Herbal Spotlight: Rose Hips
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Roses are beautiful, often with a heady fragrance that just makes you want to breathe deeply when you stop to smell them. The fruit of the rose, the rose hip, matures in late summer and early fall, ranging in colour from red, orange or yellow. The best hips come from old garden roses and shrub roses, especially the rugosa and canina species of roses. These are the ones you often see growing wild in parks and laneways, sometimes planted as a living fence due to their thorny nature and ability to thrive in places most modern roses cannot.
Rose hips attract wildlife to your garden as many birds and small animals eat the hips into the winter if available. They are also edible for humans as well, having been used to make tea for centuries, as well as jams and jellies. Let's look at a simple nutritional breakdown of rose hips:
As you can see, rose hips contain a huge amount of vitamin C, so much so that during World War II when the UK found it difficult to import citrus fruits, a syrup was made from rose hips and used as an excellent substitute source of Vitamin C. Rose hips also contain good amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, lycopene and beta carotene. Because they are so rich in antioxidants, it has been theorized that consuming foods and beverages high in antioxidants (such as rose hip tea) can offer protection against chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Here are more ways in which rose hips can help your health:
Healthy Immune System: There's a reason my Mom and Omas would offer us a cup of rose hip tea when we were getting a cold or flu; all that vitamin C helps to support your immune system. Vitamin C stimulates the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes) which helps you to fight off infection as well as enhancing the functioning of these cells.
Heart Disease and Cholesterol: There's also been some research showing a link between vitamin C consumption with a decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, two risk factors of heart disease. The vitamin C in rose hips also helps to maintain the health of blood vessels, keeping your cardiovascular system in good shape.
Type 2 Diabetes: Animal studies have shown that rose hips can help type 2 diabetes, normalizing blood sugar levels and improving glucose tolerance. One theory is that compounds in the hips stimulate the growth of beta cells in the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin.
Anti-Inflammatory: Rose hip tea is also rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, including polyphenols and galactolipids (the main type of fat in cell membranes). These compounds have been recently studied for their potential to reduce joint pain. Some studies have shown that those suffering from osteoarthritis who supplemented with rose hip extract daily experienced less pain and increased joint mobility as compared with a control group.
Gastrointestinal Issues: Rose hips have been used traditionally to treat diarrhea, stomach ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. There is growing evidence that this folk remedy works quite well. According to a review in 2017 from the University of Zaragoza in Spain, rose hip appears to slow the contraction of the intestinal muscles nearly as effectively as the drug Lomotil (diphenoxylate) used to treat diarrhea. Rose hips also appear to reduce the risk of ulcers by altering the ph balance in the stomach; by doing so, it may create a hostile environment for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacteria largely responsible for the development of ulcers. More research is needed to confirm these findings.
Stress: Research has also shown that having high levels of vitamin C in the body significantly reduces the signs and physiological markers of stress. In one study, German researchers subjected 120 people to a major stressor: a public speaking task combined with math problems. Half of those studied were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C. Those who received vitamin C reported that they felt less stressed during the task. Furthermore, certain notable signs of stress, such as elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol and spikes in blood pressure, were significantly greater in those who did not receive the vitamin supplement. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in "fight or flight" situations in response to stress. However, frequent exposure to cortisol and stress hormones exhausts the body's physical resources, impairs learning and memory, and can make people susceptible to depression. So when you're stressed, sick or afraid, your body uses more vitamin C than normal. This led the researchers to conclude that vitamin C (and foods containing high amounts of it such as rose hips) should be an essential component of stress management.
Anti-Aging: Rose hips contain not only significant quantities of vitamin C, but also the carotenoid astaxanthin. Vitamin C has been shown to promote collagen synthesis, and astaxanthin helps to prevent the breakdown of collagen. Collagen is responsible for the elasticity of the skin and helps to protect skin cells from sun damage, so it's possible that drinking rose hip tea can have anti-aging qualities as well.
It's easy to enjoy the benefits of rose hip tea. Fresh rose hips can be used for tea by first rinsing them well to remove any dirt and debris, making sure that they have not been sprayed with any chemicals. Place 4–8 rose hips in a mug and top with a cup of boiling water, covering and steeping for 10 to 15 minutes. Dried rose hips can be used as well; use 1 teaspoon of dried rose hips in a cup and brew the same way. If you find the tea too tart, a little honey can be added to taste.
As with anything, always check with a qualified health practitioner to make sure that drinking rose hip tea is safe for you, especially if pregnant, breast feeding or have any health conditions, and leaving at least 3 hours in between if you are taking any medications to avoid any possible interactions.
So stop and smell the roses, and enjoy a nice cup of rose hip tea while you're at it!