Rose hips are what rose flowers grow up to be: they are the fruit of the same plants in the Rosa genus that grace Brooklyn parks, gardens, and front yards with beautiful flowers throughout the summer. And as well as being tasty, they bring a hefty dose of vitamin C to the table.
Rose hips contain a whopping 2000 mg of vitamin C per 100 gr of fruit. That vitamin content goes down some if you expose the rose hips to heat while you are making jam or tea, but enough remains to boost your C intake. If you want to preserve as much of the vitamin content as possible, try making infused rose hip vinegar (recipe below) with the raw fruit. You can also make rose hip freezer jam with the raw hips.
Cut a rose hip open, and you will find a seedy, hairy core. Depending on what you are making, you may have to remove that hairy seediness before proceeding with the recipe. I use a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the rose hip centers. Infused recipes such as rose hip vinegar mercifully skip the seed and hair removal since all solid matter gets strained out of the final product.
If you had kept an eye on any single rose this summer, you would have noticed that once it dropped its petals the base of the former flower began to swell into a green orb. That was a rose hip in the making.
By late summer and continuing into early fall, those former roses will turn bright red or orange. Rose hip fruits range in size from as small as 1/4-inch in diameter to as large as an inch or more across. They usually have a 5-pointed “crown” on one end, and tiny hairs on the skin of the fruit. Practical foragers will stick to large-fruited species such as Rosa rugosa, a species that is frequently used on beach front properties because it is salt tolerant.
Long after the compound leaves with their odd number of leaflets have fallen to the ground, the hips of the rose will continue to cling to the prickly canes. In fact, some foragers claim they are not ready to harvest until after a few winter freezes. I think they are at their best when they are not only brightly colored but have become slightly wrinkled and soft. But you can use them anytime after they have changed color from green to a bright red or orange hue. In BK, that started in September.
Notice that I said “prickly,” not “thorny.” Technically, roses don’t have thorns, they have prickles. The difference is that true thorns come out of the wood of the plant (think hawthorn), whereas prickles come from the outer layers and break off easily.
I notice many rose plants are still blooming in Brooklyn this fall. The petals are edible, but only interesting if they are fragrant. No fragrance, no flavor. If you do find an especially fragrant rose, make rose petal honey. Simply mince some of the fresh petals and stir them into some local honey, using about 2 parts honey to 1 part minced rose petals. The honey will preserve the rose aroma. This confection is popular in Greece where it is used like jam.
Rose water is made with rose petals and used quite a bit in North African cuisine. It is made by distillation and requires a lot of patience, but I’ve made it at home even though I don’t own a still. Be sure to use very fragrant roses if you try this.
Note: Do not use roses from a florist because they have almost certainly been sprayed with chemicals (and anyway, most commercially grown roses don’t have any scent or taste).
Rose leaves can be used to make tea. Avoid those that have black spot, a fungal disease very common on roses in our climate. Choose healthy-looking, green leaves and brew them fresh or dried just as you would ordinary tea. Rose leaf tea doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, but it is high in tannins, which gives the tea a similar mouth feel to black tea. I like to combine rose leaves with something more flavorful, such as mint or lemon balm.
Roses grow all over Brooklyn on both private and public property. If you want to ID some especially large, beautiful rose hips right now, check out Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Recipe: Rose Hip Vinegar
This vinegar is not only good for you, it is also very tasty in sweet and sour sauces, marinades, and salad dressings for sweetish ingredients such as apple and cabbage slaw.
- Wash the rose hips and smash them by either mashing with a potato masher or the bottom of a wine bottle (carefully). You can also just pulse them a few times in a food processor.
- Put the rose hips into a clean glass jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Use 2 cups of cider vinegar for every cup of smashed rose hips. Cover and leave to infuse for 1 month. Be sure you’ve got your rose hip vinegar infusing in a location away from direct light or heat (not in your kitchen window or over the radiator, okay?).
- Strain the vinegar through a paper coffee filter or clean muslin cloth to get out the seeds and little hairs (you can use those cloth produce bags the Park Slope Food Coop sells). Transfer your rose hip vinegar to a clean bottle, cap or cork, and store in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.
Leda Meredith is the author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. She is the Gardening Program Coordinator for Adult Education at the New York Botanical Garden and an instructor specializing in edible and medicinal plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Info on her many upcoming classes and events can be found on her blog at www.ledameredith.com