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.
MUGWORT (Artemisia vulgaris) is a queen of the weeds. This lovely plant grows gracefully by roadsides, railroad tracks, and along the edges of woods. She is a common visitor to urban environments, often towering as high as -- or higher -- than a human. Mugwort's leaves are silvery on the underside, and are pungent and aromatic when crushed.
Inside these leaves lies an array of nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. Artemisia is a traditional herb for the digestion, as it is a bitter herb that stimulates the production of stomach acid and the flow of bile. This property combined with its rich mineral content make it an ideal kitchen herb.
I especially love to use it infused in apple cider vinegar -- it is delicious when drizzled over salad, vegetables, or even enjoyed by the spoonful! This unique vinegar is simple to make, full of nutrition, and is a beautiful way to make use of an abundant local plant.
Read more about my love of this fascinating plant here...
How to Make Mugwort Infused Vinegar:
When I first moved to Boston a decade ago I felt like a country girl in the big city. I’d traveled and lived in several places before, but had never before set down roots in an urban environment. I was used to living amongst trees and woods, and wide-open spaces. Although I loved my new city home, I greatly missed natural open spaces, and forests, and wild places.
So I found consolation in a different sort of wildness: in untamed, weedy plants that sprout up in the neglected areas of town. Of all of these – the dandelions, chickweeds, shepherd’s purses and burdocks that I came to know and love – mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) was the one to capture me the most.
When I first made acquaintances with this lovely creature I knew nothing of the plant, not even its name. I just loved the beautiful shape, tall stature, silvery leaves, and gracefulness as I observed mugwort swaying in the wind, or in the passing rumble of a train.
I used to walk one particular route to work that always led me past a population of mugwort. It was an unpleasant and ugly stretch to walk through, full of trash and city grime, but the mugwort always provided a glimpse of beauty and grace with its silvery green glow. It felt like the mugwort was welcoming me to my new city, and whispered to me an important reminder: that I could find beauty wherever I looked for it.
Upon delving deeper into my work with the herbs I discovered many things about mugwort that enamored me with the plant even more. I found out that it is a plant of ancient use and was known as the Mater Herbarum — the mother of all herbs. Mugwort was held sacred by various cultures and thought to be the oldest of plants. In particular it was believed to be a plant that offered protection to humans. It was once common to hang a sprig of mugwort over the doorway — or to burn it as an incense — to keep illness and evil spirits away from the home.
Its botanical name Artemisia refers to the goddess Artemis, hinting at its divine origins. Named after the lunar goddess of childbearing and the wilderness, mugwort is steeped in much folklore about its healing virtues. It has traditionally held a powerful affiliation with the moon and was considered to be a prime herb for women. Artemisia vulgaris has been used to soothe the pain of childbirth as well as monthly menstrual cramping. It may also help to regulate the menstrual cycle to a normal, cyclical rhythm. Herbalist Matthew Wood says that mugwort will restore the injured female nature.
Mugwort’s actions on the body are warming and slightly stimulating. As such it helps to increase circulation throughout the body and to remove stagnant blood (hence its use for the menstrual cycle). In Traditional Chinese medicine a related Artemisia species is made into moxa for use over stiff joints and cold, stagnant areas of the body.
As for its stimulating properties, mugwort is well known for its ability to impart vivid dreams and to promote creative meditation. Many people will find that simply drinking a cup of mugwort tea before bed will have a marked effect on their dreams. Because of this property, however, avoid mugwort when you are trying to get a deep and restorative night’s sleep!
I love what one of my favorite herbal writers, Judith Berger, has to say about this special plant. She says that regular use of mugwort “strengthens our ability to absorb intuitive information as we preserve an aspect of sharpness in our interaction with the complex, topside world.” In other words, mugwort helps us to enhance our intuition in order to better navigate daily reality.
Mugwort can be found growing in disturbed areas and along roadsides wherever humans reside. If you are harvesting the plant for internal use be sure to avoid collecting near traffic-laden roads, or in areas where the soil may be contaminated. Clip the tall stalks so that you are harvesting the upper third of the plant. The best time to collect mugwort is right before its very tiny flower buds open. Hang a bundle of the stalks upside down to dry.
HOW TO USE MUGWORT:
➤ Use 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of dried herb per mug of hot water; let steep at least 10 minutes. Drink before bedtime to increase dreams.
➤ Infuse into vinegar to extract its rich mineral content (mugwort is high in calcium and magnesium)
➤ Infuse into oil to use for topical applications as a warming, stimulating remedy, for cold joints or for menstrual cramping
Caution: As a uterine stimulant and emmenogogue, mugwort should not be used during pregnancy.
MUGWORT DREAM TEA
Here’s a lovely tea that I like to make after dinner to help wind down before bed-time, and to ease me into the dream world:
1 part linden
1 part lemon balm
½ part oat tops
¼ part mugwort
small pinch of lavender
Let steep for at least 15 minutes. Sip mindfully and breathe in the vapor of the tea, and see if you don’t have a very deep night’s sleep, with dreams that you remember the next day…