The first frost of the autumn arrived last week. The rose-hips (Rosa canina) have turned red and so the combination of the two means that it’s time to get out and get picking. They can be found on bushes all over the UK and beyond. Historically, they are a wild food with a lot of history.
It is incredibly easy to make rosehip syrup. For Forest School leaders and others who work in woodlands with children, then this is a very doable activity. I experimented at home, as the photos show, roughly following the Ministry of Food’s wartime directions.
During World War 2 there were few supplies of citrus fruits reaching Britain. Because rosehips were found to contain between ten and twenty times the level of vitamin C of oranges, the Government organised a voluntary collection scheme. Mothers and children were offered it in large quantities at reduced prices from welfare clinics. Apparently rosehips in Scotland and northern England were found to contain more vitamin C so were much sought after.
First of all, I collected rosehips. Some can still be hairy and there’s thorns on the bushes so wearing thick gloves would have helped. As a child I knew rosehips for their itching powder properties, so be warned – the hairs do irritate the skin. Avoid bushes beside roads or where pollutants are likely to linger. Take them home and give them a wash. I still had a fair number with the wispy stars on the end. This does not seem to matter. I collected 8oz – just over 200g.
Next they need to be roughly chopped. I cheated and used my food processor but a sharp knife and kitchen board would be fine.
The chopped rosehips are added to a half pint of water – around 250ml. The mixture was brought to boil in a stainless steel pan and then left to cool and stew for 15 minutes. The mixture is then poured through a linen or flannel cloth. I just used an old tea towel. The residue was then added to another half pint of water, brought to the boil and left to cool for 10 minutes. All this time I could smell a lovely rosehip aroma – just like having a cup of rosehip tea.
Again the mixture is strained through the tea towel. The liquid from both strainings is put into a clean stainless steel pan. This is important as there’s lots of fine hairs which need to be removed from the liquid. The residue can be composted.
The liquid is boiled until there’s about 1/2 pint left. Add 4oz or 100g of sugar to the liquid and boil for another 5 minutes. Leave to cool.
I thought I would see what the rose-hip syrup would taste like as a hot cordial drink, so I added hot water to a normal amount in the cup. It was very sweet and not sour like rosehip tea and with a mild taste. In fact its smells stronger than it tastes.
I’m a big fan of homemade pancakes, which are easy enough to make and cook on a griddle or frying pan on a camp fire. The thickness of rosehip syrup is very similar to real maple syrup. It will go off if it’s not used within a week. So do keep in sterilised bottles and freeze extra quantities. The traditional way is to seal in sterilized bottles and corks, sealed with wax. My spare syrup will make a lovely topping for some ice-cream.
Whilst searching for advice about making rosehip syrup I consulted the following books: Herbs by Roger Phillips, Food for Free by Richard Mabey and Flora Celtica by Milliken and Bridgewater. In the Herbs book, Roger alludes to rosehip seeds being found in the 2000 year old skeleton of a neolithic woman unearthed in Britain. It is interesting that such an unpalatable looking berry has been such a valuable food crop through the ages.