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ripe rose hips
These are NOT cherry tomatoes! They're rose hips.

Rose Hips: When, How, and Why to Harvest

If you’re someone who likes a perfectly groomed garden, I’m going to save you some time: stop reading. But if you’re someone who likes to enjoy both the beauty and the flavors your garden has to offer, then you’ve come to the right place. Rose hips are not only attractive, but also tasty and nutritious. 

Depending on where you live, rose hips ripen at the end of summer or the beginning of fall. They’re persistent fruits, which means they linger on the plant until someone (or something) takes them off. It’s not unusual to see last year’s shrivelled fruits still on the rose plant when new flowers bloom, although birds or mammals (including human foragers) often clean up the fruit before that happens.

Some people like to harvest rose hips as soon as they ripen (to beat non-human foragers to the prize?) and others leave them on the plant to sweeten. The choice is up to you, and of course, it will at least partly depend on how you want to use them. We’ll get to that in a minute, but here’s why you should harvest rose hips in the first place.

What are Rose Hips? (and why are they called hips?)

Let’s get that second question out of the way first. The answer is: I don’t know. Apparently the word “hiope” meant “seed vessel of the wild rose” in Olde Englishe. I don’t find that especially helpful. But you asked.

If you grow roses, and if you conscientiously deadhead them to encourage more bloom, you won’t get any hips. But, if you’d like to cultivate a crop of hips, let the flowers linger and become pollinated. Hips will start to form within a week of pollination. If you absolutely can’t stand to let the faded petals stay on the plant, you may gently remove them once you see the base of the flower start to swell. (That swelling will become the hip.) But seriously, that is a whole new level of OCD.

Rose hips are the red/pink/orange fruits of roses and they’re packed with vitamin C. During WWII, the Brits gave women and children rose hip syrup as a vitamin supplement. (I know this because I watch Call the Midwife.) Rose hips taste terrific, but don’t just pop a raw hip into your mouth! Inside each red fruit are many small seeds, surrounded by many small hairs. Those hairs were used to make the original itching powder and are highly irritating.

When to Harvest Rose Hips & How to Process Them

For the sweetest possible fruit, wait to pick until after a frost. You’ll want to do this if you’re making jam, jelly, or liqueur. It’s less important for soup or savory sauces. Any rose that hasn’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals produces edible hips, but depending on what you want to do with your fruit, you might want to focus on larger hips. I use smaller rose hips for jelly and syrup, since it can be tedious to cut and scoop the small fruits.

It’s less important what the rose hips look like and more important how they taste and smell. The most delicious hips I’ve ever harvested were on a wild rose in Denver in spring, after the hips had been on the plant over a long, hard winter. They looked shriveled and dry…not exactly appetizing. But the flavor was sweet and reminiscent of strawberries.

If you want to make pulp, you’ll need to clean the seeds and hairs out of each hip, so look for large fruits like those produced by rugosa roses (Rose rugosa) or dog roses (Rosa canina). Cut the fruit in half, then scoop out the seeds and hairs, and discard them. Put the cleaned pulp in a pan and barely cover with water. Cook over low – medium heat until the water is absorbed and the pulp has softened. Run the pulp through a food mill, then use it to make fruit leather, jam, liqueurs, sauces, and that Scandinavian classic: rose hip soup.

If you want to make jelly or syrup you can use whole rose hips, no de-seeding required. Since rose hips can be hard-ish in texture, I like to break them up before juicing. Give them a few pulses in a blender or food processor with a little water, then transfer the hips to a steam juicer or saucepan. If you use a saucepan, you’ll need to add more water to cook the fruit, then strain the pulp through a jelly bag at the end. Also, with the saucepan method, I sometimes cook the pulp a second time, then combine the two batches for maximum juice.

Rose hips store well in the freezer, or if you’ve got a dehydrator, you can dry the fruit and rehydrate it when you have time to play with your harvest. Save the water you use to rehydrate the hips…it may come in handy in your recipe. When you do have time to cook with your rose hips, stay away from copper or aluminum cookware. Copper can destroy the vitamin C and aluminum dulls the bright red color of the fruit.

22 comments

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks Tammi. Been looking at my Rosa Rugosa hips for awhile now knowing I could use them somehow. And now I know.
    🙏

  2. Kelly says:

    Rose hip oil is VERY beneficial to the skin, especially for scarring. I made mine with Jojoba oil, Argan oil, rosehips, Vitamin E, carrot seed extract. My friend is allergic to it possibly from the carrot seed extract. I find many people are allergic to that. I also have oily skin but it works great for the Wintertime.
    I have a glass double boiler and I infuse the oils VERY slowly with herbs in it. Olive oil, coconut, many types.

  3. Sandie says:

    Dumb question, maybe, but can I do anything with ‘dead’ or brown rose hip? I’m pruning my bushes for trim and just learned about harvesting rose hip (oil).

    • Ellen says:

      It’s not a dumb question, but sadly there’s nothing I know of that can be done with dead/brown rose hips. I’d love to be wrong about this, but since I use them for flavor (not medicinal purposes) once the color has gone, I don’t find them to be tasty any more. Maybe an herbalist can tell you if the brown hips are useful. My guess is no, but that’s not my area of expertise. I’m all about the food! : )

    • Gwenyth says:

      I have lots of Wild rose bushes on my property and do pick the rose hips for tea, juice, tinctures etc. This year we are going away for 3 weeks, so I’m wondering when I need to pick them. We had a light frost last night and will get another one tonight, then no frost for a while. If I don’t pick today or tomorrow, will they go all soft and turn bad or will they still be good later? How much frost can they handle before its too late to pick?

      • Ellen says:

        Hi Gwenyth, I’ve harvested delicious rose hips in May in the Colorado Rockies; they’d been on the plant all winter and the flavor was fantastic! I’ve also seen rose hips dry up and turn brown by the end of November in Santa Fe, in an especially dry year. So I suggest you keep your eyes on them. If they’re still red when you’re leaving town, I’d take the chance and leave them until you come back. You may loose a few to the birds, but you should still have plenty. And if that makes you nervous, harvest some before you go and leave some on the plants as an experiment. I don’t know where you live (or how cold and dry it is) but my bet is they can handle all the frost you can give them.

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Kristi, The hairs don’t sting, they would just be itchy/irritating on your throat if you swallowed them. And since you’ll be straining the rose hip pulp through a jelly bag, you’ll strain out the hairs along with the seeds and pulp. You’re left with only the juice to make your syrup. If you’re planning to work with the flesh (not just the juice as you do for syrup), then you’ll need to scoop out the seeds and hairs. But for juice/syrup the jelly bag should catch all the solid particles.

  4. Dan says:

    Hi. I’m s construction worker. I get to visit people’s houses snd gardens on a daily basis. I don’t know the next time I’ll be back st this house do i wanna know if i can pick the hips before ripe to use the seeds at my away home. Currently itd the middle of august in southern ontario canada. The seeds look formed inside the pods. Thank you.

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Dan, I appreciate your interest in starting roses from seeds. Here’s what I suggest: 1) I assume you’ll ask before you pick your client’s rose hips, right? 2) What kind of rose is it? Youmight be successful starting Rosa rugosa from seed, but generally, roses are started from cuttings, not seeds. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but it’s not the easiest or most effective way to propagate roses. 3) Are the rose hips fully red? If not, the seeds may not be truly ripe inside. Again, you can try planting the seeds, but you’ll have your best luck when the seeds are fully ripe. My friend Melinda has a video on how to start roses from seed. Maybe this will be helpful to you: https://www.melindamyers.com/audio-video/melindas-garden-moment-audio-tips/planting-starting-new-plants/starting-roses-from-seed

  5. Dan says:

    Thank you for the quick reply. Most of the work i do is new custom homes so it would be a sin if i didn’t take what i could before the landscapers kill it. I’ve never done a house where the old vegetation stays. I will try these seeds out and if not then i guess I’ll have to buy some. Thank you.

    • Ellen says:

      Well that makes sense! I thought you were talking about an existing landscape. I certainly understand the impulse to rescue plants! I’m not sure where you’re located, but where I forage, the most common wild rose is R. multiflora, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend planting. Do you know what kind of roses you’re finding?

  6. Dan says:

    I have no idea what they are because the flowers are all brown amd dry now. The plant is in its newly created shade. I plan on planting them in front of windows on my little property outside the city as more of a protection because of the wildlife. Thank you.

    • Ellen says:

      Just so you know, deer love roses. Some people expect the thorns to deter deer browsing, but they don’t! Not sure if that’s the wildlife you’re talking about.

  7. Dan says:

    I do get lots of deer, the occasional bear and sometimes a snoopy neighbor that i catch on my game cam. Apart from all that, i like to watch things grow.

  8. Kym says:

    Helllo. I am wanting to make an infused oil for a skin treatment. I have never worked worked with rosehips in this way but would assume for this purpose it is best to harvest them before they dry out. What do you suggest? Am thinking of doing the same with evening primrose and again, thinking similarly, before seed pods dry out seems to make sense. Thank you.

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