Like a lot of people, I tend to bemoan the loss of leaves from our trees and hedgerows in autumn. But how much more positive to celebrate the rich harvest of berries that is revealed. Zipping down any of our motorways, you can be excused for not noticing the wonderful colours on the bare branches. Do take time on the back roads to admire the food that nature lays in store for the birds to take them through winter.
A prime example of eat local, eat seasonal, at the very time when our feathered friends need sustenance through the dark, cold days of winter, nature comes up trumps. Nutritious for birds and equally for humans. Rose hips grow in the thorny briars of the Dog Rose (Rosa canina). These very briars were used by the ancient Celts on wolf bites apparently, which tells you how ancient their use is. Since earliest farming times, they were planted in hedgerows to stock-proof hedges. They provide an impenetrable boundary when combined with thorny hawthorn and other natives. Hedgerows are brimming with colour right now. The exquisite orange-pink berries of the Spindle tree, the dark crimson of Hawthorn and the orangey-red of the Rose hips.
Traditionally, herbalism tells us that Rose hips provide a rich source of nutrients, while science can only attempt to play catch-up. As the well-known sage of herbalism Alfred Vogel stated in The Nature Doctor in 1952, "Nature always shows us the way, while science can only try to give us an explanation of the reasons". Most of us know that Rose hips are a rich source of vitamin C, but did you know that they also contain significant levels of vitamin A, Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Calcium, Magnesium, Chromium, Selenium and Phosphorus? The B vitamins, along with Calcium and Magnesium, explain why the hips have been used traditionally for a depleted nervous system, particularly when recovering from illness. I enjoy a tincture of the hips prepared for me by a friend, when I recover from a flu. I also use Rosehip powder in water as a natural source of vitamin C, which is also loaded with bioflavanoids, which enhance the action of the vitamin C in the body. A traditional way of preparing Rose hips is to make them into a syrup (recipe below). A yummy medicine which is acceptable to any fussy palate, particularly a child. For a sugar-free alternative, which can also be used in salad dressings, I also give a recipe for Rose hip vinegar.
Christmas is coming! How about preparingÂ a bottle of your very own Rosehip syrup for your Gran or for any appreciative person for that matter? Your Gran will probably know all about its tonic properties! Get a fancy bottle and label it attractively. It would also make a lovely present for teachers and the kids can be involved from start to finish. Neither the syrup nor the vinegar have to be used medicinally. The syrup is delicious poured over ice cream, while still providing a vitamin C hit. The vinegar can also be used in salad dressings, imparting a pleasant red glow to the finished product and packing a nutritional punch. Now is the very best time to harvest the hips after the first frost. Make sure to correctly identify the hips of course and pick in an unsprayed area you may have them in your back garden. There aren't many poisonous berries in our hedgerows, but you could be unlucky and end up with a nasty tummy ache or vomiting. Also, make sure the hips you pick are plump and healthy looking, not shrivelled.
ROSE HIP SYRUP
Amounts can be adjusted, but keep the proportions the same. To sterilise bottles and lids: rinse with boiling water and place in low oven (caps in a sieve). This is best done just ahead of preparing the syrup. Rosehips sufficient to fill a 1 litre jug and 500ml filtered or bottled water. Boil the hips and water in a covered saucepan for 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Strain through muslin or an old linen tea towel. Measure the juice. Add half the volume of sugar. Boil the juice with the sugar for 10 minutes and pour immediately into the still-warm sterilised bottles.
This syrup can often relieve teething symptoms. Give 4 to 6 drops of the syrup every hour for infants. For older children, give 1 teaspoonful diluted or straight, at frequent intervals. The adult dosage is 2 teaspoonfuls, as frequently as desired.
ROSE HIP VINEGAR
Slit 20-30 rose hips with a sharp knife. Place them in a glass jar and cover with organic cider vinegar. Cover. Either leave in a warm hot press or place on a homebrew heater mat (available in homebrew stores and invaluable for making many herbal preparations) for 4 weeks. Strain through muslin or a linen tea towel. Bottle as above.
For sore throats, mix a tablespoonful of the vinegar with a little warm water, gargle and then swallow. For colds, make a drink using a tablespoon of the vinegar in a mug of hot water, sweetened to taste with honey (a high factor manuka honey is best for infections). It can also be used in salad dressings.
For those of you interested in making these and other simple herbal recipes, I can thoroughly recommend Rosemary Gladstar's -Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal's - Hedgerow Medicine Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies.