Hedgerow Harvest: Rosehip
Although I will miss looking out of my kitchen window and seeing those lovely red hips, I’ve decided it is time to harvest.
Rosehips grow on the Rosa canina shrub, also known as Dog-rose. It’s a wild rose i.e. it’s not cultivated like the more decorative versions which are common in gardens, grows in a variety of wasteland habitats, and is a native deciduous shrub. The name is derived from the Latin for dog, which may refer to the thorns, sharp-toothed leaves or perhaps due to the ancient belief that the root was a cure for rabies.
The orange red berries or hips owe their colour to the high content of carotenoids and can be anything from round to oblong shaped. They are ripe from September onwards although traditionally you should wait for the first frosts to soften them. Nowadays we can freeze them for 24 hours to advance the process. We’ve already had a couple of mild frosts here in Sussex so I’m going to pick and then freeze the ones that are still hard. Miles Irving reckons this creates a richer flavour, creating a soft and sticky flesh. There are a few similar species such as Rosa rugosa and Rosa arvensis which are also edible, however canina is the tastiest.
Rosehips were highly prized during the Second World War when it was realised that they contained 20 times the amount of vitamin C compared to oranges. As a result, they were picked on an industrial scale to make a vitamin C rich syrup, a vitally needed supplement at that time. Richard Mabey describes them as “the star of one of the great success stories of wild food use” as “the only completely wild fruit to have supported a national commercial enterprise – the production of rosehip syrup”. It does have a history dating back much further to the middle ages and most probably beyond that as well.
The hips should not be eaten straight from the bush as they contain tiny, irritant hairs which can become a choking hazard if not processed correctly (please see the recipe below for a guide to preparation). The vitamin C is in the fruit, but the seeds have also become popular for skincare in recent years due to their trans-retinoic acid which acts as a natural form of retinol, providing a fantastic anti-ageing treatment to speed up cell turnover, improving the look of scars, burns, discolouration and eczema. I recommend ensuring that the oil has been cold pressed rather than obtained by solvent extraction and always use organic if you can.
There are a multitude of products you can make with Rosehip fruit as well as syrup, for example, jam, jellies and even soup. I’ve included a syrup recipe below which is from Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s River Cottage website.
Sterilise a couple of bottles and vinegar-proof screw-tops or stoppers by washing thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinsing well, then putting them on a tray in a low oven (at 120°C/Gas 1⁄2) to dry out and heat up.
Roughly chop the rosehips in a food processor in batches, then transfer to a large saucepan and add 1.25 litres water.
Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for around 15 minutes.
Strain through a double layer of muslin, letting the pulp sit for a good half hour so that all the juice passes through.
Wash out the muslin, or cut a fresh piece, fold to double it and pass the strained juice through it again.
Measure the rosehip juice into a large saucepan.
For every 500ml, add 325g sugar.
Heat slowly, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and boil for 3 minutes, skimming off any scum if necessary.
Decant immediately into the prepared bottles and seal.
Label when the bottles have cooled completely.
Use within 4 months and refrigerate once opened.
Try it for breakfast trickled over porridge, pancakes, drop scones or eggy bread; use it to sweeten plain yoghurt (with some chopped apple); it’s lovely trickled on hot or cold rice pudding or vanilla ice cream and it can be used on almost any desert or diluted as a drink.