Fall is one of my favorite times for gathering wild food and medicine, and foraging rose hips has a lot to do with that! Wild rose and rose hips are foraged at different times of the year, with rose hip season beginning in the autumn. This post will look at both the flowers and the fruit of members of the rose family, so keep the blooms in mind for the spring if you’re reading about rose hips in the fall.
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About Wild Rose & Rose Hips
Roses are members of the Rosa spp., of which there are over 300 different types of wild and cultivated species.
Although I will be focusing on foraging for wild roses and rose hips, cultivated roses that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals share all the same benefits and uses as their wild counterparts.
Where and When to Find Wild Rose
From the Australian outback to Northern Canada, species of wild rose can be found worldwide in a wide variety of natural habitats.
Wild roses typically grow in fields, disturbed areas, or thickets as well as along woodland edges, roadsides, and trails.
Wild rose flowers bloom in the spring and summer, while rose hips begin to appear in early autumn and throughout the winter.
If you have your own rose bushes just remember that hips will only form where the flower was, so don’t cut all of the flowers if you want rose hips.
When to Find Rose Hips
Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant and appear after the blooms have dropped from the plant. Rose hips ripen in the fall and throughout early winter.
If you live where winters are milder you may be able to harvest rose hips well into the winter season.
Identifying Wild Rose
Considering how many hundreds of rose species there are growing in the wild, it can sometimes be difficult for a beginner forager to differentiate between one type of flower and another.
However, there are a couple of common features that help with the identification process. All roses have curved thorns and alternate, pinnate leaves with 3-9 leaflets; the flowers are symmetrical and are typically pink or white.
Some species of wild rose, such as multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and dog rose (Rosa canina) are climbing vines. Other varieties, such as Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana) or rugosa rose (Rose rugosa) are more shrub-like in appearance.
Identifying Rose Hips
Rose hips are the fruit of roses, replacing the freshly fallen flowers when the temperature begins to grow colder.
They are red to orange in color, oblong or round in shape, often with small wisps of “hair” protruding from the bottom of the rose hip.
Rose hips come in all shapes and sizes, from large to small. Some rose hips, such as those from the dog rose, are more oblong in shape.
Others are large and round, such as those from the rugosa rose.
Harvesting Wild Rose
When harvesting wild or cultivated roses, look for newly opened blossoms whenever possible. The flowers should be fresh and fragrant, without showing signs of wilting. A sturdy pair of gardening gloves will protect you from any painful pricks caused by thorns.
Once the roses have been harvested, they can be dried whole or separated into individual petals. I use my handmade flower drying screen but any version, store-bought or otherwise, is incredibly useful for drying purposes.
As with any foraging project, make sure the area you’re covering hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals (including those picked in your own backyard!).
Avoid using commercially cultivated roses, as they have almost certainly been sprayed with chemicals to preserve their appearance.
Harvesting Rose Hips
Begin harvesting rose hips in the fall, the longer the rose hips grow on the plant the sweeter they become. It’s ok if they are a bit wrinkly!
Look for red to orange (no green) rose hips that easily detach from the stem, you shouldn’t have to tug much to harvest them. Just like with wine grapes, rose hips become sweeter and more flavorful if they’re exposed to frost before being harvested.
All rose hips from any type of rose, even cultivated varieties, are edible and full of nutrients and have numerous medicinal uses.
Once harvested, rose hips can be used fresh, kept frozen, or dried in a dehydrator or on a drying screen. Large rose hips can be cut open to remove the seeds and irritating hairs before drying, if you prefer.
Wild Rose & Rose Hip Look-alikes
Wild roses (and cultivated roses) have no toxic look-alikes, which makes them ideal for the beginner forager. While there are some ornamental flowers which are similar in appearance to wild roses, they don’t pose any kind of health threat.
There really aren’t any rose hip look-alikes, especially if you know that they came from a rose plant. They can sometimes resemble hawthorn berries, which are not toxic and have edible and medicinal uses as well.
Edible Uses of Wild Rose
I’m particularly keen on homemade rose petal jelly (add a teaspoon to sparkling wine or pair it with a mild soft cheese and a baguette) and I can never have enough good things to say about making rose water from fragrant rose petals.
Edible Uses of Rose Hips
Rose hips are one the highest plant sources of vitamin C, particularly when eaten fresh or as minimally processed as possible. Ripe rose hips have a tart and sweet flavor similar to crab apples (which isn’t surprising, as they’re in the same family!).
Rose hips have threadlike hairs inside and around the seeds that can be irritating to the throat and stomach if ingested. Before serving anything made with rose hips make sure to pass it through a coffee filter, several layers of cheesecloth, or another equally fine material.
If you will be consuming whole rose hips in something that cannot be strained, such as in cookies or jam, be sure to cut them open and scoop out the seeds and irritating hairs before using. This is easiest with larger rose hips.
The flavor of rose hips is right at home in cocktails and other libations, like this recipe for a rose hip whiskey smash. You can also make a rose hip shrub, which can be added to kombucha or cocktails as desired.
For more rose hip-related inspiration, check out my post with over 60 rose hip recipes!
Medicinal Uses of Wild Rose
There’s a good reason why roses show up so often in skin care (other than their gorgeous floral scent), rose petals are cooling, astringent, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. Use them in skin-soothing rose lotion bars, rose petal salve, rose hip facial oil, or wild rose and yarrow soap.
Those same healing properties can also boost the immune system during cold and flu season and can help digestive upset when taken as a tonic.
Rose petals are safe for children to consume, and can easily be made into tea or gummies to be taken at the onset of symptoms.
Medicinal Uses of Rose Hips
Rose hips are considered highly medicinal thanks to a potent combination of vitamin C and antioxidants, which is why I like to include them when making my immune-boosting herbal tea blend or a simple cup of rose hip tea.
Rose hips are perfect to use in homemade syrup or you can infuse them into honey, oil, vinegar, or even alcohol to utilize their medicinal benefits. See my recipe for an infused wine with reishi mushrooms and rose hips.
Where to Buy Dried Rose Hips & Rose Petals
If you can’t find any wild rose or rose hips, or if they’re not in season, you can always buy dried rose petals or dried rose hips from Mountain Rose Herbs (my favorite place to buy high quality, organic herbs).
Foraging for rosehips and wild rose is easy and rewarding. I hope you found this post helpful in your wildcrafting adventures!