The berries of rose hip (or rosehip, rose haw and rose hep) are the autumnal fruit bestowed upon us by the wild rose. In reality, we are talking about a false fruit, and in this article, we will discover all its characteristics and beneficial properties. The rose hip is a spontaneous plant widespread everywhere in our territory. From its berries, various artisanal preparations can be made, from liqueur to herbal teas and infusions, and even jams. It is a plant that adapts well to any type of soil and climatic conditions. It grows from sea level to mountains.
Another name it is known by is hip berries, as it is found in the most inaccessible places. It grows wild in abandoned fields, at the edges of woods, along paths, and in pastures. In our country, it is also known by various dialectal names, such as the Ligurian grattacui.
Botanical Background and Origins of the Rose Hip
The rose hip is the most common wild rose species in our country. It belongs to the botanical family Rosaceae, and its berries have been used both in cuisine and in medicine for millennia. Among the ancient populations that made extensive use of it are the Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans.
The species name refers to the ancient use of the root, which, through decoctions, was used to treat rabies caused by dogs.
The rose hip is the ancestor of the classic cultivated roses. However, this ancient species has various varieties and subspecies that are not easy to distinguish. According to various authors, rather than individual species, it is more appropriate to speak of a collection of forms that hybridize with each other, maintaining continuity of characteristics across generations.
Characteristics of the Rose Hip
The rose hip usually presents itself as a spiny shrub. It is perennial and deciduous, meaning the foliage falls during the winter. The plant can reach up to 2 meters in height, especially if it grows in the shade of trees and seeks light upward. It has a deep and developed root system that allows it to thrive even in nutrient-poor soils. The branches form from spring shoots and are initially erect, then, over the years, they take on an arched and pendulous shape. The branches are equipped with robust, uniform, and curved thorns. The leaves are alternate, generally composed of 5-7 leaflets paired in twos with a single terminal leaf. The small leaves are about 2 or 3 cm in size, have an ovate-lanceolate blade, an elliptical shape, toothed margins, and an acute apex. The flowers of the rose hip appear in the spring, in May-June. They are gathered in terminal corymbs with short peduncles. The color of the flowers is usually white, sometimes slightly pink. They generally have numerous stamens and yellow anthers and are lightly fragrant.
Rose Hip Berries
The most interesting and recognizable part of the rose hip is its berries. These are small false fruits, measuring less than 2 cm. They have an ellipsoidal shape and a smooth surface, forming from the enlargement of the receptacle of the flowers. They are called hips and start off green, then turn orange, and finally, in autumn, they mature to red. At the apex of the berries, the petals of the flowers remain attached, drying up and becoming dark. Characteristic is the appearance of the rose hip in winter when the leaves have fallen, yet the berries remain on the plant. The inside of the berry is rich in pulp and contains the seeds (the true fruits). Another element present is the tiny hairs attached to the seeds, which unfortunately are irritants and can cause issues if ingested. The taste of rose hip berries is very pleasant, but the presence of hairs prevents direct consumption. Ingesting large quantities of the hairy content of the hips can cause intestinal irritation and diarrhea. For this reason, it is necessary to collect the berries and remove these hairy seeds.
Contents and Properties of Rose Hip Berries
In addition to having a pleasant taste, rose hip berries are rich in positive elements and beneficial properties. First and foremost, they have a high content of vitamin C, higher than that of citrus fruits. Rose hips also contain tannins, pectins, various sugars (sorbitol), organic acids, polyphenols, bioflavonoids, anthocyanins, carotenoids, nicotinic acid, and riboflavin. Folk medicine has always attributed various properties to rose hip berries. Due to their vitamin C content, they are used to prevent and assist in colds. They are also useful in weakened states and for strengthening the immune system. In preparations for external use, rose hip berries have astringent, anti-inflammatory, and blood vessel-protecting properties, thanks to the polyphenols they contain. Beverages prepared for internal use are vitaminizing and stimulating for renal functions. Their use is recommended for kidney and bladder inflammations as well. They also assist those suffering from gout and rheumatism, aiding in the elimination of uric acid buildup. Cosmetic use is also highly appreciated for preparing creams and beauty masks.
Harvesting, Cleaning, and Preserving Rose Hip Berries
Rose hip berries should be harvested when mature. Generally, it’s a good idea to collect them in October or November, during their balsamic period. As mentioned earlier, these fruits cannot be consumed as a whole; the seeds and hairs attached to them need to be removed first. To do this, you can split the fruits in half and remove the core. This way, after washing the remaining fruit thoroughly, they can be consumed immediately or dried. If you choose to dry them, let the berries sit in the sun for a few days. Once this is done, they can be stored properly throughout the winter.
Food Uses of Rose Hip
A simple and quick way to use rose hip berries without removing the internal hairs is to boil them for 15-20 minutes and then mash them through a sieve once drained. This method produces a soft puree that can be added, for example, to soups or minestrone. The puree can also be used to make jam. Simply add sugar to taste and bring the mixture to a boil.
For internal use and to harness the properties of rose hip berries as described, the simplest method is to make an infusion.
You’ll need 50 grams of dried berries or 100 grams of fresh ones, cleaned of their hairs. Let them steep for 10 minutes in boiling water, covering with a lid. Afterward, strain the infusion and drink as needed. As mentioned, it’s used for colds, but it’s also a refreshing vitamin tonic with a delightful citrus flavor.
Rose Hip Berry Liqueur
A very interesting recipe is the liqueur made from rose hip berries. In this case, you can use them whole, without first removing the irritating hairs.
- 150 grams of rose hip berries
- 500 ml of food-grade alcohol
- 500 ml of water
- 400 grams of sugar
After washing and thoroughly drying the berries, immerse them in alcohol using a glass container with an airtight seal. The infusion should take place in a dark place for 30 days, being sure to mix and shake every two days. Once this period has passed, strain it well using a linen or cotton cloth. Separately, prepare the water and sugar syrup. Cook it over low heat, stirring continuously to prevent caramelization. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn off the heat and let it cool. When the syrup is cold, add it to the alcohol that has been filtered from the berries, mix gently, and close the container. Let it rest for at least 30 days, then transfer as desired into bottles. Rose hip liqueur can be added to other homemade autumnal liqueurs. These include pomegranate liqueur, fennel, and laurel liqueur.
If you’re unable to collect wild rose hip berries for homemade preparations, you can find a variety of quality products here that are ready to use.