We have been enjoying the benefits of rosehips for centuries, but they really became popular during World War II when fresh produce was scarce. Here are our tips for finding and cooking up these surprisingly tasty fruits.
Rosehip syrup recipe
Traditionally the hips are boiled with sugar and water, but I prefer this ‘raw’ syrup for maximum goodness and flavour. It is like the best Turkish delight you ever had, crossed with the tang of tropical fruits like mango and lychee. What a treat this must have been at a time of scarcity.
Give your rosehips a good rinse under the tap and 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 from time to time. The sugar will draw the liquid from the rosehips and form 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 and keep in the fridge. The high sugar content will stop bacteria from taking hold.
How to serve rosehip syrup
The syrup will easily keep well 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, waffles, rice pudding, yoghurt or ice cream.
Where and when to find rosehips
Rosehips are produced by all sorts of rose bushes but the common dog rose (Rosa canina) makes the best syrup. It’s abundant in the countryside, growing in woods, 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.
The striking red oval shaped hips form in small clusters and ripen around September and October.
During the war, government scientists realised that, weight for weight, rosehips have over 20 times the vitamin C of oranges. So the Ministry of Food recommended rosehip syrup and a generation of children began receiving a daily dose.With the growing popularity of foraging, the vitamin saviour of World War II has been making a welcome comeback.
As well as vitamin C, rosehips are a great source of vitamin A, D and E. They contain an anti-inflammatory and have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
During WWII, a national week for the collection of rosehips was established in late September. Scouts, guides and other groups would head out to harvest the nation’s hedgerows. In 1941 this produced a 200 ton haul of hips which made 600,000 bottles of commercially produced syrup!