By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont
People have grown roses for many centuries and for many reasons. Today we grow roses mainly for the beauty they bring to our yards and homes. But in centuries past, the rose was revered for its value as food and medicine, as well as its beauty.
It is questionable whether the quaint prescriptions found in early manuscripts and printed herbals for concoctions such as "melroset" and "syrop of roses" would actually "strengthen the heart and taketh away the shaking and trembling thereof." But it has been proven that rose hips are a superb source of vitamin C, having a much higher content than citrus fruit.
During World War II when imports of citrus products were limited, rose hips became especially popular in Great Britain. Volunteers spent many hours gathering hips from hedgerows for making rose hip syrup for the Ministry of Health to distribute.
Besides being healthful, rose hips offer the adventurous cook a strange and different ingredient. HOWEVER, YOU MUST NEVER USE THE HIPS OF ANY ROSE BUSH TREATED WITH A PESTICIDE THAT IS NOT CLEARLY LABELED AS SAFE FOR FOOD CROPS.
This somewhat spherical fruit of the rose, usually red in color, is seldom allowed to develop on our modern roses. However, the old-fashioned shrub types, such as the rugosas, bear them abundantly.
Rose hips have a tangy, yet sweet, flavor and can be used fresh, dried, or preserved. The simplest use is to steep them for tea. Rose hip syrup, puree, jam, jelly, and sauce can be used as is or as a flavoring in other recipes. The hips are usually left on the bush until after the first frost, which makes them turn bright red and slightly soft.
To prepare, trim off the blossom and stem ends with scissors, cut in half lengthwise, remove the tiny hairs and seeds in the center, and rinse. Never use aluminum utensils or pans as they tend to destroy the vitamin C.
To dry hips, simply spread the prepared halves in a single layer on screening or trays and place in a dehydrator, an oven set on the lowest setting, or in a dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Store in glass jars in a dark, cool place.