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Gather ye rosebuds...
Posted on: 05 January 2023

Well, not  rosebuds in the winter but certainly the hips from the hedgerow roses once they’ve been slightly softened by frost and before the birds eat them.

Weight for weight, rosehips contain 20 times more vitamin C than oranges and wartime babies may remember being regularly dosed with spoonfuls of rosehip syrup in the 1940s and ‘50s. More recent studies have shown that rosehip extracts also have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce the pain of osteoarthritis. Apart from its health-giving properties, the syrup is delicious poured over vanilla ice cream, porridge or yoghurt and can also be diluted for use as a cordial.

Rosehips are generally gathered from the dog rose (Rosa canina) – widely found in hedgerows – or Rosa rugosa, a particularly thorny variety often recommended for creating burglar-deterring hedges in gardens. Most modern garden roses are hybrids and there is little information on the vitamin C content of their hips, but those from older varieties (such as R. centifolia, R. damascena and R. gallica) are all edible, although they are not as flavoursome as dog rose hips. If you’re struggling to find enough wild rosehips then mixing in a few from old roses in the garden can help stretch the harvest.

There are numerous recipes for making rosehip syrup: some recommend de-seeding the rosehips first and also removing the tiny hairs they contain. This can be both time-consuming and very fiddly, but is easier once the hips have been softened by frost. Otherwise simply crush the whole hips with a potato masher or give them a short spin in a food processor and remember to strain the finished syrup very thoroughly.

11b/500g rosehips – crushed

Sugar (soft dark brown sugar works well)

Wash and rinse a couple of bottles – enough for about 1.5pt/750ml of syrup – and put on a tray in a low oven (100°C). 

Put the crushed rosehips in a large pan with 1.5pts/1lt water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for a further 15 minutes, then strain through a fine jelly bag. Return the strained pulp to the pan and add a further 1pt/500ml water to the mixture and repeat.

Combine the two extracts and strain once more through a fresh double layer of muslin or a fine jelly bag. Measure the juice and transfer to a clean pan. To every 1pt/500ml of juice add 12oz/300g sugar. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, skimming off any scum if necessary. Boil for about 5 minutes to create a light syrup then decant into the warm bottles. 

If you don’t want to heat your rosehips – which can reduce the Vitamin C content - an alternative is to wash and trim the hips (top and tail to remove the stalk and flower remnants), score each hip with a sharp knife and then fill a 1lt Kilner jar with alternate layers of hips and sugar. Leave for about three months on a sunny windowsill until the sugar has absorbed the juice from the hips to create a syrup, then strain and store in clean sterilised bottles. I leave my jar in a corner on top of the Aga for a couple of months which slightly speeds up the process but doesn’t apply too much heat; once the sugar has all dissolved the syrup can be squeezed out in a jelly bag or pressed using small wine press – delicious!

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