Nature offers an incredible abundance of medicinal plants, if one knows where to look. It takes deep work to abandon the dross of our modern culture, and re-tune our senses to have deep and clear perception of the natural world again. In this article, I’ll be discussing an easily available, and abundant wild plant that you can go out and look for as soon as you finish reading this article.
As I always share through my plant walks, once one learns to navigate through the wall of green that most may see, a mysterious world is revealed. This world, when respected, is one that can, through practice and repetition, gradually become more and more familiar. Within this wall of green, or in this case, white, snow covered area, we will travel to the brambles (thorny places), where there are clusters of beautiful and small little red berries. And in fact, one of them is a wild rose hip.
Multiflora rose, similar to other roses, develops a hip with many small seeds within itself. In fact, most rose hips can be used, but some are better than others. All rose hips contain Vitamin C; an antioxidant that shows a large scale action against colds and flu. Remember, the plant itself has engineered these antioxidants, such as vitamin c, within its own body to ensure its protection and survival.
Antioxidants work against free radicals. A free radical cell contains an electron, which goes out of orbit, and eventually explodes through the cell wall, causing a mutation. A mutated cell that reproduces itself is essentially what cancer builds from.
On the borders of the woods, where the lawn meets the hedge, Multiflora rose stands in almost every back yard, hedgerow, and tract of woods. It is so common that most have probably overlooked it as anything utilizable. This particular species, rosa multiflora, which proliferates differently than your more common species of rose bush, gets a bad rap in the biological community, because it is not native to this area, and has a large ability to spread; facilitated by birds and other mammals. However, in a sense, by harvesting, we do our part to keep the “invasive plants” people happy. We become vessels to “eat the weeds” and establish potentials for native biodiversity to spring up.
On your winter walk, when you have found the thick patch of brambles, you first want to look at all the thorny plants, and start to discern. Among them; blackberries, raspberries, wineberries, and smilax, there are clusters of fruits with a small red berry with a crown on it. This is not to be confused with the red berry of oriental bittersweet which divides in four clusters and is a large climbing vine, or Japanese barberry, which has red oblong berries, but are very bitter tasting – yet a good medicinal. Also, both of these plants have their fruits in the spring/summer months. Over the winter only a few plants still produce fruits, multiflora rose being one of the last ones standing. At first, the rose hips start out as a light red colored fruit, but very hard to squeeze, which is an important identification factor. When you can squeeze the berry between your fingers and it smashes, you will have ripe rose hips. Taste them to see if it is a bush that you like the taste of. There is a tremendous variation among each plant. Don’t forget that some of them can go “bad”, meaning that the sugars within the hip can become fermented. If you eat too many, you might catch a buzz, or get a little nauseous, depending on which comes first…
After harvesting and collecting the hips, lay them out to dry on an old screen, or keep them in a paper bag on the dashboard of your car, and shake them up every few hours. After a few days they will be ready for storage. I recommend to use glass ball jars with metal tops and to keep them away from direct sunlight.
You can add these dried rose hips into any tea mix, jam, or desert. Its very easy to work with rose hips in a French press, and they sweeten up other “bitter” yet medicinal herbs. Vitamin C also helps to potentiate other plant phytochemicals, and this is another good reason to add it to a formula. When trying to consume the pulp of the rose hip, it is suggested to first cook and strain out the seeds with a colander. You can also can make jam by adding sugar, honey, or even dates, and recipes are all over the net. Gathering abundant Vitamin C for a winter survival staple is essential, even if you are the biggest meat eater in the world. Apparently, unless you eat goat brains or chinchilla (according to wiki these are the only 2 animal sources of Vit C.), there is no other source of Vitamin C to be had. We know that the lack of Vitamin C was the cause for scurvy, and people died as a result of the inability to get it. How convenient of this humble invasive, yet sweet and delicious rose hip.
A word to the wise – Some people get allergic reactions from consuming plants within the rose family (Rosaceae), and proper awareness and caution should always be taken. Don’t eat any plant you haven’t properly identified, and always start off with a small amount, like an experimental scientist. Asking questions like, “well, I know this one is supposed to be sweet, but its bitter” usually means you have the wrong plant, or have picked the plant at the wrong stage. If you have any questions or need of verification of pics, feel free to email me at Dan@returntonature.us – Better to ask than to die =) And remember, when you walk in the woods this winter dress warm!!