Rose hips are extremely high in Vitamin C and also contain Vitamins A, D (made by sunshine and often missing in the winter months) and E, as well as antioxidants. The syrup makes a great winter medicine to help ward off coughs, colds and flu, especially for children as it is also pleasant tasting.
Rose hips are best picked after the first frost as this helps to break them down a bit. So late October/early November is the best time. They should be scarlet red and firm. Hips that are deep red and soft are overripe and have less Vitamin C. Orange hips are not quite ripe.
Traditionally, wild rose hips are use (Rosa canina) the dog rose or briar roses, but the hips from all species of rose can be used. But do make sure you are not picking from buses that have been sprayed with chemicals.
Rosehip syrup is just another name for a thick extract a.k.a. cordial a.k.a. squash and can be taken neat off a teaspoon like a medicine, or diluted with water as a drink. Adding fizzy water makes a great ‘children’s champagne’. It can also be used as a syrup on ice cream and puddings, or stirred into yoghurt or cream fraiche for a healthier alternative.
Keep some hips back to dry and use in herbal teas. They make a great flavouring for less palatable herbs adding a sweetness and pleasant flavour and aroma. To dry them for teas, halve them and scrape out the seeds adding those to your syrup mix. Next time you are cooking, once the oven is switched off lay the hips out on a baking tray and pop into the oven while it is cooling to dry them out. Keep them in a brown paper bag (labelled!) until you are ready to use them. Add a generous pinch to other herb teas.
Remove any leaves or sticks and top and tail the hips removing the calyx and stubby end. Roughly chop or mince them and put them into a large saucepan. Cover them with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 15 minutes then remove from the heat and leave for 15 minutes. Then strain the mixture through a jelly bag. Put the mush back in the pot, cover with water again and repeat the process. Do not be tempted to squeeze the jelly bag as this can make the syrup cloudy or bitty. Also the fine hairs inside the hips can be irritating. I let mine strain overnight or while I’m away at work to help my patience!
For every litre of juice you end up with now add 250g of sugar. I use preserving sugar which has larger crystals and is quicker to dissolve. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves then bring to a rapid boil and boil continuously for three minutes. Now pour into sterilised bottles. I use screw top wine bottles (baked in the oven to sterilise them). Using a funnel, fill the bottles right to the very top so there is no/little air then add the screw tops.
Once the syrup has cooled it shrinks making a vacuum that helps to preserve the syrup and gives a satisfying ‘pop’ when the bottle is opened. Once the syrup has cooled it is also thicker – so do not be tempted to boil away at the syrup until it reaches the right consistency in the pan. If you do that, once the syrup has cooled it will not come out of the bottle again! I keep unopened bottles in a dark cupboard and opened bottles in the fridge.
If you can, get a few brown glass medicine bottles with screw tops from your local pharmacy or herbalist to put some of your syrup in. When treating children it definitely helps to have the right ‘effects’! This is a great way of making sure your kids have enough natural Vitamin C without buying them supplements which sometimes contain artificial C, bulking additives and colourings.