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.