A guest post by Shawna Paoli, Certified Herbalist
There’s good reason as to why the British government organized the harvesting of as many rose hips as possible by the public when they experienced a shortage of citrus fruits during WWII. Approximately 134,000,000 hips were collected by school teachers, boy scouts, girl guides and other voluntary organizations as an alternative source of Vitamin C. And, that isn’t their only claim to fame. Scandinavian folklore suggests that the Vikings were fueled by rose hips; the aggregate fruit of the rose, a flower which has long stood as a symbol of love, beauty and femininity. That paints a drastically different picture of the Vikings than the one you’ve always envisioned, huh? (Sorry Viking’s fans). Aside from this fun rose- “hip-story”, rose hips have rich ethnobotanical history in Native American culture and throughout Northern Europe.
Most consider a rose hip the “fruit” of a rose bush, but technically the fruits are the seeds (or achenes) inside the sweet, red, outer flesh, which is called the hypanthium in botany. The hypanthium is the desired, enjoyable part of the rose hip that is most commonly eaten and has a slightly sweet, tart taste reminiscent of apple. There are lots of different species and varieties of both wild and cultivated roses, and not all are created equal. Some are much larger and easier to work with, like the cultivated species Rosa rugosa, and some are much smaller, seedier, and hairier inside making them less desirable for processing and consumption.
Rose hips are also called “rosehaws”. They’re in the Rosaceae family, a large family with many subfamilies and unique characteristics, thus making a rose family member easy to identify, particularly so if it’s a rose bush! Typical of all rose family plants, rose bushes are prickly to thorny, have 5 sepals, 5 petals, numerous stamens, numerous styles, and usually serrated, oval leaves. Rose bushes can stand as tall as you or higher with pinnately compound leaves. The flowers are light pink to red and the leaves are astringent from tannic acid.
Herbalists use this fun acronym to remember one of the rose family’s useful properties: ARFA- Another Rose Family Astringent. Most wild roses stay pretty low in elevation, in foothills and meadows, but the Nootka rose tends to grow a little higher in the mountains. When identifying, don’t worry about differentiating between species. The key is to make sure it’s a rose bush!
Some of our common, local, Western Montana species include:
“Nature knows best how to organize.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Rose hips are chocked full of beneficial constituents. They contain: tannins, invert sugars, pectin, malic acid, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), calcium, flavonoids (quercetin, rutin, hesperidin, kaempferol), sulfur, alpha-tocopherol, carotenoids, lycopene, xanthophyll, zeaxanthin, polyphenols, chromium, selenium, sodium, thiamine, tin, crude fiber, dietary fiber, calcium, fat, phosphorus, cobalt, iron, magnesium, potassium, silicon, zinc, Vitamins A, B, E, K, amino acids and essential oils10,11,12 to be specific.
You would lose an argument with an herbalist if you were arguing that nature does NOT create the best package deals. . . well at least you would with me. The rose hip is the perfect example of this. The coolest thing about Vitamin C from food based sources is its synergy with flavonoids, which are naturally found in food, right beside Vitamin C. Flavonoids enhance the absorption of Vitamin C in our bodies when taken together and have other benefits of their own.
One clinical study on rose hips show they have anti-oxidant, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic effects6. Another study shows that Rosa canina extracts were effective on growth inhibition and biofilm formation in methicillin resistant staphylococcus aures (MRSA)3. In more studies, Dogrose hips were found to have astringent, vitamisant, coloagogue, chloretic, diuretic, anti-diarrhea and anti-oxidant properties. They also have anti-diabetic properties due to their monosaccharaides, oligosaccharides and pectins4. In a randomized double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial, rose hip extract decreased abdominal visceral fat in pre-obese subjects and a powder made from the seeds and shells of rose hip species R. canina, reduced symptoms of knee and hip osteo-arthritis and consumption of rescue medication in patients5.
All of this, and you can harvest them for free! So why not rose hips?
Vitamin C is one of the body’s most important and powerful anti-oxidants. It helps to regenerate other important anti-oxidants like Vitamin E (found in rose hip seeds!) and Glutathione. Free radicals can cause mutations and harm to DNA, but anti-oxidants, like Vitamin C, block free radicals and have the ability to destroy them. Vitamin C also plays a big role in collagen synthesis, supports the structural integrity and healing of connective tissues, supports immune function and when taken in unison with iron, increases iron absorption.
If you want to best preserve the C, then make an alcohol extract. Alcohol extracts generally capture the herb’s largest spectrum of constituents, don’t ruin the Vitamin C and are convenient and quickly absorbed. You can use the folk method by just chopping up your hips, stuffing them into a jar and covering them with vodka or ethyl-alcohol. You can also use the method listed below under how to make an alcohol tincture. If you can’t do alcohol or want to make a more kid friendly tincture, you can also use vegetable glycerin.
When processing, keep in mind that Vitamin C is water soluble and very reactive to light, oxygen, and heat. Studies show that Vitamin C content also lowers when frozen. Take note that the tiny hairs on the seeds have irritated some people’s GI tract, but it isn’t a problem for most.
You may have seen rose hip seed oil on a shelf in a beauty or health food store; that’s because rose hip seeds are high in Vitamin E, an anti-oxidant that’s know for reducing wrinkles and healing scars. Rose petals are also great for the skin, and have been used in lots of facial and body care products throughout history.
One fun thing you could do with rose hips is make an herbal infused beauty oil to use alone or to make a plethora of things, like a salve, lotion or lip balm. To do this, simply blend 1 part fresh rose hips (seeds included for Vitamin E, unless really hairy) with 3 parts carrier oil of your choice until blender is warm to the touch. Then pour into a jar and let sit for one month with a paper towel or cheesecloth secured around the top so any moisture can evaporate. Strain very well to avoid collecting little seed hairs in your oil. Make note that the Vitamin C you’ll find in beauty in stores has most likely already oxidized or will oxidize in the sun. Avoid applying rose hip oil to the face and other places that will see lots of sun exposure soon after application. You can use this technique with any other fresh herb. Try rose petals for an extra luxurious face oil. Always store your herbal oils in a dark, dry, cool place.
Traditionally, a tea was made from rose hips for both internal and external use. The Scandinavians also made famous fruit soups featuring hips. During WWII, the British pressed hips in pills and made syrups, which acted as a Vitamin C supplement. There are lots of different, delicious ways to process rose hips. Like Euell Gibbons said, “The rose hip is a fruit, and not a bad fruit either, so why make a disagreeable medicine out of it?” Here is my favorite recipe for a raw jam that utilizes the naturally occurring pectin in rose hips:
Raw Rose Hip Jam (modified from Northwest School of Botanical Medicine)
You will need the herb (preferably fresh), a jar, a scale, a knife or herb grinder and a menstruum (the combination of liquid used in extraction). You can use ethyl-alcohol (etoh) such as Everclear, vodka, or vegetable glycerin as your menstruum. Since Vitamin C is water soluble, you’ll want to tincture at 95%. (95% stands for your total alcohol or glycerin and the remaining 5% is water. We don’t do 100% alcohol because we need a little water to extract the Vitamin C.)
1 part hips by weight : 2 parts alcohol by volume
To Make a tincture:
Chop or grind your fresh rose hips (it’s okay to leave seeds in). Weigh the hips, then determine your total menstruum and use 95% etoh (5% H20), jar together, cap, shake if desired. Macerate for 2-4 weeks, then strain and press marc (spent herb) if you have a press, or just use a muslin bag or cheesecloth and squeeze with clean hands. . Store your tincture in a cool, dry, dark place, preferably in a blue or amber bottle. Take the tincture by itself, or throw it in smoothies, juice, or whatever else you can conjure. There are some really neat recipes out there for collagen gelatin squares (a healthier, more natural take on JELL-O) to which you could add the tincture for picky eaters and those looking for extra connective tissue support.
Harvest the hips when bright red in late summer and through the winter. Contact whoever manages or owns the land to find out if the area has been sprayed. If they are private owners, always ask permission before you harvest. Michael Moore says the best hips are those that are plentiful and the darkest red-wine in color. Its commonly known that harvesting rose hips after a frost is best because freezing makes them sweeter, but it can also lower their Vitamin C content. Studies have shown that the higher the elevation you harvest, the higher Vitamin C content the hips will contain. Be sure to bring a basket or bag and some gloves, as rose family plants are thorny. And, only harvest from intact ecosystems. If you’re new to wildcrafting, make sure you read up on ethical wildcrafting practices. Here are a few good ones to get you started: always pack out garbage, fill your holes, replant seeds and root segments, never take too much or more than you need and follow your intuition.
Thanks for reading! Stay “hip”!
Graduate of Green Path Herb School’s 2015 Herbalist Certification Program, guest teacher and owner of a natural topical remedies company, Old Friend Herbal Remedies, Shawna Paoli is a passionate herbalist and wild food enthusiast. She has been fascinated by plants and the natural world since day one. She has taken this fascination and is slowly building a career in the herb world at a pace that fits her active lifestyle and allows her to reap the most from this beautiful life on this beautiful planet. When she’s not lapping the bowls at Montana Snowbowl on her snowboard in the winter, she’s formulating, concocting and experimenting with topical herbal applications and harvesting, learning and teaching about plants in Missoula, MT. Follow Shawna on Instagram and Facebook
References: Rose Hips: Natural and Free Vitamin C