Shhh! Take slow, deep breaths whilst listening to softly playing music….…winter is here. The world of nature has tucked itself up it seems. There is a particular stillness that plays in winter, and with it comes a subtle invitation to redirect our own energies. The winter season holds the perfect antidote to the faster paced rhythm of the other three. This is a time to rest, reflect, hold space, visualise, withdraw some of our outwardly-focused energy and redirect it inward. Unfortunately, the calm, peaceful nature of the winter can also seem a little oppressive, and can leave us feeling weighed down, or uninspired.
A hallmark of herbal medicine is its ability to prevent illness. In considering what plants I choose to support people through the cold winter months, my primary focus is on those that will effectively help you to maintain “winter-protected” health and wellbeing. I like to take an approach that nourishes the kind of internal balance that naturally resists infection and thus prevents vulnerability to whatever infectious microbes may be lurking in our communities. It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the winter herbal performers who readily orchestrate the essence of preventive medicine.
In winter, I dream of the music of beautiful roses as I delve into my dried petals and delicious rosehip stores. Those wondrous blooms of the Rosaceae herbaceous shrub, which become treasured memories of the summer garden. Rose petals and rosehips simply cannot be overlooked for assisting in health maintenance throughout this colder season. Sweet, soothing Rosa species is life supportive and vitality enhancing, immune and endocrine system nourishing, tonic for the heart and circulatory system, brain and nervous system. The Chinese say roses nourish “chi” or vital energy, and are a blood and liver tonic. In Ayurvedic medicine they are recommended for all three “doshas”, or biological energies.
Educating people to use organic rose petals (carefully dried from summer) in their winter teas is useful. Since rose petals are by nature cooling, during winter it is wise to warm them up with Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Zingiber officinale radix. The infused combination of organic Rooibos, rose petals, ground cinnamon and freshly grated ginger root is a nourishing recommendation for a winter time tea. Retiring by the fireside with a cup of chamomile, lemon balm, mint and rose petal tea is calming for all the family.
To boost immunity and protect people from viral infection over winter, we must not forget the highly therapeutic fruits of the rose, or rose hips (Rosa canina), from the “symphony of herbs”. What a harmonious tune they can play in our bodies. The Dog Rose boasts an admirably large fruit. Rosehips are one of the most nutrient dense fruit of any botanical identity, which is why they have become prized medicinally. Historically, rose hips have been used for centuries by various cultures to support healthy existence.
They were cultivated for a number of reasons, even as decoration due to their shape and colour, but it was not until recent decades that the complete medicinal value was truly unveiled. They were used as pet food for certain types of animals, because it was noticed that animals (who often know better than humans) gravitated to the scent and taste of these small fruit. When people began eating rose hips, scientific attention shifted towards the potential that it had for our health.
Drum roll for the rose!
Nutrient Composition of Rosa Canina
The vitamins, minerals, organic compounds, and other essential nutrients in rose hips give the fruit such a powerful strength for winter. Some of these beneficial components include vitamin C, A, K, E, and B-complex, as well as calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, silicon, and zinc. The organic compounds, such as lycopene, pectin, lutein, beta-carotene, are also found in the rose hip. Furthermore, the antioxidant components, which include flavonoids, phytochemicals, and carotenoids, are of high potency in the revered fruit.
Condition Repertoire for Rosehips
The carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols that can be found in rose hips are very powerful antioxidants, which can eliminate or neutralise free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals or a lack of antioxidants is connected to a number of conditions, including cancer, heart disease, inflammatory problems and premature aging. The wealth of antioxidants in rose hips is particularly adept at keeping our bodies supplied with these.
Some of the organic compounds and antioxidant components in rose hips may reduce cholesterol levels thereby reducing strain on cardiovascular function and lowering possibilities of suffering a stroke, or a heart attack.
Rose hips have an impressive amount of vitamin C, which is one of the best methods to boost the immune system in winter. Vitamin C stimulates white blood cells and is essential in the prevention of asthma and maintaining respiratory system health. This can be observed in the reduction of viral respiratory conditions through the intake of rose hips and its high levels of vitamin C. Their pectin will also nurture our gut microbiome, which works hard to assist our immunity.
Rose hips have been shown to significantly regulate the blood sugar levels of the body, which is important for people suffering from diabetes. By keeping the balance of insulin and glucose in the body, rose hips can help prevent blood sugar fluctuation.
Diuretic Effects and Digestion:
The various acids within rose hips, as well as pectin, are known to induce urination and excretion. As a diuretic, rose hips can help eliminate toxins from the body, as well as excess salts, liquids, and even fat. By stimulating bowel movement due to their dietary fibre content, rose hips can assist with digestion and waste elimination.
The astringent quality and vitamin C content of rose hips help to keep the skin elastic lessening premature wrinkles. Burns and scars may heal at a faster rate with the inclusion of high vitamin C content in rosehips. Our skin can be thought of as our first line of defence, which provides an essential reason to care for it through winter. There is a tendency for skin dryness as we find ourselves exposed to artificial heating. Tip for next summer’s rose harvest: rose petal water is restorative when sprayed or splashed on the skin, especially the face, during the drying winter months.
One of the most important roles of vitamin C, although it is one that is often overlooked, is its essential role in producing collagen. Collagen, along with the other important minerals found in rose hips, may help prevent osteoporosis by maintaining bone mineral density.
Rosa canina in the herbalist’s kitchen at Symphony of Herbs
This nutrient dense spread falls somewhere between cranberry and sour cherry jam on the taste spectrum. I encourage you to smear a tablespoon on buckwheat pancakes, or dot on soaked-overnight oats for a healthy breakfast treat. Perfect to eat directly off a teaspoon too! Dress organic probiotic yoghurt with some rosehip goodness.
- ½ cup dried organic, ground rosehips
- Enough filtered, warm water to mix the ground rosehips to a thick paste
- ¼ cup raw local honey, or less to taste liking
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
- 1 tsp organic apple cider vinegar (ACV) - optional
- ½ tsp organic Cinnamomum zeylanicum powder
- Zest from ½ organic lemon
- Grind organic, dried rosehips to a powder.
- Mix water and ground rosehips together hydrating them into a thick paste. (Another method is to gently bring the whole rosehips to a simmer for 2-3 minutes, remove from heat, stir and mash with a fork as mixture cools. However, heating the rosehips will affect their vitamin C content.)
- Continue hydrating paste with lemon juice, raw honey, ACV, add cinnamon and zest. For internal warmth, try adding a dash or two of organic ginger root powder to the paste.
- Transfer to a glass jar and label.
- Refrigerate between uses, and it should last about 2 weeks ~ if you are lucky!
Other Rosa canina activity in the herbalist’s kitchen can involve making a fruity, organic apple cider vinegar (ACV) fermenting with winter vibrancy. A combination of hawthorn berries and rosehips in ACV is a medicinal maceration. However, for a winter trumpet call resounding in the “symphony of herbs”; why not introduce rosehips to the traditional “Fire Cider” recipe?
Crafting Fire Cider is a worthwhile preparation for their winter immunity. Steeped in history and handed down through generations the recipe adopts variations. However, its purpose remains steadfast to provide a medicinal combination of cider vinegar infused with decongestants, immune-supporters, anti-inflammatories and circulatory spicy activators. The following recipe is based on the work of international herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar:
- 1/2 cup fresh grated organic ginger root
- 1/2 cup fresh grated organic horseradish root
- 1 medium organic onion, chopped
- 10 cloves of organic garlic, crushed or chopped
- 2 organic jalapeno peppers, chopped
- Zest and juice from 1 organic lemon
- 2-3 tbsp of organic, dried rosehips
- Several sprigs of fresh organic rosemary, or 2 tbsp of dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp organic turmeric powder, or some fresh turmeric root, chopped
- 1/4 tsp organic cayenne
- Organic apple cider vinegar
- Raw local honey to taste
Prepare all ingredients and place them in a sterilised litre sized jar. If you have not grated fresh horseradish before, be prepared for a powerful sinus opening experience! Use a piece of natural parchment paper under the lid to prevent vinegar corrosion. Shake well! Label and store in a dark, cool place for one month, and remember to shake gently and regularly.
After one month, use cheesecloth to strain out the pulp, pouring the vinegar into a sterilised jar. Be sure to squeeze as much of the liquid goodness as you can from the pulp while straining. Add 1/4 cup of raw honey and stir until incorporated. Try your cider (carefully!) adjusting the cayenne or honey to taste appeal!
Dilute a teaspoon of Fire Cider in some tepid water, add to organic vegetable juice or soup, or mix in a winter salad dressing. Feeling the upbeat rhythm of Fire Cider can be a daily immunity practice through winter. Fire Cider by the fireside!
During winter, we can be mindful of the many herbs that can be in tune with our unique health balances. However, allowing the summer music of the Rosa spp. from the “symphony of herbs” to play on through the coldest season is certainly a classical composition of medicinal value on various existential levels.
Hope C., (2012) Medicinal Plants in Town and Country – A Forager’s Guide
PubMed, (2008) Phytotherapy Research, June 22 #6:725-33 A systematic review on the Rosa canina effect and efficacy profiles.
Gladstar R., (2008) Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health
Oezcan M., (2004) Journal of Medicinal Food, July 5 #3: 137-40, Nutrient Composition of Rose (Rosa canina L.) Seed and Oils
By Sara Mertens MNZAMH
Dip. Clinical Herb. Med., Cert. Human Nutrition