I find the most gorgeous thing about roses is not that they smell beautiful or even that they look glorious in full bloom on a hot summer’s day. They are not just nostalgic reminders of growing up and playing in the overhanging Kowhai tree on a roasting Hawkes Bay day, sucking scent through my nostrils in my mother’s garden that boasted enormous fragrant long stems from my favourite rose, Big Purple. Or even that they are actually quite hard to kill, as I found out in my teen years moving from flat to flat with my thorny friends shoved into the garden and then uprooted and moved again. I discovered they can be easily whacked into shape with a hard pruning in July and perform well with blooms that preceding summer – which was a bonus for a garden nut like me that had a tendency to move around a lot when I was younger.

To be honest what I like the most now as I approach my 40’s is that they have a whole lot of goodness after the pretty petals have fallen. On a fresh winter June morning you can be sure that I’ll be on the hunt for burnt orange and scarlet red shapely hips overhanging ominously over neighbourhood fences. The bigger the better. I have a general rule – if it’s on the footpath side and I’m sure no nasty chemicals have been sprayed to combat pests, it is on offer! If it is dubious as to whether it’s okay to snip – I’ll knock and ask.

The Hips are the round nutritious globe that is left behind once the petals have fallen. It is the fruit of the rose. Hips will only form on the plant that has not been pruned too early or if some of the blooms are left to mature. Throughout early autumn the hips will swell and fatten ready for harvest after the first frost which ‘sets’ their nutritional value. If you live in a frost free area like me, hips can be harvested when in full russet colour and frozen to create the same below zero trigger before using. The important rule is to only pick the brightly coloured hips. Green or beige hips don’t have the high levels of Vitamin C or Vitamin A as well as the antioxidant value that you are harvesting for. Because of the high vitamin content red or orange hips have, they are an excellent immune system booster and can help prevent bacterial and viral infection so are often used as a supplement to prevent or treat a cold. One Tablespoon of rose hip pulp a day has more than 50% Vitamin C than Oranges. This winter I’m trying a new recipe that is not only simple to make but should knock two birds off a perch with one stone. I’m making rose hip Apple Cider Vinegar to slosh on my salads and dash into hot water to start my day with flu fighting intention.

It was August last year that I was loaned some land in Dairy Flat indefinitely to grow some extra produce and muck around in an old Organic haven. We now have bee hives making raw honey; the veggies are not in yet – that’s a winter ground prep job ahead – but I do enjoy a fossick around in the rambling gardens that have been left largely to their own devices. Over summer I’ve found an abundance of resident roses hiding amongst the Kikuyu grass and sure enough when I popped out last week there were masses of nodding hips waiting for harvest. With sharp secateurs in hand and long thorn protecting gloves I whipped them all off and took them home to top and tail. The sweetest hips are said to come from the Rugosa rose varieties, but with taste not being my primary concern, I took anything that was red, russet and ripened. Once back in my kitchen I preceded to snip the ends and clean the tops. This is best done with scissors as it is far faster and less dangerous to your didgets than a knife. You can forget about cutting them in half and removing the seeds or hairs. Believe me I tried and after 1 hour I only had prepared two tablespoons of flesh so flagged that idea and chose another recipe! Once the hips are harvested, like any fruit they will start to ‘go off’, so working quickly to get them cleaned, snipped and in the freezer either overnight or for up to two week is the step you need to do on day one. The best thing about this method is it truly is no fuss and you have the grace of dealing to them in two stages if time is not on your side or if you’re like me and potentially one of your children will be requiring attention. Once the bullets are thawed at room temperature, without exposing the seeds or hairs in the middle of the hips, stuff them into a jar or decorative bottle until half full. Finish off your elixir with a good quality Apple Cider Vinegar. Be sure to fill the vessel with vinegar to just overflowing and seal tightly with a clean and dry lid. Store in your bottles for two weeks before beginning to use as a tonic. The vinegar will change to a pretty orange/pink colour as the hips steep. The vinegar will act as a natural preservative so refrigeration is not required and each opened bottle should have a life of several weeks to months. If the colour of your hips in vinegar change to brown or black then discard the remaining juice. I’m picking that 1 Tablespoon of rose vinegar juice in a cup of hot water daily will work a treat to keep us all bouncing healthy this flu season. So next time don’t just stop to smell the roses, be sure to eat the fruit as well!

Maria – Palmers garden consultant

See what else I do on my Eden Living website www.edenliving.co.nz