A Handful of Hips

Recently in the woods, I stumbled upon a thicket of multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), a wild invasive species running rampant in our area. I’ve talked about harvesting the rosehips before, but this was my first serious opportunity.

Rosa multiflora fruit stand out in the winter forest
Rosa multiflora fruit stand out in the winter forest

Like other types of roses, multiflora’s fruit, called hips, are edible and contain high amounts of vitamin C. While multiflora rosehips are smaller than the fruit of cultivated roses, they tend to be more numerous.

Cultivated rosehips are larger, but less numerous
Cultivated rosehips are larger, but less numerous

Multiflora rosehips are also very red, making them easy to spot among the dull browns of a winter forest. However, there are other inedible red berries as well, such as Lonicera maackii, the Amur honeysuckle.

Do NOT eat Amur honeysuckle berries

The other toxic red berries I encounter this time of year in the woods belong to oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).

Oriental bittersweet berries are also toxic
Oriental bittersweet berries are also toxic

Both oriental bittersweet and Amur honeysuckle are invasive non-natives, like the multiflora rose. It’s easy to tell the multiflora rose from the other two, however, because of the green stems and wickedly sharp brambles. I couldn’t wear gloves while picking the berries because I kept accidentally crushing them. My hands were shredded by the time I was able to harvest even this modest amount.

A small harvest of multiflora rosehips
A small harvest of multiflora rosehips

Then I faced the perennial question: how do I use such a small harvest?

Option 1. I could have just left the rose hips there to feed small woodland critters. However, since multiflora rose is so invasive, this would allow the seeds to continue dispersing and spreading even further.

Option 2. Eat them. I was a bit nervous about eating rosehips straight after reading this article about some possible unpleasant side effects. However I asked around and folks with more experience than I said that multiflora rose seeds lacked the irritating hairs referenced by the article. I nibbled a few of the berries and the flavor was pleasant. But – as with many wild fruits – the seed-to-flesh ratio made the experience, um, challenging.

Option 3. Add them to a recipe with other fruit. Possibilities include chutney, syrup, jam, or anything fruit based where the rosehips can blend in.

Option 4. Tea. By far and away the best choice for me, because it allowed me to sidestep any doubts I may have had about the seeds, while still enjoying the benefits of the water-soluble vitamin C. I crushed the berries with a muddler to allow the hot water to reach the fleshy insides more easily. Apparently vitamin C can deteriorate if the water is too hot, so heat the water to just under boiling before pouring it over the fruit. Also, the vitamin C can break down over time as the rosehips age and dry, I highly recommend enjoying this tea relatively soon after your harvest! You’ll need that extra vitamin C to help heal the lacerations on your hand!

I poured 10 ounces of hot (not boiling) water over two tablespoons of crushed hips. Initially the tea appeared plain, blah, boring, unassuming. The water turned slightly yellow, and no amount of stirring ever intensified the color. Was anything even happening in there? Frustrated, I tossed in a handful of dried butterfly pea flowers (Clitoria ternatea). Mind you, I hoard these petals because they are so precious to me. Their sad story is a tale for another post. But tea made from them changes color in the presence of acids, from a deep blue to pink or purple, and I just had to know if there was something going on in that rosehip tea. I left to sulk (watched tea never steeps), and ten minutes later the tea had reached a gorgeous shade of deep, dark purple.

Rosehip tea turns from bland to beautiful with some butterfly pea flowers
Rosehip tea turns from bland to beautiful with some butterfly pea flowers

The flavor was mild though slightly sweet, and would have blended beautifully with hibiscus flowers, a touch of lemon juice, and/or raw honey. I would definitely call it a foraging success, despite the modest amount.

Have you tried multiflora rosehips, or any other type of rose fruit? If so, what is your favorite way to prepare it?

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