Now is the time to gather rose hips, before the first hard frost – if it ever comes – turns them into mush. Garden rosehips won’t do; it’s the wild dog rose, Rosa canina, that makes the best syrup. You can make a tincture of them, too, but syrups and jellies are the traditional ways to use them.
There was a time, during and after the war, when rose hip syrup became extremely popular. It started as a source of vitamin C when oranges were hard to come by, but by the fifties it had become a soothing drink to give to babies.
I was given it, undiluted, in a small bottle when I wouldn’t sleep at night. The sugar rush probably made things worse – and it certainly rotted my baby teeth – but in those days they knew no better
However, rose hips do have their genuine uses. Besides being rich in vitamin C, they are a useful digestive tonic; their astringency makes them a good counterbalance to irritation in the gut, and they share some of the anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects of rose petals. If you make tincture, you will avoid the unwanted effects of sugar, but there is still a place for syrup in cough medicine, and to mask the bitterness of some medicinal herbs.
I used to add it to the remedies I made for children, until I learned that most children will readily take bitter herbs if they are presented in the right way.
What causes trouble is not the taste of the medicine, but the opportunity to score points off their parents – and children who play this game will do it no matter how sweet the pill. Still, rose hip syrup is full of vitamin C, soothing to a sore throat, and it makes a lovely winter cordial – diluted, of course. Here is a recipe:
• 1kg rosehips
• 3 litres of water
• 500g dark brown soft sugar
1. Bring to the boil 2 litres of water.
2. Chop up the rosehips and add to boiling water.
3. Bring water back to the boil, then remove from heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes.
4. Pour rosehips and liquid into a muslin jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through. Gently squeeze the jelly bag to extract as much liquid as possible.
5. Add rosehip pulp back to a saucepan containing 1 litre of water and bring back to the boil. Then remove from heat and allow the contents to steep for another 20 minutes before straining again as in Step 3.
6. Add sugar to the strained rosehip liquid and dissolve, allow to simmer for five minutes, then pour into hot, sterilised bottles.
Makes: Approximately 2 litres.