Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
November, 2003
Regional Report

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Rose hips offer winter color and interest, plus food for the birds.

Hip, Hip, Hooray for Roses

When considering roses, most of us think of beautiful flowers, but certain roses offer another dimension to the garden. The fruit of the rose is called a "hip." These hips bring color, texture, and interest to the fall and winter garden, plus provide food for birds and people, too.

Rose hips can be as tiny as 1/4 inch to as big as a cherry tomato or old-fashioned crab apple. Hips are usually in shades of red or orange, but some are black. Rose experts have identified approximately ten different shapes, but in layman's terms, they generally tend to be round or oval. The surface of the hip may be smooth or covered in bristles or prickles. The rose hip consists of a fleshy outer layer surrounding a cluster of tiny, hairy seeds.

Special Qualities of Rose Hips
Rose hips have been used by people since ancient times. The Greeks in the time of Homer made a food of wild rose hips, calling them "food of the gods." Long before people understood vitamins, they were eating the fleshy shell of the hip for treating scurvy. In the 20th century, it was finally verified that rose hips have a high vitamin C content. Although the amount varies with species and is affected by climate (higher in cool climates), rose hips tend to have much more vitamin C than apples. During World War II in England, when citrus fruit could not be imported, rose hips were widely used.

Besides vitamin C, rose hips also contain vitamins A, E, B-1, B-2, niacin, K, P, as well as calcium, phosphorus, and iron. They also have significant amounts of carotenoids, leucoanthocyanins, pectins, catechins, and polyphenols.

Medicinally, hips from the dog rose, Rosa canina, have been used as a diuretic and mild astringent. Hips from Rosa roxburghii were used by the Chinese as an aid for indigestion. The hips from the apple rose, Rosa pomifera, are among the largest of rose hips and make excellent preserves. The Japanese use the native Rosa rugosa, and it is among the most popular roses here for making preserves and jellies. Other roses used for their hips throughout time include Rosa officinalis, Rosa moyesii, and Rosa rubiginosa.

Flowers Versus Hips
When a rose flower is fertilized, a rose fruit, or hip, is the result. This is all well and good for once-blooming roses. With recurrent-blooming roses, hips are not necessarily a good thing because setting fruit tends to make the plant think it is done for the season. This is why we regularly deadhead to encourage subsequent flowering. One of the ways to encourage dormancy in the fall is to stop pruning off the faded flowers.

With once-blooming roses that produce hips, allow the hips to develop and ripen. With recurrent roses that produce hips, deadhead until fall, then allow the crop of hips to develop. Some of the best varieties for this include 'Carefree Wonder', 'Bonica', 'Red Meidiland', 'Sevillana', 'Ballerina', and 'Iceberg'. Generally, rugosas are the exception to the rule, continuing to produce flowers and hips throughout the season.

Using Rose Hips
The easiest way to enjoy rose hips is to leave them on the plant, decorating the winter garden and feeding the birds. If you want to use them yourself, remember that you will need a fairly large quantity. If you're gathering them from plants in public areas, obtain permission. And always be sure plants have not been sprayed with any pesticide.

To use rose hips fresh, collect them as soon as they ripen but after the first fall frost. Wash and air dry. Trim off both ends. Cut the hip in half and remove the hairy seeds. Use the remaining fleshy portion.

To dry rose hips, collect, wash, prepare as above, and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven at the lowest setting. Remove when the hips shrivel and turn hard. Store in tightly sealed jars. Dried rose hips are especially good made into a tea.

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