Gather Rose Hips While Ye May

Recently, while walking down the vitamin aisle, I noticed the most expensive bottles of vitamin C boasted they were made from rose hips. This reminded me that back during the Victory Gardening days of World War II, many Americans carefully preserved their rose hips and ate them. Hmmm...So why should I let the rose hips in my garden rot and go to waste? It turns out, they are packed with excellent nutrition!

Since most rose experts suggest cutting off faded rose blooms, many people don't even know what rose hips are. Simply put, they are a seed pod. They start out green, then turn bright red by the first frost. And if you stop cutting off dead rose blooms in August, almost all rose plants will produce at least some hips - although old fashioned varieties usually produce far more than modern hybrids. (It's a great idea to stop deadheading roses in the fall, anyway since this signals to the plant to slow down and get ready for the cold winter.)

Why Keep Rose Hips?

Here are a few reasons you might take a second look at the rose hips already found in your garden - and consider cultivating roses that will produce even more:

* Rose hips are a superb source of vitamin C; they have 2o to 40 percent more vitamin C than oranges (depending upon the variety).

* They have 25 percent more iron and vitamin A than oranges.

* They have 28 percent more calcium than oranges.

* They are also a great source of vitamin E, manganese, selenium, bioflavanoids, and B-complex vitamins.

Wild roses offer more nutrients than hybrids, but all in all, rose hips from any rose are a powerful food! As for taste, roses are in the same family as apples, and rose hips have been compared somewhat to the taste of tart crabapples.

How to Gather Rose Hips

First make sure the rose bushes you're gathering from have not been sprayed with chemicals. (If you must use sprays on your roses - and many hybrid roses seem sickly without them - use only chemicals considered okay for edible foods.) Then:

1. Ideally, wait for the first frost. The frost sweetens the flavor of rose hips.

2. Cut off the hips, using clean pruning shears. Cut only red, firm rose hips. If they're shriveled up or look dry, leave them on the plant. (The birds may want to eat them.)

To Use Rose Hips Fresh:

1. Cut or rub off any remaining stem, as well as the crown at the top of the hip. (The crown is where the blossom used to sit.)

2. With a knife or kitchen shears, slice the rose hips in half and scrape away all the seeds. (The seeds are hairy, and if eaten can irritate digestion and cause other unpleasant symptoms.)

UPDATE 09/01/2013: I've found that its faster and easier to scrape away the seeds after you've dehydrated the hips. So I suggest just slicing them in half, then drying them. Once full dry, scrape away the seeds.

To Dry Rose Hips:

1. Lay them in a single layer in a dehydrator try and dry them at 135 degrees F. Or, lay the rose hips in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and set them in a warm location. It will take around two weeks for them to dry; you'll know they are ready when they appear wrinkled.

2. Once completely dry, store in glass jars with well fitting metal lid placed in a cool, dark, dry location.

Eating Rose Hips

A few ideas:

* During World War II, rose hips were cooked like a vegetable, often in soups or stews. In fact, if you make rose hip tea (see below), save the left over hips for this purpose.

* Make rose hip tea. (Steep two tablespoons of fresh rose hips in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Or, use two teaspoons of dry rose hips and steep 10 to 15 minutes. Add a little fresh mint, if desired.)

* Make rose hip syrup. (Place fresh rose hips in a saucepan and barely cover them with water. Bring to a boil. Simmer until soft, about 10 or 15 minutes. Cool. Strain through cheesecloth, pressing the rose hips with the back of a spoon to help release their "juice." You may freeze the "juice," if you like, or, in a jar place one part honey to two parts of the "juice." Stir and refrigerate. This keeps about two weeks and can be reheated for pancakes or ice cream. You can also can the syrup in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.)

* Make rose hip jelly or jam.

* Or make other rose hip recipes, like rose hip apple sauce, rose hip pie, or rose hip nut bread.

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