Rose hips are the fruit of the rose, and are to be found growing wild most commonly as dog rose (Rosa canina) and field rose (Rosa arvensis). Both are large plants, trailing or arching from hedges and bushes. Both have oval, pointed leaves with serrated edges, the dog rose with flowers of pink and the field rose with white blossoms. The hips, which are red and range from large and oval/pointed to small and round, follow the flowers, and grow from August through into winter. The petals of the flower can also be used, as a perfumed garnish for a salad, a floral syrup, or (surprise!) infused into alcohol. When harvesting, beware the prickles which can be seriously sharp. And as ever, don’t use anything you haven’t identified with surety.
The hips are very high in vitamin C – indeed are one of the richest sources – and were collected by children directed by the Women’s Institute during the dark days of WW2 to supplement a diet limited by rationing. There have been studies which suggest that rose hip extract can be used to ease the pain of arthritis sufferers.
Roses are found throughout religion, myth, and folklore. The Greek poet Anacreon tells of sea foam that drips from the body of Aphrodite as she is born, which turns into white roses. Later, when she is trying to help the wounded Adonis, Aphrodite sheds blood onto a white rose, which changes it to red. The Hindu god Vishnu is said to have formed his bride, Lakshmi, from 108 large and 1,008 small rose petals. There is a tale in Islam in which the rose sprang from the perspiration of the Prophet Mohammed. It goes on; the tale of the rose is intertwined with the tales of humans throughout history, its fragrance and beauty aiding our quest to understand the world around us, and ourselves.
The rose is a member of the same family as apples, and the flavour of the hips is somewhat akin to their larger cousins. They can be used in jams, fruit leathers, tea, wine, bread, even soups. It is necessary to remove the hairs that are contained within the fruit, as they are an irritant (as any child who has dropped a handful down the t-shirt of a pal, or indeed been said pal, can attest). In this recipe, for a rose hip syrup, they are filtered out by double straining.
Rose Hip Syrup
This syrup has many uses. As a cordial it makes a refreshing soft drink. Use it in cocktails for a sweet apple flavour. Pour on ice cream. Add to sparkling wine for a wild aperitif. Make a walnut sponge cake, and when it’s taken from the oven you can prick it all over and pour on some of the syrup to soak into the cake, making it moist and fruity. Or simply take a teaspoon, straight, each morning to ward off winter sniffles.
1kg rose hips
1kg Demerara sugar
A few teaspoons of vodka
Rinse the rose hips, and chop roughly, either by hand or in a food processor. Place them in a pan along with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so, giving the hips a squash with the back of a wooden spoon every now and then. Remove from the heat and let infuse for a couple of hours. Pop a double layer of muslin (boiled first to sterilise) in a colander, sit this over a bowl, and tip the rose hip water and pulp onto the muslin. Leave, covered, overnight to drip and filter through.
The next day, set aside the filtered juice, and put the pulp back into a clean pan. Top with 1 litre of water and bring to the boil. Repeat the boiling, infusing, and straining steps as above.
When strained, pour all the juice into a pan, discarding the pulp. Bring to the boil and reduce by about a third. Add the sugar. Stir and simmer the mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat, and pour through a funnel, again lined with boiled muslin, into sterilised swing-top bottles. (Add a teaspoon of vodka to each bottle first – this will help the syrup to keep for longer.) Allow to cool with the tops undone. When cool, close the bottles and store somewhere dry for up to a year. Opened, it’ll last for a few weeks in the fridge.
If you have a cold, add a teaspoon of syrup, half a thumb of ginger (grated), and a bay leaf to freshly boiled water, and infuse for a few minutes before straining into a mug. A sip will bring the warmth and spice of late summer into the darkest winter morning.