“The fruit of the wild rose, the hip, is the star of one of the great success stories of wild food use.” So begins, Richard Mabey in Food for Free, his classic guide to the edible wild plants of Britain, first published in 1972.
The fruit of the wild rose, Rosa canina, is an orange-red, oblong, berry, sometimes as much as an inch long, and is found on bushes between late August and November. It is the only completely wild fruit which once supported a national commercial enterprise - the production of rose-hip syrup
It was in 1934 that the fruits of the wild rose were discovered to contain more Vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable - four times as much a blackcurrants and twenty times as much as oranges - but it was not until the Second World War, when imports of citrus fruits were virtually cut off, that the potential of rose-hips as a source of Vitamin C, was first taken seriously.
In 1941, the Ministry of Health proposed a collection scheme resulting in 120 tons of wild rose-hips being harvested by voluntary helpers. In the following year, the responsibility was transferred to the Vegetable Drugs Committee of the Ministry of Supply and 344 tons were harvested. The Ministry of Health established a crash programme in identification and gathering techniques and for three years from 1943, voluntary pickers working under County Herb Committees harvested an average of 450 tons each year.
The story continued after the war years and the BBC website has two interesting film clips from 1956, one showing school children collecting rose-hips, the other showing the manufacture of rose-hip syrup at the Delrosa factory in Newcsstle upon Tyne.
Some weeks ago I gathered two pounds of rose-hips and I was given a very large supply of windfall cooking apples. In the second part of this two-part piece, I will describe making Rose-hip and Apple Jelly … from road-side bush to plate.