Growing up in the Netherlands, I remember riding my bike to school and passing tall shrubs with pink and white roses. They looked different from the roses at flower stands because they only had a few petals and the stems were completely covered with thorns.
The flowers eventually gave way to beautiful, big, plump, orange-red rose hips, adding cheery colors to the bleak days of fall. I always wondered if the rose hips were edible as they were depicted on a popular Dutch fruit syrup label.
What I didn't know then was that the roses were the wrinkly rose, or the Rugosa rosa, whose rose hips are known for being the biggest and best tasting of all the wild rose hips.
Unfortunately for us, they primarily are found in coastal areas, so you won't find many stragglers in Pennsylvania, though they will do well when planted in gardens.
Our best local substitute is the smaller flask-shaped rose hip of the dog rose, or Rosa canina, a shrub commonly found in eastern North America. Native to Europe and Asia, the dog rose was introduced by early settlers. Its scrambling stems with five to seven leaflets have curved thorns and can grow up to 12 feet long.
As with most wild roses, the dog rose flower has five petals and can vary from white to dark pink. The flavor of its rose hips can best be described as faint, rose-like tomato.
Another common and more prolific wild rose is the Japanese rose, or Rosa multiflora. Introduced as an ornamental shrub, it's now listed as an invasive species. It has long, sprawling stems that can reach 10 feet in height, have curved thorns and seven to nine leaflets.
Japanese rose hips are sweet but generally too small to use. They're nice to nibble on, while picking dog rose hips, for instance, as both roses can be found in the same areas, such as fields, woods, hedges and road sides.
Incidentally, garden roses also are safe to eat, if uncontaminated by herbicides and pesticides.
Rose hips can be harvested after the frost for a softer texture until they become very soft and wrinkly. They are loaded with vitamin C and can be used fresh to make jellies, jams, fruit leather, sauce, candy, pasta sauce, meat glaze and dried to make tea.
Though the seeds are safe to eat, the hair covering the seeds will irritate the mouth and digestive tract so it's better to remove them altogether.
Other parts of the rose are edible, too. The leaves can be used for tea and in salads, and petals make a colorful and tasty ingredient for tea, jam, salads and garnish.
Sometimes I have a craving for that popular Dutch rose hip fruit syrup. It is not available here in the U.S., so I make it myself, using dog rose hips. The syrup can be diluted with water and used as a drink or added to yogurt, porridge and desserts.
Coming in December: Pilfering pine