Rose hips are well known for their high vitamin C content, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to naturally protect and improve my health. Plus, I like to gather tasty things to put into tea. Last fall, when hiking, I came across a thicket of wild rose, loaded with rose hips. I happily gathered a handful and carried them home in my pocket. Sadly I did not dry them completely, and they molded before I had a chance to use them. This year, I wanted to try again, so I recently spent an afternoon foraging for rose hips.
Rose hips are the ripe fruit of the rose, and start to develop once the flower is pollinated. Fresh or dried, they are rich in vitamins C, B, E, and K, and are said to have antifungal and antiviral properties, and contain potent antioxidants. They are reported to have 20 times as much vitamin C as oranges.
Although most wouldn’t see the rose as an herb, the flowers and fruit have been used by herbalists and folk healers since the beginning of herbal history. During World War II, the British government used rose hips for Vitamin C when citrus was hard to get, and the native people of California used rose hips to make a tea for colds.
Rose hips can be used to make candy, jelly, jam, or syrup, but my goals in foraging was to collect hips to use in tea, to ward off and treats any colds, flus or respiratory infections that may come my family’s way this winter.
Hips can be found on wild roses and some cultivated roses; all have the health benefits. The rose that is often used for commercial vitamin C supplements, or the rose that you would purchase from an herbalist, is most likely Rosa canina, or Dog Rose. These plants are native to Europe and western Asia. Luckily, California is home to several native rose species, all which produce hips, which is what I foraged from. There are native roses throughout the world, so seek out what’s local in your area.
How to Identify Wild Rose:
The one that I’m collecting from is likely Rosa california, which is found in seasonally moist areas below 6000 feet, throughout the California floristic providence (ie, most of the state). It’s often found near streams and rivers. You’ll also find a wild rose known as wood rose, R. gymnocarpa, in shady areas of mixed evergreen forests.
You can easily identify wild rose. They form shrubby thickets, with a jumble of many stems. They grow from 3-10 feet high. The stems can range from smooth to thorny. All of the stands I found had lots of tiny prickles on the leaf and flower stems. The leaves are composed of 5-7 leaflets. In the spring and early summer, they have fragrant 5-petaled pink blossoms.
In the fall, they develop ¼”- 1/2” wide orange-red fruits. Rose is deciduous, so in the fall it will start to lose its leaves. The red hips standing against the bare stems is quite beautiful, particularly on a foggy day, and not easy to miss.
How to Forage for Rose Hips:
It is often recommended to collect hips after the first frost, but I find that in my area of California, by then its too late. By the time we’ve had frost, we have also had rain, and they have gone moldy while still on the bush. I like to collect in October once the nights start to cool, but before we start getting regular rains. Right now is the perfect time.
Make sure to collect from an area that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticide or herbicide. I often see rose growing on the road side, but I would avoid those and seek out an area that is more wild. If you’re in Sonoma County, I’ve seen plentiful bushes in the Laguna and at Ragle Ranch.
Rose hips have tiny external spiky hairs on them, and the stems are often thorny. You might want to wear gloves while harvesting, but its not necessary. To collect, simply pull the hips off from the stem. Look for hips that are shiny, firm, and no visible holes. If you are collecting lots, a pair of small snips might be convenient.
How to Process Rose Hips:
Once you’ve returned home, you’ll want to sort though your bounty. Discard any hips have soft spots or are wrinkled, which indicate they have either started to go bad inside or they may have worms. Pull any stems and any ‘tails’ of remaining petals off, and give a quick rinse.
It’s important to know that there are hairs and seeds inside that can irritate the mouth, throat and intestines. Because I use the hips whole, its not a concern. If you’re going to cut your hips open, you’ll need to remove the seeds. If you choose to do this, cut in half and scoop out, then use fresh or dry. Another option would be to cut open, dry, then give a quick buzz in a food processor to coarsely chop. Then, run though a sieve. The hairs and seeds will fall out, leaving you with the rose hip bits to use. I haven’t used this method, but the internet said its an easy way.
If I was using large hips from cultivated roses, I would likely cut my hips in half and remove the seeds, but because wild rose hips are so small, I leave them whole and dry. Instead of leaving on the counter, like my failed last attempt, I used my dehydrator. Set on 135°F, mine took about 14 hours. Test yours by giving a squeeze, if they give, they aren’t yet dry.
How to Store & Use Foraged Rose Hips:
Once dry, store in a sealed container. I just use a simple mason jar. To use, add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of hips to cup of tea and steep 15-20 minutes.
The flavor of rose hips has been described as lightly floral and tart. Personally, I don’t think they have much of a taste all by themselves. I like to enjoy my rose hips in a tea with orange peel and spearmint. Other great additions would be hibiscus, lemongrass, and rose petals.
If you enjoyed this, make sure to check out my other posts in this fall foraging series:
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