Roses Are Red and Healthful Too, by Sarah Latimer

We have had beautiful fall weather. However, my flower gardens are pretty well gone, as the brisk, cold fall winds blow and leave only a few dried flowers, seeds, and various remains to remind me of the brilliant colors that once adorned our property earlier in the year. If asked what is my favorite aromatic flower, I might say stargazer lily, gardenia, or rose. If asked what is the most beautiful flower, I would struggle to come up with just one or even three, as there are many I adore, but the rose would certainly be high on the list. If asked what is the most health beneficial flower to grow, again I would have to list several, including borage, echinacea, chamomile, lavender, and primrose. However, what are my all-around favorite flowers, I’d have to say rose and lavender, but the rose holds a tender place in my heart that no other can replace.

I have quite a few “favorite” (actually sentimental) flowers that each remind me of loved ones and special times or places. However, the dozens of rose bushes on our property remind me of Mom. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of literally following her footsteps through her rose garden, where she would spend several mornings each week during the summer pruning bushes and cutting flowers during the summer time. She would tell me the types of her various rose bushes– Abraham Lincoln, Seven Sisters, Peace, and many more. She had trellises of red, pink, and yellow as well as manicured bushes in various colors. Bowls of roses filled our home, and she also took bouquets to Daddy’s office and to friends’ homes, too. They were fragrant and beautiful. The velvet petals mesmerized this little girl, and I enjoyed watching the bees buzz around them, too, and was scolded not to bother those bees that were busy making honey for us to enjoy.

Now, as a mother and grandmother who is more practical than dreamer these days, I have grown to appreciate another aspect of roses that goes beyond their beauty and floral fragrance and even beyond the nostalgic remembrances of my dear mother. I appreciate the fruit of the rose bush– rose hips, which are sometimes also called rose haws. Now is the time they are readily available on some variety of rose bushes.

When the pollinated rose flower’s petals dry and falls off, usually a bulb-like fruit remains. This bulb eventually turns into an orange or red color and may wither and crinkle to turn brown eventually. The ideal, sweetest-flavored rose hip is one that is brightly colored, firm, and smooth on a dried stem. This rose fruit is called a rose hip (or rose haw, to some), and there are many ways to indulge in its benefits.


The ancient Chinese, Persians, Greeks, and Romans recognized the value of the rose fruit. Ancient uses. In AD 77, the Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, recorded 32 disorders that responded to treatment with rose preparations. Among the ancient ills treated were stomach upset, pain, headaches, diarrhea, constipation, urinary tract infections, and weakness.

In more recent history, as the English were colonizing the world with their expansive navy, the British sailors who were aboard ships for many months at a time struggled with death and serious illness from scurvy that begins with weakness, tiredness, curly hair, and sore arms and legs and progresses to reduced red blood cell development and bleeding from the skin to a more advanced stage, according to Wikipedia of “poor wound healing, personality changes, and finally death from infection or bleeding.” It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that a doctor in the Royal Navy discovered that scurvy could be prevented and treated with Vitamin C. The British navy began providing rose hips syrup for its sailors as one source of Vitamin C aboard their ships.

Health Benefits for Today

Fresh, wild rose hips are rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, flavonoids and other polyphenols, essential fatty acids, and carotenoids such as lycopene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Rose hips offer an excellent source for vitamin C that can be stored long term and found even in the winter or in places where other fruit rarely grows. If your vitamin C intake is inadequate, the collagen fibers in your connective tissues will become unstable, and you may experience loosening of your teeth and bleeding in your gums, bleeding under your skin, and possible pain and swelling in your joints.

As a child, my parents put me on vitamin C to boost my immune system, but I broke out in a rash each time I took this vitamin. We soon discovered that I required vitamin C supplements with rose hips because the rose hip-based vitamins did not cause a rash. My body was able to absorb the vitamin C from rose hips without issue and has been ever since. It was explained to me that the properties in rose hips enabled my body to better absorb the vitamin C and that rose hips also contain mild, natural anti-inflammatory properties that may be of benefit to me. I have never had issue with vitamin C sourced from rose hips, and as an adult I have learned to love teas flavored with rose hips, too.

The Rugusa Rose produces the best tasting rose hips. However, Dog Rose (Rosa canina) and Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa) both offer the highest sources of Vitamin C. Other roses provide hips with Vitamin C, but they may have less and sometimes significantly less Vitamin C than these varieties. In a survival situation, of course, use whatever is available. In addition to Vitamin C, rose hips contain high levels of antioxidant flavonoids with known anti-inflammatory properties.

Planting Roses for Rose Hips

As mentioned before, Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) are the best variety for rose hips with Vitamin C. Dog Roses (Rosa canina) are also excellent for rose hips with Vitamin C and are best known for their additional anti-inflammatory properties.

Rugosa roses are large, sprawling, multi-branched, rose bushes notorious for their spiny thorns. In addition to providing an excellent and tasty source of vitamin C and nutrients through their hips, these rose bushes would make good security hedges along a fence. They come in multiple varieties with small flowers of only two to three inches in diameter in various colors of red, pink, lavender, and white. They are rugged roses that are almost maintenance free. Rugosas can handle light shade, salt air, frigid temperatures, drought, and high humidity. They prefer a rich, well-draining soil with slight acidity of around 5.6 to 6.5 soil pH. However, they can tolerate poor soil, clay, and all kinds of abuse. They require little fertilizer and do not need pruning and do best when there is little competition from weeds and nearby plants. It’s best to plant them in the spring and keep them well watered until established. A bit of fertilizer is helpful while they are getting established. They do well with some support of a fence, as without pruning, they will grow long, arching branches.

Harvesting and Preparing Dried Rose Hips

It is ideal, in order to obtain the sweetest flavor, to harvest rose hips after the first freeze and while they still have some color and have not completely shriveled up. However, there will still be vitamin and mineral benefit from shriveled up rose hips if you are in a survival situation and come along some in the dead of winter in need of a source of vitamin C. In that case, use whatever is available. Just break the rose hip off the bush at the stem and take inside to work on a little later. If the rose hip is still soft, let it harden a bit. You don’t want it to be as hard as a nut but firm enough that the seeds inside won’t be mushy and make it difficult to remove the hairs, which must be removed. Remember not to harvest any roses that have been treated with pesticides (or fungicides)! Wild roses or those you have purposefully left untreated are best (safest) for edible purposes.

To process the hips, cut them in half. You may need to use strong scissors to cut them in half if they have hardened to the point that your knife won’t cut them. Then, scoop out the seeds and hairs. It is important to remove the hairs around the seeds because these hairs cause itching sensations. If you were ever the victim of the childish prank of itching powder, then you suffered the consequences of rose hip hair powder. I remember one such incident myself and don’t care to repeat it. Once the seeds and hairs have been removed, let the hulls complete their drying process. This can be done by leaving them out to air dry or using a dehydrator. Also, they can be used at this point to make tea for immediate consumption or for syrup that will be canned for future use. However, if you want to store them for long-term use, they should be thoroughly dried. In their dry form, they can be used in many ways, including to make tea and syrup or powdered and put into capsules.

Making Rose Hip Tea and Syrup

Rose fruit– rose hips– are related to crab apples, but many people say they have a flavor that is similar to cranberries. I think their flavor is a cross between cranberry and apple with a hint of mango. When cooked longer, as in the syrup, they definitely have a stronger mango flavor. They pair well with hibiscus and blackberry leaves in tea, in my opinion.

To make rose hip tea for a strong, medicinal benefit:

Use two tablespoons of crushed rose hips in two cups of boiling water. Continue to boil for ten to twelve minutes. Then, strain and consume the tea. This makes two servings. In addition, I like to add a few hibiscus flowers and a few crushed blackberry leaves, but others prefer to add mint leaves or honey. It is up to the consumer to decide for themselves what they like and also the health benefits they are pursuing. Chamomile is another option also, particularly if the “patient” is feeling anxious or having difficult sleeping, and I’ve seen rose hips added to exotic teas with lemongrass and ginger as well. It can also be added to tea flavor blends and steeped, though the full vitamin benefit may be lost if it is not left longer than tea leaves in boiling water, since rose hips are thick walled fruit. These, of course, can also be used to make iced teas in cool (or any) weather.

For rose hip syrup (makes about three pints):

Put six cups of water into a large pan; bring to a boil. Add four cups of crushed rose hips; remove from heat. Let sit to infuse water for 30 minutes. Strain into a large bowl, using a colander and muslin cheesecloth. Set that rose hip juice aside and return the rose hip pulp back to the large pan. Add another four cups of water to the pulp. Bring to a boil; once water is boiling, remove from heat and let the rose hips infuse the water for another 30 minutes. Strain through the same colander and muslin cloth again. Combine to the two batches of rose hips juice into a single large pan. Toss rose hips away. Bring your ten cups of rose hips juice to a boil and simmer until it reduces by half. Remove from heat and add four cups of baker’s ultra fine sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to the stove and bring to a hard boil for five minutes. Pour into clean, sterilized jars and seal. The syrup can be used as a drink, when diluted with four or five parts water, or can be used straight as a syrup on ice cream or pancakes.

I’ve harvested my rose hips and am anxious to make some syrup after the Thanksgiving holiday. I expect that it, along with my elderberry syrup, will do wonders to help keep our family healthy through the holiday season, winter, and spring and until we will begin to have fresh fruits and vegetables available on our homestead once again.