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Dog Rose (Rosa canina) is an indigenous herb to Europe, considered by some as an invasive weed found in hedgerows, scrub, woods and wasteland. In Autumn the arching stems with downy hooked thorns bear clusters of ‘flask-shaped’ scarlet fruit known as rose hips. These floral super foods make eye-catching bait for birds, bursting with medicine for our homes and communities. Be sure to share in this harvest with the local wildlife as they are rich in therapeutic uses!
Rose hips were thought to be discovered for their high vitamin C content in Britain during WWII when scurvy was prevalent and citrus remedies scarce. In modern times, vitamin C supplementation is used to support the immune system. However, it is often more beneficial to obtain nutrients from local whole food sources such as rose hips, compared with manufacturing processes and non-bioregional plant species.
The therapeutic use for rose hips are many and go beyond the scope of vitamin C with a plethora of tonic and antioxidant (carotenoid) properties that work in synergy with vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, D, K, beta carotene including minerals such as calcium, iron, selenium and zinc.
Rose hips have many actions for example they are anti-inflammatory, astringent (drying), stomachic (strengthening digestion), nervine (strengthening and nourishing the nervous system) and nutritive, with sour and cooling qualities. These actions make it a useful food and medicine for colder times of the year, benefiting inflammatory based conditions by easing chronic inflammation and offering pain relief. They can cool the body to help lower a fever, internally used for natural relief of colds, sore throat, influenza, blocked chest and minor infectious diseases. They can help control diarrhoea, gastritis and act as a dietary supplement (especially good in vitamin C deficiency), and may help to eliminate waste, support the immune system, soothe nerves, relieve insomnia and lift depression e.g Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Culinary use of rose hips include wine making, vinegar, jam, jelly, syrup, soup and tea. They’re also used economically as a nutritional syrup supplement (especially for babies) which is sometimes added to cough mixtures, and used to flavour medicines. Extracts are added to vitamin C tablets, food supplements, herbal remedies and herb teas. As you can see, rose hips have a great deal to offer the Autumn and Winer medicine cabinet.
For the non-herbalists amongst you, here is a simple recipe you can safely carry out at home. It’s a fun project to do with children at the weekend or during school holidays and may help to raise awareness about harnessing nature to improve health and wellbeing.
Recipe for Organic Rose Hip Apple Cider Vinegar
This recipe has been adapted from various sources to simplify the process. Instead of using the conventional weight:volume ratio for fresh plant tinctures based on calculating the equivalent dry weight of the herb in g:ml, I have favoured a more traditional, user friendly approach, including the use of a metric cup measurement.
- Bag or basket
- Sharp knife
- Metric measuring cup
- 1L Pyrex jug
- Muslin cloth
- Conical measure
- 100 ml or bigger amber bottles with plastic caps (vinegar tends to rust lids otherwise)
Ingredients to yield approximately 600 ml:
- Wild crafted, foraged rose hips (Rosa canina)
- 1L organic apple cider vinegar (ACV)
- Identify and pick the rose hips in Autumn when the hips are bright red, soft and fleshy (preferably after the first frost).
- Wash the rose hips, discard anything damaged and slit the skins using a sharp knife.
- Measure 1 cup of slit rose hips to 2 cups of room temperature ACV.
- Place the rose hips into a 1L sterilised pyrex jug and cover with ACV, leaving head room for the rose hips to swell.
- Cover and label the project with: name of plant, plant part, menstruum (the liquid ingredient) e.g ACV and date.
- Macerate (soak in a liquid) for two weeks to one month (you may like to follow the path and cycle of the moon), locate in a dark place at room temperature and stir daily with a wooden spoon.
- Strain the acetum (a preparation having vinegar as the solvent) through a muslin cloth to remove seeds and irritant hairs. Discard of the marc (left over herbal material).
- Return the crude acetum into a pyrex jug, cover and allow to settle overnight.
- The next day, filter and decant ready for us into sterilised amber bottles, cap and label as previously done and store in a cool dark place (shelf life six months).
The recommended dosage is 5 ml three times daily before a main meal (neat or in 30 ml filtered water) to benefit from the ACV digestive tract, tonic qualities. This recipe can be added to cooking e.g marinades and salad dressings, and is non toxic and tolerated by most including those who are alcohol sensitive. If you experience any adverse side effects such as loose stools which can be associated with excess vitamin C, stop taking the remedy for a day and reintroduce at half the recommended amount.
It is advisable to consult a qualified herbalist before self-administering herbal medicine, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding, have a diagnosis and/or taking prescription pharmaceutical drugs. For example, research indicates that rose hips have the potential to reduce blood glucose levels, which can be suitable for treating diabetes, large doses administered by those with hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) may cause side effects. The seeds also consist of short hairs with may irritate one internally. If you are susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome or irritable bowel disease please take care to strain the liquid sufficiently. Rose hips are generally considered safe for use with children, convalescents and the elderly.
When foraging for wild food or medicine, please be sure to identify plant species correctly, harvest away from polluted areas such as busy roads and industry, or where they might have been sprayed and remember to leave some Autumn and Winter food for wild life. One of my favourite hedgerow medicine guides for wild food and herbal medicine identification is:
- Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies by Julie Bruton-Seal (Author, Illustrator), Matthew Seal (Author).
If you happen to miss the rose hip harvest, you can always buy rose hip syrups, powders and tonics from a herbal supplier. I like Tree Harvest but you would need to contact them, set up an account and ask for a product catalogue to start ordering.
Should you decide to study herbal medicine for example at the College of Naturopathic Medicine this is the kind of practical, hands on project you might study in the module Botany, Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology.
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