The days are getting shorter, there’s a chill in the morning and evening air: autumn is on our doorstep once more. Time to get out foraging to collect nature’s bounty! My autumn favourite: rosehip syrup.
There is always a shade of melancholy to this time of year, as the summer slips away and one’s mind turns to the darker, colder months. Even so, autumn is probably my favourite time of year — especially since I moved to Austria from Great Britain in 2004. In Britain, damp, disappointing summers segue almost imperceptibly into equally damp and dreary autumns. No picture book piles of fallen leaves red and gold waiting to be played in and thrown in the air like confetti! They’re all stuck to the pavement in one great big September squelch.
The arrival of autumn in Austria triggers quite different feelings. On the one hand, there is always a palpable sense of relief that the oppressive heat of summer is now over and one can breathe and sleep easily again. This mild, warm weather generally holds until early November. That means that autumn is one of the best times to get active out on the hiking trails without losing half your body weight in sweat. Add in the sumptuous seasonal treats of pumpkin and the wine harvest and you have a thoroughly pleasant time to be savoured.
Wherever one is, autumn is also the time to go out collecting the bounty that has been ripening on the trees and bushes over summer. Rosehips are a particularly tasty and highly nutritious treat that can be picked from both wild and cultivated bushes across the countryside.
The rosehip is the fruit of the rose plant and can be used to make tasty syrups, jellies, jams and even wine. Most often orangey-red in colour, but also occurring in purple or black — these bead-like fruits are rich in vitamins A, B and D. They are also packed with many more times vitamin C than oranges or lemons, making them a favoured dietary supplement to boost the immune system. Regular consumption can help to ward off colds and infections and even alleviate the symptoms of arthritis.
Beware the tiny hairs on the inside of the fruit, though — these are an irritant to skin and the digestive system. Years ago, they were even used by schoolchildren to make a prank itching powder for use on their least favourite classmates or siblings! Great care must be taken to remove all of the hairs during processing — either manually while preparing the fruits for cooking or by putting the syrup/jam/wine mix through a muslin cloth or strainer prior to bottling. Accidental ingestion could result in some serious digestive distress!
Rosehips: A wartime weapon
Although the majority of modern Britons have become alienated to the idea of foraging and collecting nature’s treasures in favour of food bought conveniently from the supermarket, they have good reason to feel thankful to the humble rosehip. Indeed, during World War II, they became a valuable secret weapon in keeping people (and especially children) healthy in times when fresh produce was scarce.
During those years of privation, importing citrus fruits from abroad became a difficult and risky enterprise — making them and their precious nutrients unattainable for large parts of the population. To counter the risk of vitamin deficiencies (especially vitamin C) and their adverse effects among the population, the Ministry for Food had to look closer to home for viable alternative sources.
Recalling the power of those unassuming little red berries growing in thousands of hedgerows right across the land, they launched a national collection campaign. Rosehips were to be picked and taken to designated collection points where 3d (about 35p in today’s money) was paid for each pound of the fruits (not including leaves and stems).
The harvest was processed into rosehip syrup which was then sold or even prescribed for young children, who were most at risk of suffering from the lack of fresh food and the vitamins they needed for healthy growth. By 1943, 500 tons of rosehips had been collected: enough to make 2.5 million bottles of rosehip syrup and saving the import of 25 million oranges.
A forgotten fruit
Rosehip syrup continued to be made and sold commercially after the war, most notably as Delrosa syrup, made by Scott and Turner of Newcastle. However, over the decades, it popularity waned and rosehip syrups, jams and jellies became a rather rare sight on shop shelves. The rosehip had gone from a national nutrition saviour to a forgotten fruit, simply passed by on the way to school, the supermarket or the pub.
I believe it is time for a rosehip revival! Every time you walk past a hedge full of these ruby-red beads, think of all the wonderful things you can do with them. And Mother Nature is giving them away for free. It’s time to get picking and cooking!
Even if lots of things are going free in nature, it’s important to forage safely and sustainably. Find out what rules apply in your area concerning the picking of plants and fruits. If you’re not sure whether a plant can be eaten or not — leave it! Accidentally eating something toxic can cause you serious harm or even kill you.
You can find some more general foraging tips here.
Rosehip syrup – my favourite recipe
This recipe is based on the one provided by the Ministry of Food during WW2.
- 900g rosehips, washed
- 1.7 litres of water
- 560g sugar
- Food prep gloves (wear these the whole time: if you get the little rosehip hairs on your hands, they’ll itch for ages!)
- A small, sharp knife
- Food processor/large kitchen knife
- A muslin cloth/coffee filter papers
- Glass bottle(s)
- Cut the remains of the blossoms off the rosehips using the small, sharp knife.
- Meanwhile, bring 1.7 litres of water to the boil.
- Roughly cut the rosehips with the large kitchen knife or give them a couple of blasts in the food processor. Put them into the boiling water immediately.
- Bring the water back to the boil and then place aside for 30 minutes.
- Pour the into the muslin/coffee filter paper and allow to drip until the bulk of the liquid has come through.
- Return the residue to the saucepan, add 850ml of boiling water, stir and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
- Pour back into the muslin/coffee filter paper and allow to drip again.
- To make sure all the sharp hairs are removed, put back the first half cupful of liquid and allow to drip through again.
- Put the mixed juice into a clean saucepan and boil down until the juice measures about half the original volume, then add the sugar and boil for a further 5 minutes.
- Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once.
- Rosehips are best collected after the first frost.
- All types of rosehips are edible: pick the ones which are deep orange/red but which haven’t gone soft yet. Be sure to leave some for the birds!
- Store the syrup in a cool, dry and dark place.
- Small bottles are better for storing rosehip syrup, as it will not keep for more than 1-2 weeks after opening.
- The syrup is ideal as a flavouring for milk puddings, ice-cream, or in hot water as a warming winter beverage.
If you love to make syrups, you might like to try this simple lilac syrup recipe in spring.
Here’s my recipe for a summer classic, too: homemade elderflower cordial.
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Photo: AnatoliySadovskiy on Envato Elements