A rose hip forms below the flower and ripens to a shiny, hard, round or elongated red or orange seed container. The remains of the flower persist on the end opposite the stem. Hips range in size from 1/4 inch or less across to about an inch across in the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) and the sweetbriar (R. rubiginosa). (Rosebushes that are deadheaded never develop hips, of course.) Hips are full of seeds, but the larger ones also contain pulp, which is the part used for food and medicine.
Rose hips are a superb source of vitamin C; they contain twenty times as much vitamin C as an orange of the same volume. Besides being used to prevent or treat scurvy, hips have been used to treat coughs, colds, and digestive disorders. In China, the hips of the Cherokee rose (R. laevigata), an Asiatic species naturalized in the southeastern United States, are used as a kidney tonic and to treat urinary dysfunction. With licorice, yam, and other herbs, they are also prescribed for chronic diarrhea with stomach weakness.
Gathering hips for food
Roses grow wild in every state except Hawaii as well as in gardens. The hips are ready to pick as soon as they have attained their mature color. They become sweeter when light frosts convert some of the starches to sugar but can taste unpleasant if allowed to freeze solid and then thaw and soften. Avoid rose hips that may have been sprayed or contaminated by toxins from automobile exhaust. If you are not certain that the bushes are free of harmful chemicals, buy dried hips from a health food store instead of picking your own.
Processing rose hips
To preserve their vitamin C content, keep rose hips cool after picking and process them as soon as possible, either by stewing, drying, or freezing.
Wash the hips and cut off the stems and blossoms. Cook them, covered, in a nonreactive pot over low heat. Aluminum pots and utensils can react with the acid in the hips, resulting in a metallic taste.
You can also freeze fresh hips in plastic bags after washing them and cutting off the ends.
To extract the juice of rose hips for use in jams and jellies, wash the hips, remove the blossom ends and stems, and simmer them in water to cover for 15 minutes. Steep, covered, for 24 hours, then strain. Use the strained juice immediately or freeze it for as long as a year.
Preparing dried rose hips
Dried rose hips, found in health food stores, are either whole or cut-and-sifted (dried seeded). All store-bought rose hips contain pits, which must be discarded. The pit bits left in cut-and-sifted rose hips look like small apple seeds. Those in whole dried rose hips are harder to remove because the pulp is stuck to them. Don’t bother to pick them out if you will be straining the mixture later anyway. For other recipes, first simmer the hips briefly until tender or pour boiling water over them and steep for at least 15 minutes; then press the pulp through a food mill.
When using whole hips that have been simmered and seeded in recipes, measure the proper amount after simmering but before seeding.
Drying rose hips
Wash large hips, cut off blossom and stem ends, cut in half, remove the seeds, spread the seeded hips on trays, and dry in an oven or dehydrator set at 110°F until the hips are hard and brittle. Dry small hips whole or sliced but without removing the seeds. When thoroughly dry, store the hips in airtight jars. (If not dry enough, they will mold and must be thrown out.)
When ready to use the hips, cover them with water and simmer until soft. Strain out any seeds and use the pulp to make jam or jelly, alone or with fruit such as apples or cranberries.
—Adapted with permission from The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery (Sasquatch Books, 1994).
Frontier Natural Products Co-op, 3021 78th St., PO Box 229, Norway, IA 52318; (800) 669-3275; www.frontiercoop.com; catalog free. Whole and cut-and-sifted rose hips.
High Country Roses, PO Box 148, Jensen, UT 84035; (800) 552-2082; www.high countryroses.com; catalog free. More than 200 varieties of hardy roses.
Roses of Yesterday & Today, 803 Brown’s Valley Rd., Watsonville, CA 95076; (831) 728-1901; www.rosesofyesterday.com; catalog on-line. Old, rare, and unusual roses.
Rachel Albert-Matesz of Toledo, Ohio, teaches whole-foods classes and writes about food and nutrition.