Bartenders' guide to foraging: Rose hips

Words by forager, Sarah Watson

Photography by Sarah Watson

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These small, striking, scarlet fruits introduce a unique sweet, fruity and deliciously tangy flavour, with warm butterscotch and vanilla notes, to autumnal cocktails.

Common name: Rose
Latin name: Rosa species
Plant family: Rose (Rosaceae)
Edible part: The fruit (hips), as well as petals earlier in the year.

Rose hips fall into the same family as apples and plums, and although hard and seedy, both wild and ornamental rose fruits are edible and have been used for centuries.

During World War II, rose hips were a valuable source of vitamin C when fresh produce was scarce. Children and volunteers were asked to harvest tonnes of hips from hedgerows to make thousands of bottles of rose hip syrup, produced commercially and in homes. They're quite a super-fruit, rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Rose hips are said to support the immune system, ease stomach irritations and are anti-inflammatory, having been shown to reduce joint pain.

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Used as an ingredient for syrup, jellies and dried teas, rose hips are also occasionally used in brewing beer and flavouring saisons, lagers and sour ales, and in country wines and mead. The fruity, tangy and toffee notes of rose hips complement orange, lemon, lime, rhubarb, apple, pear, mint, cardamom, ginger, vanilla, brown sugar and honey.

Roses are widely cultivated over much of the world, there are over 100 species of rose and thousands of ornamental varieties. In Britain, the dog rose (Rosa canina – pictured above) is the most common native wild rose, and is found scrambling through the hedgerows and woodland edges of much of Europe.

The fat, tomato-like hips of the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa – pictured below) are easy to forage and can often be found around towns. Native to East Asia, it has naturalised over much of Europe, as well as parts of the US, and is widely planted in gardens, parks and urban settings.

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Roses are shrubs or climbing, woody plants with thorny or prickly stems, as described in my Bartenders' guide to foraging rose petals. The leaves have often fallen by the time the hips are harvested.

The globular hips start green and ripen around September and October, remaining hard until fully ripe and usually turning bright red, but they can be orange, golden-yellow or even purple-black. The fruits are round or egg-shaped with shiny, waxy (sometimes slightly bristly) skin, thin flesh, and many hairy seeds inside. Whitebeam and rowan are in the same family as roses and also have orange-red fruits which are edible when cooked, but they are trees rather than shrubs.

Rose hips vary in flavour, those of the wild dog rose have deep toffee notes, the Japanese rose's are lighter and tangier, while the dark hips of the burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia - pictured below) are rich and chocolatey. Rupert Waites, chef and chief forager for Edinburgh-based Buck and Birch, says of the fruit, "It's seriously tasty stuff, I'm amazed more people don't fill their baskets with them." At Buck and Birch's nature-inspired dining experiences, dog rose hips have made it onto the menu as a cocktail ingredient, a drizzly syrup, dessert soup, marshmallows, and an after-dinner tea.

So tasty is the rose hip that Buck and Birch turned it into a hand-crafted herbal rum liqueur, Amarosa - a grown up, aromatic version of rose hip syrup, packed with the delicious fruits and wild Scottish herbs. Rose hips are also a key flavour in the English fruity aperitif Sacred Rosehip Cup and The Lakes Rhubarb and Rosehip Gin Liqueur. They feature as one of the foraged botanicals in Greensand Ridge Distillery's London Dry Gin and Stovell's Wildcrafted Gin.

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Any rose hip recipe must remove or carefully strain out the small, fibreglass-like irritant hairs found inside the fruit. The best way to do this for syrup is through a double layer of muslin. For alcohol infusions, further straining with coffee filters will result in a clearer drink if preferred.

Rose hips can be infused to flavour spirits, such as vodka and gin, and they go particularly well with darker spirits like brandy, whisk(e)y and rum. To make an infusion, half-fill a preserving jar with whole, washed, wild rose hips. Top up with spirit, seal and leave to infuse for four months to a year. Strain and bottle, adding sugar, simple syrup or honey to taste. Leave to mature for a few more months. Try swapping Cognac for sweetened rose hip brandy and skip the syrup, in a twist on a classic Fancy Brandy cocktail.

Traditional rose hip syrup, as in this recipe from River Cottage, makes a richly-flavoured and jewel orange-coloured cocktail ingredient. Try using rose hip syrup in a Brandy Smash cocktail, in my fruity, Rose Hip Mojito (pictured below with recipe) or with orange wedges in the Rose Hip Whisky Smash from Emily Han, author of Wild Drinks and Cocktails.

Foraging rose hips:

Although some can ripen from late summer, rose hips mainly ripen in autumn, and can persist on bushes through winter.

•Pick rose hips when they turn orange or red with no traces of green, there's no need to wait until they go soft. Frost will help soften and sweeten them, but they can be frozen for a few days instead.
•Make sure you have correctly identified rose hips - there are poisonous red berries growing wild in hedgerows and woodlands, such as those of the wayfaring tree, woody nightshade, both black and white bryony, holly, butcher's broom, tutsan, and yew, which has a deadly seed.
•Avoid fruit growing alongside very busy roads, or which may have been treated with chemicals like pesticides.
•Rose hips are eaten by birds and small mammals, as well as insects, so leave enough to go round.
•Be aware of thorns, they can be hooked and treacherous! Consider using gloves.
•Twisting ripe hips from their stems while picking, or using scissors, saves time removing the stems later.
•Wash rose hips before use and remove any blackened or insect-damaged fruit.
•Snip off any flower and stem remnants with scissors, or twist them off by hand.

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Rosehip Mojito

By Sarah Watson, Wild Feast, a refreshing, low-alcohol twist on the original Mojito Cocktail recipe.

50ml Amarosa rosehip liqueur
15ml freshly squeezed lime juice
10ml Aperol Aperitivo
5ml wild rose hip syrup
Dash orange bitters
6 fresh lemon balm (or mint) leaves
Soda water to top up.

Shake the first six ingredients, strain over ice, top with soda, and garnish with a lime wheel and lemon balm or mint sprig.

When foraging, always use good field guides to identify your finds to 100% certainty before eating them - if in doubt, leave it out. Be aware that foraging may not be permitted in some protected areas or parks.

For more information on foraging see Sarah's website: WildFeast.co.uk