Although many of us tend to deadhead our roses once they’ve stopped blooming in an effort to boost flower production, letting the flowers go to seed is actually beneficial in its own way. Rose hips, the seed pods of rose plants, are chock full of vitamin C and can be used to make teas, jams, and sauces, and they can even be infused into liquor and vinegar.
The Benefits of Rose Hips
They may be small, but rose hips pack twenty times more vitamin C than oranges, the iconic poster-child for the same vitamin! Rose hips have also been used to prevent colds, ease sore throats, and flavor home cooking. In the past, they were also commonly used to prevent and treat scurvy.
Harvesting Rose Hips
Once the flower of the rose has bloomed and the petals have fallen off, the hip — located at the base of the flower —will begin to fatten and ripen. This process typically starts sometime in the late summer. When ripe, rose hips will turn a vibrant shade of orange and red. Some of them may even turn black. Keep an eye on them during the growing season and note when they are large, firm, and start to change color. Depending on the type of rose, the hips may range from about a quarter of an inch to a full inch in size. In many areas, the best time to harvest them is after the first frost of the year. Frost signals to the plant that it’s time to go dormant, so once the hip has been cut, the plant won’t send up another shoot.
It’s important to note that while rose hips are edible, you should avoid the hips from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides or are located close to busy roads, as they may be contaminated with toxic chemicals. If you’re not sure, don’t use them.
When harvesting rose hips, you'll want to cut them from the stem and remove the remaining pieces of flower with your fingers. Go for the hips that haven’t been damaged. Cut each one in half to remove the seeds. While you can use the whole rose hip, it’s best to remove the seeds, as they may cause irritation. Depending on the size of the hips, you can use a knife, scissors, a small spoon, or the end of a chopstick to remove these hairy little seeds. Once you’ve removed them, rinse the pods off. They’re now ready to be used in your cooking and other concoctions. If you decide to use the entire pod seeds and all, on the other hand, you'll want to place it in a bag and use a rolling pin to break it open.
What Roses Produce the Best Hips?
If you’re interested in harvesting rose hips, this question is important. While all roses may produce hips, some are much smaller than others, and some taste better. And while all rose hips may be edible, its trickier to get the seeds out of smaller ones.
Traditionally, rugosa roses produce the biggest, best tasting seeds. These roses tend to be relatively low-maintenance and grow best in salty, coastal climates. Their hips are large and red-orange in color.
Dog-roses (rosa canina) are high in vitamin C and known for their sweet taste. These hips, which are large and red in color, are often used to make tea, wine, and jam.
Rosa moyesii, also known as Moyes roses, bear distinctive hips that have frequently been used in Chinese medicine for their immunity-boosting properties.
Rosa virginiana and Rosa majalis are both native to the United States. Rosa virginiana hips are red and round and were previously used holistically in cold and muscle ache treatments. Rosa majalis hips, on the other hand, contain enhanced amounts of vitamin C.
If you’re not sure what kind of roses are in your yard, you'll want to observe the color, shape, and size of the hips they produce. Harvest them when they’re ripe and plump, and leave the smaller hips and those that have shriveled for the birds and other wildlife to enjoy.
How to Use Rose Hips
Since rose hips are high in vitamin C, it’s best to use non-reactive pots and utensils, such as those made from stainless steel, when cooking with them. Don’t use aluminum pans or utensils when incorporating them into your cooking. Many people have their own favorite rose hip recipes, but here are a few classics to try.
Tea is the most popular thing to make out of rose hips. Place dry or fresh hips in a cup or tea strainer, and steep them in boiling water for about 15 minutes. If you’re using fresh hips, you'll want to start off with about eight of them. Use about 15 pods when using dried rose hips. Drink a cup or two to relax or if you’re beginning to feel a cold coming on.
Place rose hips in a pot and add half the amount of water in. That is, if you’re using 20 ounces of rose hips, pour in about 10 ounces of water. Let the pot simmer for about 20 minutes. Place the mixture in a blender and puree it. Strain it through a sieve back into the pot and add sugar. Finish as you would any other jam, then spread it on your breakfast toast or use it in your regular cooking.
It’s easy to infuse vinegar with rose hip flavoring for use in your vinaigrette dressings. Just crush the pods and place them in a glass jar with your choice of vinegar, cover it, and place it in a cool, dark location for about a month. Then strain the jar and pour the vinegar into a bottle.
Simply add fresh or dried pods to your favorite muffin or bread recipe. Rose hips complement many other fruits.
Rose hips can also be infused with clear alcohol, such as gin or vodka, or used on their own to make wine. To infuse hips into alcohol, rinse a few fresh ones and crush them with a rolling pin. Place them in a bottle of gin or vodka for about a month or two. Then, sieve the alcohol and pour the liquid back into the bottle.
To make wine, clean the rose hips and freeze them in sandwich bags for several weeks. The process is the same for creating any kind of fruit wine.