The Medicinal Benefits of Rose Hips

Christopher Hope explains the medicinal uses of petals and rose hips from the Dog rose, the ancient history of this beautiful plant, and where you can find them in the wild.

hip-roseRoses are a quintessential sight of hedgerows and waysides. Our spring and autumn seasons would undoubtedly be much the poorer without their scent and colour.

Historically, roses have been important since ancient times, in the preparation and use of foods, medicines, cosmetics, ritual, and perfumery. It is known that the Greeks, Persians, and Romans, employed many kinds of rose as medicines. In 77 AD, the Roman diarist Pliny recorded more than 30 disorders that could be ‘cured’ with different roses.


The common Dog rose (Rosa canina) is a variable deciduous shrub, native to Europe, West Asia and Africa. Its arching, thorny stems produce pinnate leaves, approximately 6-7cm long, comprised of 5-7 oval-shaped leaflets, with serrated margins. Small leaf-like appendages - known as stipules - are present on all rose family plants.

In contrast, the popular introduced urban hedging species, Hedgehog rose (Rosa rugosa), has very dense, prickly stems, and deeply veined pinnate leaves. This plant bears an average of nine narrow, oblong-shaped leaflets. Each of these leaflets will grow to 3-5cm long.

Simple, yet beautiful blooms are borne singularly or in small clusters on the Dog rose, from late spring to mid-summer. Alas, the splashes of pink and white adorn our hedges for a short time only, because the petals can easily be blown off by winds.

Rose flowers display five petals and five green sepals, with numerous stamens. A typical flower will be 5-6cm in diameter. These give rise to the familiar fruits, known as ‘hips’, which duly ripen to their glorious scarlet colour during early to mid autumn. The fruits provide a sporadic but welcome visual interlude during autumnal hedgerow decay, highlighted against the dominant russet, red and yellow shades of senescence.

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