If you have rose bushes in your area, you’ll notice they’re covered with red balls. What’s up with that? Is it a weird rose-eating fungus? Nope! They’re the roses’ fruit, called rose hips.
Roses you send to me
Ever wonder where roses came from? Well, they came from all over the place! Most species are from Asia, but a few are native to North America, Europe and northern Africa. Roses from far-flung regions are more than happy to interbreed when introduced to each other, which makes the family tree (or bush) quite muddled. Most of today’s garden roses came from 10 species from Asia.
A rose by any other name
Why rose hips? The word hip is from Old English, meaning ‘seed pod of the wild rose’. That’s a pretty specific noun! Rose hips are also called heps or haws. All these names sound like they belong in a jazz song.
Not a fruit!
Okay, I lied. Rose hips are not a fruit. Like the strawberry, they’re an aggregate fruit. If you cut one in half, you’ll see hairy achenes inside. These are the real fruit. The red fleshy stuff around them is actually the receptacle.
Can you eat them?
Yes! Well, just the fleshy red part. The achenes have tiny, irritating hairs that would do nasty things to your insides. Some rose species have bigger hips than others, ranging from pea to cherry-sized. R. rugosa generally have the largest hips, and therefore have the most to eat! Rose hips are eaten by birds and small animals in the fall and winter.
Why would I want to eat them?
I asked the same question when I was 14. I’d read in a book that rose hips have more vitamin C than oranges, and I wanted to know what they tasted like. I plucked some large hips off my Mom’s rose bush and went at them with a knife and cutting board. Unlike apples, rose hips are mostly fluffy seeds with a tiny layer of edible red flesh. Peeling off this layer is labour intensive. Once it was free I popped it in my mouth and savored the tangy flavour, which reminded me of a crabapple. Texture wise, it felt like having a scrap of peach skin stuck in your teeth. It was yummy, but definitely not worth the effort.
Some would disagree with me.
Kissed by a rose
Rose hips are nutritional power-houses. A handful of rose hips contains as much vitamin C as 60 oranges! They are rich in vitamin A and B. They also have bioflavonoids, chemicals that strengthen blood vessels to prevent bruising, nosebleeds and hemorrhages.
If you live in a cold, dark county far away from orange groves, rose hips start looking pretty good. In Sweden, rose hip soup, or Nyponsoppa, is a popular dessert. Many indigenous groups in North America used rose hip tea and syrup for respiratory infections and sore mouths, and as a source of vitamins during the winter. They were used traditionally to cure arthritis, colds, indigestion, bladder stones and even gonerrhea.
Rose hips played a role in the war effort. England had a hard time importing oranges during the Second World War. It was kept scurvy-free by rose-hip syrup, made from hips hand-picked by volunteers.
I want to try them!
Okay, if you insist. If you pick your own, avoid bushes that were sprayed with pesticides. For the best result, wait until after the first frost. If you do they’ll be softer and sweeter. Just slice them in half with scissors or a knife and remove the seeds. Make tea with the fresh hips or throw them in salads. If you’re ambitious, you can make jelly, jams, syrups sauces and even cupcakes! Just be careful not to use aluminum pans, which will react with and destroy all that lovely vitamin C.
Enjoy the rainbow colours of rose hips this fall! Perhaps even sip some rosehip tea, which you can buy commercially.