’s rose hip season.

In fact, it will be rose hip season well into winter for all but the coldest climates. Rose hips only get better with frost: their red color deepens, their flavor sweetens, the texture of the flesh gets softer.

The rose hips in the picure are from Rosa californica, our native wild rose. They have prickles coming out of their skins, a fact that was really brought home to me the first time I tried to collect them. Those prickles lodge nastily and persistently in the pads of your thumb and fingers.

For a while, I tried using Blue Mule gloves for picking rose hips, but it was just too awkward. I finally evolved a system of holding my bucket under the rose hips and snipping off the cluster with scissors.


Why was I going through all this trouble? Well, rose  hips are one of the better sources of vitamin C (and its bioflavinoids) around,  and the tea they make is pretty and tasty as well as healthful. When you make it with fresh hips, rose hip tea comes up a pretty orange-rose, and tastes a bit like weak Red Zinger. With dried hips, the brew is a little browner, but still gives you a lot of the benefits.

In World War II, Britain’s children gathered rose hips to use as a supplement when oranges and other sources of vitamin C were no longer available. In Sweden, rose hip soup  is a traditional dish which probably helped stave off scurvy in long winters. (It may still do that, but Swedes have more resources to choose from, now.)

If you pick prickly-hipped roses (not all of them are), eventually you have to deal with the prickles. If you’re just making rose hip tea, you can pretty much just drop them in simmering water (and once the hips dry, the prickles seem to retract into the wrinkles).  Rose hips need simmering (not boiling, but simmering) for about ten minutes, covered, to make a decent tea. Then you can strain the hips out. If you have prickly roses, I recommend using an old net curtain, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter, so you won’t get any surprises while you’re drinking.

There are many roses whose hips aren’t protected by prickles – a lot of the hybrid tea roses most people plant nowadays are like this. But the real queens of big smooth hips  are rugosa roses, the once-blooming roses with deeply-etched leaves.

While rugosa roses are imports from Asia, they’ve naturalized on some coasts in the NE U.S., and elsewhere: they are very hardy to wind and weather, and not fussy about soil. Old-fashioned rose fanciers like them in gardens.  If you’re lucky enough to live near where someone grows them, or in an area where they grow wild, these would be the optimum rose hips. Wherever you gather them, you will want to make sure they haven’t been sprayed with something deadly earlier in the season. (One of the big advantages to rugosa roses is that they are a hardy breed: they don’t require the sprays and coddling that a lot of modern roses do.)

I once painstakingly (I was using the wild rose hips, so the word is apt) made applesauce flavored with cooked rose hips. I had intended to make rose hip jam,  but  I decided I needed to dilute the rose hips with something easier to work with. I got the prickles out of the hips by pressing the cooked mash of them against a large strainer lined with an old net curtain and squeezing out about a tablespoon at a time of smooth bright orange-red paste. The applesauce/rose hip combination was a beautiful pale-peachy-rose color, tasted divine, and in my opinion, worked fine as (rather runny) jam.

There’s something magical and satisfying about going into the garden or the woods or the spare lot and gathering exotic food. Roses have all kinds of beauty to nourish us with; try taking advantage of this one.


{ 11 comments… add one }

  • tina November 21, 2009, 5:41 pm

    They are beautiful. I bet they will go a long way toward keeping you and yours most healthy after all that work of making rose hip tea. When I lived in Maine rose hips on the rugosas were a given. I rarely see them here in Tennessee though.

  • Karen - An Artist's Garden November 22, 2009, 1:38 am

    There is a belief that rosehips also help with joint problems – with the hips from rosa rugosa being the best ones to use.
    Interesting post Pomona

  • Genevieve November 22, 2009, 10:09 am

    Oh, love this post Pomona… I would love to make rose hip tea one of these days – fresh from the garden, I mean – I make it with dried ones from the health food store.

    Unfortunately many of my clients use systemic insecticides around their roses and even though Rugosas don’t need any of that nonsense, I’m always worried they will have gotten some from their neighboring plants. Ick!

    I love the flavor of rose hips, though, and they are a nutritional powerhouse.

  • Pomona Belvedere November 22, 2009, 8:19 pm

    Hello fellow rose-hip lovers! I was interested to hear about the use of rose hips for joint pain, hadn’t heard that one before. Sour cherries, yes, but not rose hips.

    So sad about not being able to use the rugosas for their hips, Genevieve. I hope you can slowly educate people out of poisoning their roses, but I can see how it could be a delicate operation.

  • lostlandscape(James) November 22, 2009, 9:45 pm

    The photo of the rosehips lighting up the rose thicket is really beautiful. Another great use for rose hips: to decorate your rosebushes! I’ve never grown rugosas, but my book-learning tells me that they also have the added bonus of being quite drought-tolerant. I’d be curious to know how they stack up against R. californica or some of the other natives.

  • Pomona Belvedere November 23, 2009, 11:47 am

    Because I have such a small sunny area I’ve reluctantly culled rugosas from my rose list. I do have Mme Hardy as my representative once-blooming (nonwild) rose, though, and have grown other species of once-bloomers in the past. My experience and research shows that you can treat most once-bloomers a notch above Calif. natives; that is, like natives, they need watering in for a year or two, but in my experience to do well they really do need some watering throughout the growing season. Not a lot, maybe like a tender sage or something. Once they flower, their main business is done for the year, so they don’t require as much juice as repeat- or ever-blooming ones.

  • Brent November 23, 2009, 1:31 pm

    Nice post! I tried rose hip tea last year with my son using R. californica gathered from a nearby lot, but it didn’t work out. I suppose it hadn’t become cold enough when I gathered them for the full flavor to develop.

  • Alice Joyce November 24, 2009, 10:50 am

    I haven’t seen you on twitter lately, and wondered how things are since you mentioned you’d be moving?
    A friend of mine looks forward to preparing rose hips jelly each year.
    Sadly, I’m without hips! Roses removed from my every more sun-less plot.
    Wishing you a lovely Turkey Day :-)

  • Daffodil Planter November 24, 2009, 3:11 pm

    Alice’s comment really caught my eye. I wish I were without hips.

    Sunny day so I’ll dash out and check my roses to see if I can follow in your petal-strewn footsteps.

  • Pomona Belvedere November 29, 2009, 6:55 pm

    Brent, I’m wondering if you guys cooked the hips long enough – it’s almost like making soup, you have to simmer them 10 or 15 minutes to get a real flavor . But you’re right, the frost helps, too.

    Alice, I can relate to the lack of sun. And thanks for the good Thanksgiving wishes.

    DP, you don’t really mean you want to be without hips…Miko would reprimand you for that comment I’m sure. How was your tea?

  • Matt January 29, 2010, 5:52 pm

    I heard rather recently that these are edible, I’ll put them on my foraging list for tea now

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