The wild rose: a backyard treasure

By: Monica Marcu

“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes” – Goethe

So many of the berries we love come rushing into ripeness in summer, but the wild rose, with its glorious red “hips” stays with us much longer. Late September or October are still a good time to pick these vitamin-rich berries, and frost might even improve their flavor! Surely, birds, insects, small mammals and even my puppies are grateful for the treat.

Beautiful and joyful, with roots firmly anchored in the ground, the wild rose is believed to uplift our spirit. Its fragrance makes us breathe deeply, feel more connected to the earth. The rose is an important symbol in European spirituality and it often appears in depictions of the passion of Christ. The flowers and thorns invoke an opening to suffering through compassion and love.

Let’s introduce the wild rose! Its true name is Rosa (R. rugosa, R. canina, with many relatives from Rosa spp.) and it is native to Europe and temperate areas of Asia, but it has now spread to most parts of the world. The rose hips have been used since the Stone Age, and many native populations in North America have treasured this plant for medicinal purposes. Today modern pharmacies sell vitamin C tablets that contain “rose hip” and other natural, beneficial substances extracted from these berries. Rose hips have much more vitamin C than oranges (for the same weight), plus they are very high in iron. For the anemics, but not only, the humble rose hips are a treasure trove of nutrition: the iron is better absorbed in the body in the presence of vitamin C. Since the rose hips are a great source of vitamin C and others (A, B-complex, E), calcium, as well as antioxidant (prevent premature aging) substances, they are widely used in natural vitamin supplements, teas, soups, jellies, syrup, wine, brandy and marmalades. My favorite way though is to chew them raw while I hike; by eating them raw, the vitamin C (which is highly heat-sensitive) is readily available and preserved. I only eat the pulp, not the inner seeds that can be rather irritant to the digestive system.

To make a tasty tea simply pour a cup of boiling water over 1-2 tablespoons of crushed rose hips (fresh or dried) and let steep for 10 minutes. You can strain out any pieces of the hips or just let them settle down. (The solids left from straining can be fed to chickens.) I often mix mint, raspberry, hibiscus or blueberry leaves with the rose hips tea for a more flavorful drink. I also add these nutritious berries to other fruits available in season and blend them together for a delightful smoothie.

Since we produce our own honey, we like to use it to preserve many fruits. For rose hip syrup we add one part of honey to one part of concentrated, strained tea, mix well and keep cool in the dark for a few weeks. It can also be canned, as any other syrups, using the common sterile conditions. This fruity syrup can be used to sweeten teas or on pancakes.

Have you ever had rose hip soup? Well, this is a favorite Swedish treat, called “Nyponsoppa”. If you are curious enough to try it you will need:

3 cups of unsweetened rose hip tea
2 Tbsp. honey
2-3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tsp. corn starch (or potato flour)
4 Tbsp. sour cream or yogurt
– minced mint or preferred herbs.

Heat in a saucepan the liquid, then add honey and lemon juice. Remove half of cup of this mixture and into this whisk the cornstarch carefully until smooth. Add the cornstarch mixture back into the pot and bring to a high simmer, while stirring. When the mixture bubbles and thickens, remove from stove and add the sour cream, top with minced fresh mint or herbs. Enjoy!

Now I know some of you are rather curious about the wine recipe. Well, mine is a family specialty and will share with you some other time…together with the rose hips brandy recipe!

If you are wise enough to preserve some rose hips for winter, you can either freeze the rose hips like any other berries, or dry them. Now it’s a good time to do it. Dry the rose hips in the dark, on a tray until they become hard, sort of wrinkly and darker than the fresh counterparts. Do not use metal containers to store the rose hips. Store in a dark container.

Some of the interesting medicinal purposes of the rose hips are against colds (they are a great immune system booster), various inflammations, and as mild laxatives and diuretics. The rose hip oil is astringent and is used in cosmetic preparations due to its ability to regenerate new skin cells and treat scars and burns. Ladies – the rose hips, through their high vitamin A content (the “skin vitamin”) keep the skin elastic, nourished, thus preventing wrinkles or minimizing any already present. Many complementary/alternative medicine physicians use rose hips to treat wounds and inflammations. Modern research has shown that these berries were beneficial in treating rheumatoid arthritis and improved mobility in most patients. Since the rose hips contain a variety of antioxidant substances they are also considered to be a good cancer preventative.
Besides the berries, the flowers and leaves also have medicinal properties. The native Americans
used wild rose externally to soothe the skin, treat infections and irritations.

This thorny, entangled plant, invasive to some, is actually relished by many critters. From bees to bears, many enjoy the goodness of the rose. True to their name – Rosa Canina (dog rose) our wild roses are a snacking stop for our German Shepherds, and I tend to trust them. After all, I have learned the most by observing nature.

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