Nature’s Medicine Cabinet

Rosehips are loved by birds and small mammals. They are also used in food and drink and in holistic healthcare for our animals and ourselves. Indeed, many of us remember having rosehip syrup to keep us fit and healthy. We asked Caroline Hearn of Hedgerow Hounds to tell us more.

The Dog Rose (Rosa canina) is an extremely important species of the ancient hedgerow. In the Autumn the rosehips provide essential food for many animals, just at the time they need to prepare for the winter ahead when food will be scarce. Thrushes, blackbirds, redwings, fieldfares and waxwings, as well as small mammals like bank voles, will feed on rose hips during the autumn and winter and disperse the seeds in their droppings. Other birds such as greenfinches and goldfinches will peck out the seeds inside the hips. 

A thick hedge with copious thorns is also a lifesaver to birds, who can dive in there for protection from predators as well as shelter from bitterly cold winds.

A rose by any other name!

Britain’s native wild roses have been the topic of discussion by botanists for years, due to the wide variations between different species and hybrids. However, most agree on five distinct species: dog rose (Rosa canina), field rose (Rosa arvensis), sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa), burnet rose (Rosa spinosissima), and downy rose (Rosa villosa). It is usually the Rosa canina that is favoured for both medicinal and culinary use.

The Rosa rugosa with its gorgeous cerise pink flowers is a variety native to East Asia, China and Japan. It also has stunning rosehips, often the size of conkers, with deeply veined, crinkled leaves. Introduced to Britain in the 19th century it became naturalised and is more likely to be found in towns and cities than in a country hedgerow**. The Rugosa has a limited flavour for syrups and cordials but is useful to mix in with other hips for jams, jellies and flavored

The stunning rosehips of Rosa rugosa

The fine hairs that are found inside the rosehip were, to the delight of children, known as “itching powder” and were often forced down the inside of shirts of unsuspecting children!

Gall wasp

You may have noticed abnormal, bristly growths, that look like pom poms, on the stems of the dog rose during late Summer, which as they mature, turn a lovely dark pink hue. These structures are known as a “Bedeguar gall” or affectionately called Robin’s pincushion. They are caused by a species of tiny wasp (Diplolepis rosae) which lays eggs in the buds or developing leaves of the dog rose. The eggs hatch into small larvae which secrete chemicals causing the abnormal growth. Each gall has many chambers allowing a large number of grubs to overwinter, emerging as
adults in the Spring.

Why are Rosehips so good?

Rosehips also known as hips, contain 20 times more vitamin C than oranges, Vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3, K,) flavonoids, tannins, polyphenols, carotenoids, volatile oils and biotin.

Horse health

They are particularly valuable for horses because of the biotin, which is essential for healthy hoof growth. Horses will often pick the hips from the hedgerows if they are lucky to have access to them in their paddock. If not, you can of course pick some from nearby and offer them. Their actions are nutritive, astringent, anti-inflammatory and diuretic. (Please note that due to the ascorbic acid content, if large amounts are consumed in one sitting, they can cause diarrhoea).

Rosehips also make lovely jams, jellies, cordial, syrups and fruit leather for a welcome vitamin C boost over the winter months. When the government realised the health benefits of rosehips during the Second World War they established a national rosehip collection week in late September. A daily dose of rosehip syrup continued to be a regular habit, especially for children.

Uses of rosehip oil

Rosehip oil is highly prized in the cosmetic industry and the oil is particularly good for preventing scarring, softening scar tissue and rejuvenating damaged or dehydrated skin.

Harvesting hips

Many believe that they are at their best for harvesting after a frost, but if the hips are ready and a frost isn’t imminent you can always freeze them for 24 hours before defrosting and using in recipes.

** Please note that although it is great for wildlife, R rugosa is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales therefore, it’s an offence to plant or otherwise cause it to grow in the wild as it can out-compete native species.

Useful links

More on the healing power of roses can be found here

Talking of hedgerows and berries, see our Healing Hawthorn blog

Here’s a lovely rosehip syrup recipe from the Woodland Trust (please note their responsible foraging guidelines too)

More herbal medicine blogs can be found here

Caroline Hearn, MICHT, Dip. ICAT, ISCP.Dip.Canine.Raw.Nutrition

Caroline is a sports, remedial and holistic massage therapist qualified to treat canine, equine, and human patients. She has a lifelong obsession with dogs, passion for holistic healthcare, natural nutrition and a love for foraging in the countryside; all of which lead her to form the company Hedgerow Hounds which makes veterinary-approved nutritive herbal blends for dogs and other natural healthcare products. She has recently developed Hedgerow Horse. 

Caroline also writes regularly for the holistic magazine Edition Dog and covers subjects such as raw feeding, canine therapies and the progress of the herbal sensory garden she created for her dogs. You can find her website here and her Facebook page here

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website