Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Rose-hip harvest and missed opportunities

The flowers are gone, petals all fallen away... who would notice the humble dog rose at this time of year? But as you get closer you find the most magnificent spray of red across the stark, thorny branches: it is the rose-hip season!

Rose-hips are said to have 1700-2000 mg of Vitamin C per 100g of the dried fruit (compared to oranges which have around 53mg/100g and kiwis which have around 98mg/100g). Reading up in Richard Mabey's Food for Free, I found that in post-Second World War Britain a national effort was made to pick rose-hips and make syrup to help counteract a national deficienty in Vitamin C. In 1941, 120,000 kg of rose-hips were harvested. And in the following three years the harvest averaged 457,000 kg.

I was intrigued by a mention of "the redoubtable county herb committees" who apparently organised much of this effort. On further investigation (online) I found another mention of them: "In World War Two the 'County Herb Committees' collected from the wild 750 tons of dried medicinal herbs, a vast amount of rose-hips for vitamin c supplement, nettles for camouflage dye and seaweed for agar jelly. The collection of rose-hips by school children continued well into the 1960s." How wonderful (I'd love to know more if anyone has any stories etc.)!

Why did we stop? What a fantastic free resource we have on our doorstep waiting to be made into delicious and nutritious syrups and teas! Or did we become complacent... a packet of Vitamin C tablets off the shelf, an imported kiwi or orange from the supermarket. Its just so much easier. :-(

Other than having to remove the odd thorn afterwards, I can thoroughly recommend an autumn walk and some rose-hip harvesting. The hips were so abundant, we could have picked all day and still found more of the little red beads. As it was I brought back a modest tub for potion making...

There are recipes for rose-hip syrup all over the internet, if you're looking for inspiration. I used a hand-out I had from Sarah Head and modified the recipe a bit. After simmering, mashing, simmering some more, and finally straining off the liquid... I added honey and sherry. Very yummy I must say! 

The rest of the rose-hips are laid on some kitchen towel on a tray in the airing cupboard. I'm a newbie at rose-hip drying, but from what I've read I need to remove the seeds before they dry fully (just about when they start to shrivel). I just love rose-hip tea - in fact I like it best mixed with hibiscus and then a dash of elderberry tincture. A real winter warmer, and a great boost for the body during the colder months.

If you haven't picked rose-hips yet this year you're still in time. :-)

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