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Raw Rosehip Syrup

A spoonful of rosehip syrup evokes instant childhood nostalgia.

We have been enjoying the benefits of rosehips for centuries, but their use really took off during World War II when fresh fruit was scarce. Government scientists realised weight for weight rosehips have over 20 times the vitamin C of oranges. Rosehip syrup was recommended by the Ministry of Food and a generation of children began receiving a daily dose. 

The dog rosehips are striking red ovals containing many seeds (Photo: P Holmes/WTML)
The dog rosehips are striking red ovals containing many seeds (Photo: P Holmes/WTML)

With the upsurge in foraging the vitamin saviour of World War II has been making a welcome comeback. Traditionally the hips are boiled with sugar and water but I prefer this ‘raw’ syrup for maximum goodness and flavour.

Rosehips are a great source of not only vitamin C but also A, D and E. They contain an anti-inflammatory and have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis. That is all well and fine, but personally – I just love the taste! It is like the best Turkish delight you ever had, crossed with the tang of tropical fruits like mango and lychee. Imagine what a treat this must have been at a time of bland food and scarcity.

Rosehips are produced by all sorts of rose bushes but it is the common dog rose (Rosa canina) which is abundant in the countryside and makes the best syrup. It grows in woodlands, copses, scrub, and hedges throughout Britain, up to altitudes of 550 metres. Around towns you might also encounter hedgehog rose (Rosa rugosa) which is often planted for hedging. It has larger hips and is fine to use for syrup too. 

Recipe

  • Give your rosehips a good rinse under the tap and then pat them dry.
  • Use a knife to trim the ends and then make a few scores on each hip or pierce them with a fork.
  • Sterilise and dry a sealable jar and place a layer of caster or granulated sugar on the bottom, then a layer of hips.
  • Keep layering hips and sugar until you run out of hips or the jar is full. Try to fill the spaces between the hips with sugar.
  • Seal the jar and put it by a sunny window for a couple of weeks or up to a couple of months, turning it over from time to time. The sugar will draw the liquid from the rosehips and form a syrup.
  • Strain the syrup through a fine cloth like muslin. Rosehips contain hairs which cause irritation so it is important to remove these.
  • Seal the syrup in sterilised bottles to keep in the fridge. The high sugar content will stop bacteria from taking hold.

Uses

The syrup will easily keep for a year in the fridge if unopened. It will lose flavour and vitamin potency as time goes by though, so it’s a good idea to use your autumn batch before spring comes around. If you have any doubts don’t consume it. Trust your nose, and leave it if it has begun to ferment.

The syrup can be taken by the spoonful like medicine – but medicine which tastes fantastic. It makes a pleasant drink diluted in water, or used as an ingredient in alcoholic cocktails. Try using it in a hedgerow mojito with white rum and soda water over ice. Or serve it like maple syrup on pancakes or waffles - and over rice pudding, yoghurt or ice cream.

History

During WWII a “national week for the collection of rosehips” was established in late September, when Scouts, Guides, WRI and WRVS members headed en masse to the nation’s hedgerows. In 1941 this produced a 200 ton haul of hips resulting in 600,000 bottles of commercially produced syrup. A recipe was published so people could make their own at home too.

The 1943 Ministry of Food leaflet “Hedgerow Harvest” also contained a recipe for Rosehip Marmalade:

“The ruby-red seed of the rose makes an, excellent marmalade. If you soak the cleaned rose hips for 2 hours in plain cold water; then let boil for 2 hours, and strain. Measure the puree and add l cup of brown sugar to each cup of puree. Let boil down to thick consistency, pour into sterilized glasses and seal.”

Sounds like it would taste great but how many vitamins would survive a two hour boil?!

The vogue for rosehip syrup outlived the war and even the end of rationing in 1954. The widespread habit of a daily spoonful seems to have started to die out in the 1960s.

September is a great time to look for ripe red rosehips so get out there and give our raw syrup a try.