Seasonal rose hips are a great natural source of vitamin C

Fiann Ó Nualláin says he likes to pick his rose hips now as they often go into decline once the first cold snap of the year hits them

The recent mild weather has held up some of the wild fruits including the hips of roses and the haws of hawthorn bushes but we only have a couple of weeks before temperature drops will commence the going over of these gems.

Seasoned foragers may note that rose hips often sweeten after a frost but many also speed into decline after that first snap. I like to pick mine now and let modern refrigeration trick the taste change into happening – a cold night below or near zero or a few hours in the freezer basically alters the starch structures into becoming sweeter. Haws I find have a more pleasant meal (texture) in autumn than winter. So this weekend is a great time to avail of nature’s larder and in particular because these two fruits are alleviating of winter ailments and boosting of general health.

The wild roses that are often found in hedgerow or self-seed into waste grounds tend to be Rosa canina (dog rose) but also near cousins of R. laevigata, R. rugosa or R. rubiginosa. These are popularly foraged but all rose hips have edible/medicinal value – including garden-grown varieties. Roses and apples share the same botanical family and their fruits have been keeping doctors away for as long as idioms existed.

Rosehips feature in the earliest of herbals and oldest medicinal texts – in the main as a general health tonic and as convalescence support but also to ease a whole variety of symptoms. Modern science would put that down to the exceedingly high vitamin C content - generally at least 50% greater than that of oranges. You can eat the hips as a fresh fruit, quite tangy, but the seeds inside and their protective hairy layer will need to be removed first, to avoid and unpleasant swallow sensation. Slice in half, scoop out, rinse under a tap and pucker up.

They can also be cooked into pies, chutneys and jams and this way you get to avail of their rich immune boosting value all through winter. I love a good rose and apple preserve and there is plenty of natural pectin there, so less sugar required than some other hedgerow jams. I also love rose syrup and rose cordial made from that syrup, both as a pleasant summer drink and as a winter tonic. But again, you may be sugar conscious and think, ‘Well, none of that’s for me’, so how about a rosehip tea.

Normally I would not be a fan of hot beverages as a sources of vitamin C, simply because heat destroys it, but there is so much vitamin C in the hips that even after a 15-30 minute decoct to make a nice cup of tea or start the base of syrup, the tangy liquid is often still up there in content with an over-the-counter vitamin C supplement.

Rosehips in whatever edible format they end up in, have a long tradition being employed to treat colds, flu, coughs, mucous congestion, fevers along with bacterial and viral infections. The value of them in a tea is that the hot tea also promotes light perspiration and urine flow and so helps eliminate toxins and cleanse the body.

Rosehip tea has a reputation for cooling menopausal hot flushes and reducing profuse night sweats. It does have a portion of isoflavone phytoestrogens and so can act as a mild HRT and as a slight libido enhancer. And for the men, its blood-thinning bioflavonoids and the presence of vitamin P enhances the functioning of capillaries and boosts peripheral blood circulation - including to places Pfizer is an expert on (and I don’t mean the byways of Ringaskiddy unless you are from Ringaskiddy).

To spare all our blushes and move on - still in full flush in the hedgerows this month are hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) berries – commonly referred to as haws. Hawthorn is also in the rose family and it too has a good share of vitamin C in its fruits. The easily deseeded fruits are edible raw. It is generally slightly sweet to the tongue but it can leave an aftertaste that is well, less than relish. When cooked, however, haws can be transformed into a fine relish or sweet preserve. Generally, they are simmered with apple slices to help the preserve to set and increase its flavour profile.

The seeds, like its apple cousin, have a cyanide-like chemical that could cause an upset stomach in some but you’d need to swallow a fair few. There is also the risk of outright poisoning but only if you spent the many hours it would take to eat the entire hedgerow. All that said, roasted hawthorn seeds have some viability as a coffee substitute. I am not a prepper nor a fan of Bear Grylls, so my preference is for a decent cup of real coffee.

Hawthorn berries in tincture, syrups and dried berry are used by herbalists the world over to treat or prevent cardiac health properties. It also strengthens the circulatory system – and has some benefits in alleviating varicose veins, haemorrhoids and other complaints of the veins. It can also do this via a herbal tea.

Hawthorn is considered a herbal adaptogen – it helps the body and brain cope with physical, mental and environmental stresses. It does this by improving physical stamina as well as exerting mild stress relief. However, if you are prone to hypotension then you should note that hawthorn can potentially/occasionally lower blood pressure. It is currently under study as a potential medicine in managing high blood pressure.

So while there is bounty to be had - like anything, be it foraged or bought in the health store - don’t consume it until you know it won’t affect your current medications or any underlying ailments. Other than that, good picking.

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