Staff blog: Foraging for rose hips

Quinag conservation officer Romany Garnett reports on the thorny isssue of collecting rose hips for the Little Assynt Tree Nursery

Img 6687 sherard's downy rose (rosa sherardii) culkein drumbeg 16 9 17 detail

We set off in blustery winds for the final guided walk of the season in and around Quinag. Frequent squalls of rain came, but they never seem as bad when you are in them. For the worst showers, we found shelter under hazel trees.

Foraging is a slow process of searching and picking. Rose hips aren’t the easiest things to pick; they are covered in hairy spikes that stick in your fingers and the thorny stems cling to your clothes, but the bushes are quite dazzling at this time of year with their bright red hips.

Traditionally people would have collected them to make rose hip syrup, or jelly, as they have exceptionally high vitamin C content and help ward off colds during the winter. Once minced and boiled with water they have to be strained through a jelly bag to get rid of the hairs. Then sugar is added and it is boiled again to make a beautiful deep orange syrup with a unique taste. Today though, we are collecting them for their seeds which will be extracted and grown on at the CALL Little Assynt Tree Nursery.

Nick Clooney, the tree nursery manager, explained that wild roses have become very popular in large planting schemes as an important understorey feature. This 'field layer' vegetation is part of a fully diverse woodland structure. Shade tolerant species add another layer to the woodland canopy and provide an assorted richness that is very beneficial to wildlife. Other field layer species include bramble, ivy, greater woodrush, honeysuckle and blaeberry. Not only do these provide a good food source for small mammals, birds and insects, but they are also palatable to herbivores. Medium to high levels of browsing can suppress the full diversity of this vegetation.

The most common species found in the Assynt area are Dog Rose, Sherard’s Downy-rose, Sweet-briar and Burnet Rose. However roses hybridise easily and become very difficult to name. 

As the walk finished, we poured our rosehips together. It felt like a good day’s work as they rattled into a nearly full bucket.    

Find out more about Assynt's roses at Assynt Field Club.

Photo of Sherard's Downy-rose courtesy of David Haines