The Rose family (Rosaceae) is one of the most beloved botanical groups; humans have had a deep affinity for these plants for thousands and thousands of years.
Not only does this family produce beautiful flowering plants such as spirea, potentilla, lady’s mantle, agrimony and hawthorn, but also important fruit crops such as pears, peaches, plums, cherries, quinces, almonds, raspberries and strawberries.
What would our world be like without these delights?!
Of all these family members, Rose is the most well-known and sought-after. She is the true queen of flowers.
While most people are familiar with the aesthetic and olfactory beauty of the rose, in this country there tends to be less familiarity with the fruit of the rose, i.e. the rosehip.
I adore using rosehips this time of year, when the scarlet fruits become full and ripe. All roses will develop hips once their flowers fade, but depending on the species they vary in shape, color, texture and taste. The hip of the dog rose, Rosa canina, is often sold commercially for tea. Around our neck of the woods we are lucky to find Rosa rugosa, the beach rose, which produces the most beautiful, large, tomato-like fruits.
Why would we want to use rosehips?
First of all, these fruits are a delicious wild edible. They are nutritive and tart, and can be infused into a tea that is high in many vitamins, especially Vitamins A and C. Even though citrus fruits get all the glory for being a great source of Vitamin C, rosehips actually contain a higher concentration of this important vitamin and are in fact one of the richest botanical sources of it.
We cannot produce our own Vitamin C so it is essential that we obtain it from food. It is needed for producing hormones, neurotransmitters and hormones in the body. Having plenty of this vitamin in the diet has been correlated with a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. In addition, Vitamin C supports the immune system and has been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold. This makes rosehips an excellent addition to fall and winter tea blends.
Like other red-hued herbs and fruits -- such as schisandra, hawthorn, and hibiscus -- rosehips are high in bioflavonoids which have an antioxidant action that prevents free radical damage in the body. These bioflavonoids also strengthen heart and blood vessels.
Perhaps a lesser known use of rosehips are its effect on the digestive system. The hips are anti-inflammatory and soothing, and thus are useful for hot, inflammatory conditions in the gut such as ulcers, colitis or Crohn’s. They are also a gentle laxative that is traditionally used for mild constipation; the natural pectin content has a beneficial, soothing effect on the intestinal tract.
Above all, rosehips are a food. They are commonly harvested to be made into jam and jelly; they can also be baked into pies, used as a thickener for sauces (because of their pectin content), and can even be made into a beautiful soup! (Check out this Swedish rosehip soup recipe I recently discovered…)
HOW TO USE ROSEHIPS
MAKING A ROSEHIP OXYMEL
The combination of honey, vinegar and herbs creates an ancient preparation called an oxymel. This simple medicine dates back to the time of the Greeks and has been used for many different ailments, but most especially for digestive and respiratory issues. Today we can make oxymels as a delicious way to preserve our favorite herbs, or to create a medicinal tonic.
The simplest method of making an oxymel is to mix together equal parts honey and apple cider vinegar and pour this mixture over your herbs to steep. (Use more vinegar for a thinner oxymel, less vinegar for a more syrup-y oxymel.)
Use this tart honey-vinegar concoction directly by the spoonful, or add to seltzer water for a refreshing drink. You can also use it as the base for sauces, marinades and salad dressings.
Last year was full of plants and people, learning and teaching, home and travel. I am grateful for it all! Before fully moving into the new year ahead I'm taking one more glance back at 2015's memories....
Thank you, old year. Welcome in, new year!
One of my favorite books is Judith Berger's Herbal Rituals. Her beautiful words take the reader through a full year of herbal collecting and concocting, and each chapter focuses on the seasonal aspects of each month. I love what she has to say about November...
"According to the Celtic calendar, November is the first lunar month and belongs to the birch tree, the tree of beginnings. I find it important that the beginning time is situated at a moment when nature has ceased any outward signs of growth and has plunged its vitality underground. From nature's rhythm I learn that beginnings extend their tethers from an invisible core or seed that germinates best in the ground of dormancy and otherworldly visions which accompanies this month. The dropping temperatures encourage our bodies to rest, to enter the realm of sleep, so that the unconscious can send us information for our growth through the messenger of our dreams...."
- from Judith Berger's Herbal Rituals, November
In honor of the birch tree of beginnings, and of this season of rest and dreaming, I created this tea blend. Drink it before bed and enter sleep with the intention of remembering your dreams the next day...
1/4 to 1/2 Tblsp. Birch twigs/bark (or birch leaves if you have them)
1/2 Tblsp. Valerian root
1 Tbsp. Mugwort leaves
1 Tblsp. Sage leaves
1 Tblsp. Rosemary leaves
Blend together all the herbs. Steep one heaping spoonful of the tea in a cup of hot water, for at least 10 minutes. Strain out the herbs, light a candle, and sip quietly.
This recipe will make enough for 4-5 servings.
Spring is as much a time of pain as of growth. Imagine the egg, the bulb, the bud. All begin contained -- all potential, endless promise. There is no strain, no disturbance by passion or power. But when growth begins, things break. Shells and bud casings, those intact perfections, fall away. What is revealed is unprotected tenderness...
- Patricia Monaghan
I love this quote because it reminds us that the spring season, no matter how much we may long for it, is not always an easy or graceful transition. Like snow storms in March and April, the arrival of spring is often messy and chaotic, often an encapsulation of perplexing extremes.
Being a spring-born creature I often feel this transitional intensely. This year, especially, I do. I feel the tension of the season, as if I want to both hibernate deeply, continuing an inward-looking slumber AND I want to burst into action, into new life, creating movement and change and embrace all the new-sprung possibilities of life. Larken Bunce, a wise and thoughtful herbalist and poetical writer, captures this feeling well. She writes:
There’s early Spring in a nutshell: the dynamic tension between moving ahead into expansive, decisive action and staying wrapped up tight in rest and unknowing, between rest and productivity, solitude and community. You’ve probably noticed that you lean one way or the other, towards wanting Spring to hurry up and arrive in earnest and wishing Winter would stay a bit longer. And since the seasons acquiesce to no one, you might notice that either way you lean, you are not satisfied.
So noticing that I may be dissatisfied with how the energy of the season unfolds - how things seem to start and stop and not move quickly or smoothly enough - I just have to remember to let go of my sense of timing. To trust in the natural unfolding of life's energies, to trust that the arrival of all good things, like the Spring, is only when the time is right.
May your spring season unfold, in all its beauty and mystery, in perfect timing.
Now it is early November, that transitional time that carries us into deep winter and into darker days. It is a time of descending. And also a time of releasing - we must let go of what is old and no longer needed, just as the trees do with their leaves. I love this time of year for that very reason - because even though it is essentially a time of decay, darkness and of slowing down, it also brings with it a paradoxical freshness. We can either feel weighed down by the shorter days and increased darkness, by the snow and cold, by the onward rush of the holidays.... or, we can feel ourselves gently releasing as we breathe in the new crisp air of the season, prepare our home nests with winter essentials, and trade the outward energy of the summer for the inward energy of the winter.
What herbs can support us during the cold months and this transitional time?
When the dark days roll around I turn to herbs that offer nourishment and that can be incorporated into foods, especially soups. Often this means root medicine: burdock, astragalus, dandelion, ashwaghanda and codonopsis roots start making a regular appearance in my kitchen. Autumn is the time of year to harvest roots from the earth, and so now is also the time to start incorporating them into our daily routines. Any of the above herbs can be thrown by the handful into soups and long-simmered broths, where they will impart their grounding strength and immune-supporting energies. Ashwaghanda you may want to try as a powdered herb, to be mixed in with milk (of any kind) or honey and used as a long-term tonic that will feed the adrenals, support restful sleep and build an overall vitality and strength throughout the body.
In future posts I'll write more about each of these roots and offer recipes to experiment with and make your own...