A few weeks back, my husband went for a walk in a forested area and brought me back a surprise: Freshly-picked rose hips! He knows that I’m always excited to receive ingredients to use for medicinal purposes, and rose hips are a powerhouse of healthful benefits.
Rose hips are the name for the fruit that grows on the rose plant after the flowers have faded. Many people might not realize, but roses are in the family Rosaceae and therefore related to apples, pears, cherries, apricots, and almonds! Rose hips ripen to a bright, cheerful red and are a very healthy fruit. I would only recommend caution when gathering rose hips that you be certain you know what conditions they were grown in, as many domestic roses are sprayed with bug sprays or other chemicals. You certainly don’t want that unexpected ingredient in your tisane! If wildcrafting, you might want to double-check that you are allowed to harvest the fruit at that location, as some federal parks do not allow it. Finally, while all rose hips are edible, the tartness and amount of flavor can vary.
Drying rose hips is quite simple. Carefully cut off the very top and the very bottom so all that’s left is the bright red fruit. Next, spread them out in the open air for a few days to begin drying. Then cut them in half and scoop out all of the seeds! The seeds can be used to grow more roses, but the hairs on them can be irritating so it’s not advised that they be eaten. Then simply allow the halved, seeded rose hips to dry for a few more days until they are completely dry. Then they can be either chopped or not, depending on your preference, and placed in an airtight, light-proof container.
The hips that my husband brought me are from one of the local wild rose plants, rosa nutkana or the Nootka Rose. Every part of the Nootka Rose was used by the local Salish peoples, for food or for medicine. The hips were traditionally eaten fresh, mixed with salmon eggs. They are also still used today by locals in the same manner as any other rose hip: made into a tisane, jam, or syrup.
The best-known medicinal purpose of rose hips is that they are an excellent source of Vitamin C, so they’re recommended for preventing colds and boosting the immune system. However, both the drying process and age cause the quantity of Vitamin C to depreciate over time, so they’re not something you want to keep on your shelf for long periods of time: The fresher the better! They’re also traditionally considered to be useful for digestive problems and used topically in lotions and oils for improving skin elasticity.
Research has shown that taking a rose hip product 3-4 times per day reduced pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. Some early research has shown tentative results for slightly reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and that it can be helpful for improving some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Early research has also shown that applying a cream containing rose hip oil (and some other ingredients) twice per day was helpful in reducing or preventing stretch marks during pregnancy.
The major precautions against ingesting rose hips are all related to the Vitamin C content: Pregnancy and breast-feeding, arthritis, kidney stones, iron-related disorders, stroke, blood clots, et cetera. Likewise contraindications with any medications that can be affected by Vitamin C. (If in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist!)
When used in a tisane, rose hips should be steeped for at least ten minutes in freshly boiled water to help get the maximum benefit from the fruit. The flavor is light and fruity. I often mix it with rose petals and catnip for a floral/herbal/fruity blend that I find to be a delightful combination of both flavor and medicinal benefit!
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A Selection of Pacific Northwest Native Plants Traditional and Modern Harvest and Use (PDF Document)
Salish Harvest: Nootka Rose (Rosa Nutkana)
WebMD: Rose Hips