The little prairie is on a bluff over the city. The birds were calling and the grass rustling in the breeze but the sounds of the city were present all around me. A helicopter probably headed to a downtown hospital or checking the traffic was overhead, I could hear a guy talking on his cell phone and the sound of the train down below the bluff. Then my phone rang…it was my kid calling. He called three times while I was harvesting Rosehips. I am an herbalist who also deals with traffic and cell phones and kids who want to know what’s for dinner and need help with their homework.
The prairie was dripping with Rosehips. Today was one of those glorious October days made more precious from the knowledge that cold and darkness lay around the corner in wait.
I was standing in a large stand of roses amid the spent stalks of Goldenrod as tall as my head. It’s hard to believe that just two or three months ago this was an impenetrable thicket of plants, literally humming and buzzing with insects while I stood on the edges, dripping with sweat and gathered the blossoms of Monarda and Blue Vervain. Today I have easily walked right into the middle of it, my feet crunching on the dried stalks. With every movement I made, each brush against a plant, downy white seeds of Goldenrod and Asters are released into the air to float away. You have to marvel at their reproductive prowess. Countless seeds everywhere..borne on the wind, carried along on the clothing and fir and feathers of other creatures, scattered every which way.
We know that fall is the time of dying back. It is the time of retreat and renewal. The annual plants have set seed and died thus completing their lifecycle. The perennial plants have retreated to life in the roots, below the ground until spring comes again. The trees and shrubs will also retreat but not until they have gone out in a blaze of glory that compels us all to stop and sigh and admire before we go on our way. There is something so evocative about this season of fall. Everyone can feel it… the passing of time, the slowing down, the retreat inward, the inevitable decline and death of all things that live. In fall, we are in touch with our grief and the nostalgia as we consider what has passed and the tender holding onto what we know we will lose someday, what is bound to change and to pass us by.
It is fitting then, that the last of the fruits of the season, Rosehips and Hawthorn, come from the equally evocative Rose Family (Rosaceae). This large plant family contains so many delicious fruits…Plums, Cherries, Chokecherries and Wild Cherries, Apples, Raspberries, Blackberries and Strawberries, and, of course, the fruits that are the subject of this post, Hawthorn and Rosehips. The Rose family also includes herbal plants that do not bear juicy fruits like Agrimony, Lady’s Mantle and Cinquefoil.
The beauty and symmetry of the rose has long inspired humans. Roses abound in our collective folklore, legends, body of symbolism, myths and tales, poetry and visual art. Roses are also a part of medicine and used as a food plant particularly in sweets like candies, syrups and jellies. Native Roses can be found in North and South America, Asia, Europe and parts of Africa. It is the flower of love. It has been a symbol of passion,sexual and carnal love and lust as well as interpreted by other traditions as a symbol of purity, innocence and divine love. Then there’s the thorns. It captures our imagination to consider that such a lovely flower bears thorns with the potential to wound. Pleasure and pain, love and loss reflected on the rose as it is in our lives. Rose family plants also have a special relationship with humans throughout our mutual history. These are no deep woods spring ephemerals that slowly, slowly reproduce and resent any disturbance and tramping about. Many plants of this family thrive in spaces of human disturbance, in human gardens, on the edges of human habitation. Many Rose family plants produce fruits and flowers that are attractive to other species have been bred by people to create even more luscious fruits.
The wild Roses have a little less drama and grandeur, but they are nevertheless lovely to behold. Wild Roses have a simple, symmetrical five-petal flower with an open face. The petals of some rose family plants have a wavy margin, sometimes notched, which can give the appearance of each petal being heart-shaped. To many herbalists, these heart-shaped petals suggest the connection of these plants to our hearts, both as nourishing for our literal hearts and healing to our metaphysical hearts as well.
Welby Smith, in Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, notes that we have four native species of Rose in Minnesota. Additionally there is one garden escapee, the multiflora rose, which naturalizes and is considered invasive, and is found at this point only in southern Minnesota.I didn’t key it out, but the the roses I gathered from are most likely the Smooth Rose, (R. blanda) it’s the most common rose in Minnesota and the primary species found in the metro area. The name is a little confusing because Smooth Rose actually has plenty of prickles, just not on the first year growth.
The hip refers to the fruit of the rose. What a fitting name for this plump ovoid fruiting body. The hips develop after the petals fall away and begin as a small, hard green berry looking fruit and grow and swell. They have peachy blush in late July and August but are still quite firm. In September and October they are a brilliant red and soft before drying on the bush to a red, shriveled raisan-y looking thing. Some herbalists prefer to gather both Rosehips and Hawthorn after the first hard frost, noting that the fruit has a sweeter taste after a frost. Experiment with Rosehips harvested at different times and see what you prefer.
Students always ask me if they have to use Wild Roses when making rose medicine. Many species of roses, both wild and cultivated, have been used for medicine, cooking, confectionery and perfumery for centuries and more recently as flower essences and homeopathic remedies. However, do note that many cultivated roses that bear flowers like those from a Valentine’s Day bouquet require a lot of pesticide and other chemical applications because cultivated roses are prone to problems. Hardy wild roses from a clean location are free of such chemicals. If you or your neighbor has chemical-free Roses you might experiment with making medicine and other goodies from the hips. The hips of some highly bred cultivars are quite large but sometimes not very flavorful. When something is not particularly flavorful my hunch is that it is likely less medicinal as well. Flavors reflect the chemicals present in the plant. Old-fashioned varieties may be more flavorful and medicinal.
Rosehips are famous for their high Vitamin C content and, indeed, they have a tremendous amount of Vitamin C. Just one ounce provides 199% of a person’s recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C. However, Rosehips are rich in many other vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, Magnesium, Calcium and Manganese and a pretty good dose of Vitamin K.
This makes Rosehips a wonderful addition to any nutrient or tonic herbal preparation. My midwifery partner and I include Rosehips in the pregnancy tea that we provide to our clients. Pregnancy tea can be a little bleh for all but the most devoted of herbal tea drinkers, all nettle and raspberry leaf. Rosehips adds a bit of fruity, sweet-sour flavor to the blend. Additionally, adding vitamin C rich plants to a pregnancy tea blend or any kind of iron tonic/syrup will help increase absorption of iron.
Pregnancy Tea Blend
The bulk of the tea is made up of the following four herbs in proportions of you choosing based on nutritional or therapeutic needs or flavor preferences:
–Raspberry Leaf (traditional uterine tonic, astringent, mineral rich)
–Nettle (nutritive, rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements, anemia remedy, gentle yet powerful alterative with particular affinity to the skin and kidneys, venous tonic for varicose veins and hemorrhoids)
–Oatstraw (gentle nervine, moistening energy to balance out the dryness of the Raspberry and Nettle, rich in silica for hair, nails, connective tissues
–Alfalfa (iron-rich and chlorophyll rich herb used to prevent and treat anemia)
Then add a smaller amount of the following herbs:
–Rosehips (for extra vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids and flavor)
–Lemon Peel (flavor)
–Lavender (use sparingly, imparts some visual appeal and floral notes,relaxing nervine)
–Horsetail (silica-rich for health of hair, teeth, bones, connective tissue, lymphatic health)
–Red Clover (vitamins, mineral, sweet flavor, visual appeal, lymph and skin health)
Vitamin and Mineral Herbal Tonic Syrup
I also like to add Rosehips or Hawthorn Berries to my Vitamin and Mineral Herbal Tonic which is a delicious way to boost hemoglobin quickly and alleviate the symptoms of anemia. The tonic syrup, adapted from a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar, also is a good venous tonic and can be helpful for hemorrhoids and varicose veins as well as helping to alleviate constipation. My adaptation includes those herbs that can be easily harvested in mid to late spring in my location in the upper Midwest.
(adapted from the recipe Iron Plus Herbs by Rosemary Gladstar)
3 parts Watercress (optional, can usually be purchased fresh from a good grocery store if you can’t find a clean source in the wild)
3 parts Nettle
1 part Oatstraw
1 part Horsetail
1 part dried Hawthorn Berry or Rosehips
3 part Dandelion Leaf
3 parts Dandelion Root
1 part Yellow Dock Root
3 parts Red Raspberry Leaf
Use three ounces of fresh herbal formula to one quart of water. Slowly simmer to ½ quart. Strain herbs. Add two cups of honey and cook over very low heart for 10 to 15 minutes. After the syrup has cooled, add ½ cup brandy to preserve and ½ cup Black Cherry concentrate. Store in the refrigerator.
Dose: 1-2 Tablespoons daily.
You can read more about creating herbal syrups here.
Rosehip Tincture and The Deeper Medicinal Actions of Rosehips
Rosehips can easily be made into tincture. Just place the clean hips (no black or moldy one) into a clean, dry glass jar. You can fill the jar to the top but you don’t have to pack them in tightly and there’s no need to smash or grind the hips. The alcohol will penetrate the whole fruits without any help from you. Fill the jar with 80 proof vodka, label. After six weeks, simply strain off the liquid and bottle–that’s your tincture–and compost the fruit. The resulting tincture is a beautiful orange color. It is thick, slightly sticky and very delicious.
Writing in the 17th century, famed herbalist physician Nicholas Culpeper described the use of Rosehip syrup for coughs and colds. In fact, this is one of the most famous and persistent indications for Rosehips throughout history. Contemporary herbalists and herb merchants will sometimes simply ascribe this action to the high vitamin C content in Rosehips. But Rosehips are much more than a source of vitamins. Rosehips, like virtually all members of the rose family, are slightly cooling and astringent with affinity to the urinary tract and the mucous membranes Mucous membranes, or mucosa, are the layers of tissue that protect the underlying tissues and structures that have contact with or lead to the outside. They perform this protective function by secreting mucus which has an important role in preventing infection and irritation. We are familiar with the mucous membranes that line our nose, mouth, throat and eyelids, but the urethra, vagina and penis and the g.i. tract are all also lined with mucosa. Rose family plants, including Rosehips, excel at treating conditions affecting the mucosa. They ease inflammation in respiratory tract and ease sore throat and cough.
Historically, Rosehips were used for more serious respiratory conditions with spitting up of blood like tuberculosis, which shows the esteem in which this remedy was held. Your twenty-first century loved one or client who is coughing up blood should be seen by a physician for appropriate diagnosis and treatment, however, Rosehips can be used safely as part of a complementary therapy for serious respiratory tract conditions.
Rosehip syrup is so delicious! It’s sweet, tart and has a flavor this is a little more apple like than floral.
This recipe is easy to scale up to make much larger batches.
1 cup fresh Rosehips (or Hawthorn berries or a combination) per 3 cups of distilled or filtered water.
Simmer and mash as much as possible, with a potato masher. The liquid should be flavorful and reddish organge and mostly clear like a tea. Some people like to blend the mix in a food processor or with an immersion blender, resulting in a much thicker finished product. A syrup made after blending like this will settle during storage with visible particulate matter and will be slightly cloudy. Simmer until your liquid is reduced by 1/4 to 1/2. Strain liquid.
Mix with 1 cup of the sweetener of your choice and heat the syrup gently until the sweetener is dissolved and well combined with the Rosehip liquid. White sugar is a nice choice to let the delicate fruity flavors shine through, however, honey can be used or maple syrup or glycerin. The choice is up to you.
Add brandy if desired. Approximately 1/3 cup per batch is an amount the adds preservative properties while not overpowering the fruity flavor with alcohol. At this proportion this syrup is suitable for use with children or during pregnancy. You can use as much alcohol as you like. The more you add the more you transform your syrup into an appertif or cordial.
Store in the fridge.
When I was first learning about and harvesting Rosehips it was hard to find recipes. These days we are in the midst of a renaissance of DIY, local and foraged food, artisanal food, jams, cocktails and treats and there is an abundance of amazing Rosehip recipes on the web. Here’s a great collection of 25 things you can do with Rosehips.
Rosehips for the Urinary Tract
Rosehips are a wonderful aid in the treatment of urinary tract infection. I love a blend of soothing and mucilaginous Marshmallow Root with astringent, anti-inflammatory Rosehips. This is a tasty, mild tea that can be taken during an active UTI in addition to other medicinal agents, but it can also be taken over the long term for those prone to UTI for restoration of the lining of the urinary tract. If you have some fresh Plantain you can throw a little Plantain into the infusion for added mucosal healing. During the first day or two of an active UTI, I also recommend a handful of dried Yarrow blossoms. The addition of Yarrow will change this tea from pleasant to intense, but Yarrow is such an effective urinary antiseptic that it’s worth adding if you or your client can tolerate it.
Rosehips can be used as part of a treatment plan for chronic UTI or interstitial cystitis (the presence of UTI symptoms in the absence of bacteria). It helps restore the urinary mucosa and reduces inflammation.
Less commonly, some herbalists particularly those in the European tradition, also recommend the use of Rosehips for the g.i. tract. Rosehips are used for both diarrhea and constipation. This is not uncommon in herbal medicine. Several other prominent remedies such as Yellow Dock and Black Walnut are also used for both constipation or diarrhea. Remember that herbs are most effective when we use them to treat the person and his or her whole pattern not the disease/symptom label. Due to their cooling bioflavonoids, sour flavor and what we know about the Rose family, Rosehips will be most effective as a remedy for the bowels for those individuals that are hot and damp regardless of whether their imbalance manifests as constipation or diarrhea. The cold person with constipation or diarrhea may benefit from Black Walnut instead. The famous European folk herbalist, Juliette de Bairacli Levy writes that Rosehips are gently laxative. Herbalist, Phyllis Light, quoted in The Earthwise Herbal, shares that she also uses Rosehips for constipation especially when there is mucus wrapped in or around the stool and the stool is “more ball like and less formed.” Phyllis attributes this type of constipation “to the fact that the stool is too damp and unformed for the colon to push it out.” Other authors like Anne McIntyre and Dan Kenner and Yves Requena suggest that Rosehips are a good remedy for diarrhea. Kenner and Requenas suggest that Rosehips have a place in the treatment of diarrhea in Crohn’s disease. This fits perfectly with what we know about Rosehips and other Rose family plants; they are anti-inflammatory and sedate over-active processes in the body such as those found in allergies and auto-immune disorders.
What about the Petals?
Rose petals share some upper respiratory indications with the hips. However, the petals and the hips are not used entirely interchangeably. This is one of those plants the herbalist visits twice a year–midsummer for the petals and in the fall for the hips. Rose petals and the oils of Rose used in aromatherapy have nervine effects in the body and are used for insomnia, depression, anxiety, grief, anger and heartsickness. Rose is also considered by some to be an aphrodisiac. Rose petals are used for women’s health conditions like PMS, perimenopausal complaints, low libido, infertility and cramps. Externally, Rose petal water and infusion and Rose essential oils are common ingredients in skin care and cosmetics. Rose petal preparations are also used medicinally on the outside of the body as washes, compresses, gargles and douches for all manner of issues like eye inflmmation, skin problems burns, strains, sprains, arthritis, vaginal infections, chapped lips, bleeding gums. There are numerous Rose Flower Essences. Wild Rose (Rosa canina) is an original Bach Flower Essence. Dr. Bach wrote that Wild Rose is for “Those who without apparently sufficient reason become resigned to all that happens, and just glide through life, take it as it is, without any effort to improve things and find some joy. They have surrendered to the struggle of life without complaint”. It is the flower to dispel apathy. Anne McIntyre writes that Wild Rose “warms the heart and softens the emotions, engendering an easy-going feeling to enhance sensuality”. The body and mind and spirit are not separate. I find that many psychological, emotional and spiritual indications from flower essences also pertain to the herbal remedy as well. Herbs treat our psychological and emotional hurts as well as our physical ailments.
Rosehips are a lovely remedy to close out our herbal foraging and welcome in the winter. Happy Medicine Making!
Next up is a post on Rosehip’s cousin, the other fruit of fall: Hawthorn.
Rosehip Syrup is easy to make, but if you don’t have the time it will be available for purchase soon on my Blue Vervain Botanicals etsy shop.
Baïracli-Levy, Juliette De. Common Herbs for Natural Health. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Pub., 1997. Print.
Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. 6th ed. Pony: HOPS, 2013. Print.
Kenner, Dan, and Yves Requena. Botanical Medicine: A European Professional Perspective. Brookline, MA: Paradigm Publications, 1996. Print
McIntyre, Anne. Flower Power. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996. Print.
Smith, Welby R. Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota: The Complete Guide to Species Identification. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota, 2008. Print
Stansbury, Jillian E. “Plant Families–A Survey.” Medicines From the Earth 2006. Proc. of Medicines From the Earth, Blue Ridge Assembly, Black Mountain. Brevard, NC: Gaia Herbal Research Institute, 2006. 100-13. Print.
Wood, Mathew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guid to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2008. Print.