As a child, I was an inquisitive forager. Despite growing up in a relatively urban area, most of my time was spent outdoors, something I believe paved the way for the unusual career path I later followed.
My favourite pastime involved hopping on my bike to go hunting for plants, which my best friend and I would then incorporate into our childish experiments. “Wee the bed tea” made from dandelion heads, and violet perfume are two “products” that immediately spring to mind. But one of my happiest memories of all involved gathering rose hips.
Rose hips were fabulous for two reasons:
- The rosy red flesh stained your skin, making it useful for “homemade lipstick”
- Peeling back the juicy exterior revealed a bunch of hairy seeds which were excellent for making “itching powder.” Great for putting down the tee-shirts of annoying brothers and sisters.
As an adult, I still find it incredibly difficult to walk anywhere without scouting the environment for useful plants. I’m not sure if this is something I’ve always subconsciously done, or my irrational obsession with survivalist TV shows like the Walking Dead are what make it impossible for me to go anywhere without a spare carrier bag (just in case I spot any free bounty that could be put to use in the dispensary.)
For me, one of the joys of Autumn is foraging the fruit of the beautiful rosa rugosa (dog rose) which grows in abundance on the local sand dunes. It’s such a shame that more people aren’t aware of how easy it is to make use of this beautiful medicinal plant. Most parts of the wild rose can be turned into powerful medicine, and as its easily identified by even the most inexperienced of foragers, I highly recommend seeking it out.
Although rose hips can be used to make everything from jelly to wine, the following recipe is one of my favourites; not just because it tastes absolutely scrumptious, but because it has the unrivalled ability to soothe sore throats and keep skin healthy through the dry, cold winter days that lie ahead. The quantities given are enough to make about a litre of syrup, which will store well in the fridge for around 6 months.
Recipe for home-made rose hip and elderberry syrup
- 250 g freshly picked rosehips
- 100 g dried elderberries
- 1 thumb size piece of fresh ginger
- A few dried cloves (optional)
- 3 pints water
- A 450 g jar of local honey
- 250 ml good quality brandy
- A large pan and a jam strainer / cheesecloth
- Roughly chop the rose hips and fresh ginger
- Place them in the pan together with the dried elderberries and cover with water
- Bring to the boil before turning the heat down to a gentle simmer
- Leave on the hob until the liquid has reduced by half (this will take approx. 2 and a half hours on a low heat)
- Strain off the liquid, and then, to be sure you’ve removed any remaining plant material, strain again
- Allow the liquid to cool before adding the honey
- Stir well, and finally add the brandy
- Allow to cool before bottling in airtight containers
- Store in the fridge. The syrup should keep for about 12 months.
Rose hips as medicine
It never fails to amaze me how nature provides exactly what we need at precisely the moment we need it. Every autumn, around the end of September, rose hips appear like clockwork, letting us know it’s time to make preparations before winter sets in.
Most people know that rose hips are jam packed with Vitamin C (some sources claiming they contain up to 60% more than oranges) but what’s less commonly known is that they’re also a fabulous source of vitamin A. This vital nutrient helps keep skin elastic, which is just the ticket for preventing chapped, dry skin.
Here are some more fascinating facts about the medicinal properties of the humble rose hip:
- Studies suggest that rose hips may help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.In recent trials, participants who took an extract of rose hips for 15 weeks reported a significant reduction in pain and stiffness, as well as improvement in overall disease severity.
- Rose hips contain high levels of antioxidants which are believed to neutralise free radicals that have been linked to serious chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
- Rose hip syrup can help improve bowel function and is a safe remedy to help ease children’s constipation.
- The Ohlone Indians used rose hip compresses to treat skin abrasions and speed up the healing of wounds.
- Rose hip oil works wonders on the skin, reducing the visibility of fine lines, scars and stretch mark’s. Organic rose hip oil is one of the key ingredients in my sausage tree cream.
Rose hip and elderberry syrup is available on request from the apothecary. Blends can be customised to individual needs (such as with the addition of echinacea, thyme, elderflower etc.) Due to the fact that this is a seasonal product, it may not always be in stock. To purchase rose hip and elderberry syrup please email email@example.com.