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Rose hips are what rose flowers grow up to be: they are the fruit of the same plants in the Rosa genus that grace parks, gardens, and front yards with beautiful flowers throughout the summer. And as well as being tasty, they bring a hefty dose of vitamin C to the table.
Rose hips contain a whopping 2000 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams of fruit. That vitamin content goes down some if you expose the rose hips to heat while you are making jam or tea, but enough remains to boost your C intake. If you want to preserve as much of the vitamin content as possible, try making infused rose hip vinegar (recipe below) with the raw fruit. You can also make rose hip freezer jam with the raw hips. If you had kept an eye on any single rose this past summer, you would have noticed that once it dropped its petals the base of the former flower began to swell into a green orb. That was a rose hip in the making.
By late summer and continuing into early fall, those former roses will turn bright red or orange. Rose hip fruits range in size from as small as 1/4-inch in diameter to as large as an inch or more across. They usually have a 5-pointed “crown” on one end, and tiny hairs on the skin of the fruit. Practical foragers will stick to large-fruited species such as Rosa rugosa, a species that is frequently used on beach front properties because it is salt tolerant.
Long after the compound leaves with their odd number of leaflets have fallen to the ground, the hips of the rose will continue to cling to the prickly canes. In fact, some foragers claim they are not ready to harvest until after a few winter freezes. I think they are at their best when they are not only brightly colored but have become slightly wrinkled and soft. But you can use them anytime after they have changed color from green to a bright red or orange hue. Notice that I said “prickly,” not “thorny.”
Technically, roses don’t have thorns, they have prickles. The difference is that true thorns come out of the wood of the plant (think hawthorn), whereas prickles come from the outer layers and break off easily. I notice many rose plants are still blooming where I live this fall. The petals are edible, but only interesting if they are fragrant: no fragrance equals no flavor.
If you do find an especially fragrant rose, make rose petal honey. Simply mince some of the fresh petals and stir them into some local honey, using about 2 parts honey to 1 part minced rose petals. The honey will preserve the rose aroma. This confection is popular in Greece where it is used like jam. Note: Do not use roses from a florist because they have almost certainly been sprayed with chemicals (and anyway, most commercially grown roses aren't very aromatic).
Rose leaves can be used to make tea. Avoid those that have black spot, a fungal disease very common on roses in our climate. Choose healthy-looking, green leaves and brew them fresh or dried just as you would ordinary tea. Rose leaf tea doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, but it is high in tannins, which gives the tea a similar mouth feel to black tea. I like to combine rose leaves with something more flavorful, such as mint or lemon balm.
Rose Hip Vinegar RecipeThis vinegar is not only good for you because of its vitamin C content, it is also very tasty in sweet and sour sauces, marinades, and salad dressings (especially for sweetish ingredients such as apple and cabbage slaw). Wash the rose hips and smash them by either mashing with a potato masher or the bottom of a wine bottle (carefully). You can also just pulse them a few times in a food processor. Put the rose hips into a clean glass jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Use 2 cups of cider vinegar for every cup of smashed rose hips. Cover and leave to infuse for 1 month. Be sure you’ve got your rose hip vinegar infusing in a location away from direct light or heat (not in your kitchen window or over the radiator, okay?). Strain the vinegar through a paper coffee filter or clean muslin cloth to get out the seeds and little hairs (you can use those cloth produce bags the Park Slope Food Coop sells). Transfer your rose hip vinegar to a clean bottle, cap or cork, and store in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.
Leda Meredith teaches foraging and food preservation skills internationally. You can find out about her upcoming classes and her books, watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and find her food preservation recipes and tips.