To start a winter morning with a spoonful of sweet, fragrant rosehip syrup was warming and welcome. The alternative, starting a winter morning with a spoonful of viscous, foul-tasting cod liver oil was far less preferable.
Both were nutritional supplements, designed to protect us children from various ailments. The vitamin D in cod liver oil would stop us from developing rickets. The vitamin C in rosehip syrup would magically protect us from developing a cold.
My mother tended to alternate. Or attempt to. We never knew what was coming on that teaspoon. We didn’t get rickets. We did get colds. All children do. But, for my mother, the rosehip had a mystical significance. Hence the teaspoon.
The British enthusiasm for rosehip syrup began during the second world war. Naturally, citrus fruits became scarce as shipping was severely disrupted (and the climate scarcely encourages any home-grown variants). But oranges were an important source of vitamin C. If you don’t get enough vitamin C, you develop scurvy.
If you develop scurvy, you feel tired all the time, your gums bleed, and your teeth drop out. The British Government, nervous that its populace would not be ready to fight off an imminent invasion by the Reich if generally listless and dentally challenged, looked to the hedgerows for citrus substitutes and alighted upon the rosehip. Rosehips contain a lot of vitamin C.
The Government then turned to The Women’s Institute (WI), that bedrock of family life in Britain, and politely asked them and other voluntary organisations to collect rosehips that could be turned into syrup. Of course the WI went into action, virtually ransacked the hedgerows and came up with 500 tons of the little seeds.
The rest of the berries they found, they heroically turned into jam. The WI were, after all, The Jambusters.
In 1943, the Ministry of Food produced its own pamphlet, Hedgerow Harvest, and moved the war on the Home Front out into the country lanes, with foragers’ recipes for rosehip marmalade, sloe-berry and marrow jam. (Thank goodness I never had to have a teaspoonful of marrow jam each morning.)
My mother was a child of the war years. I was a child of the 1960s. The lingering aura of the protective benefits of rosehip syrup meant she felt duty bound to issue my alternate spoonfuls on those dark mornings.
That fashion has passed. Nowadays, the rosehip seems to be of more interest for those fighting osteoarthritis rather than scurvy and the Reich. Even though the extracts on the shelves promise relief from pain, studies show that the efficacy and safety of rosehips “need further evaluation in a large, long-term trial“.
Their other modern use is culinary. You can make your own rosehip syrup and serve it drizzled over ice-cream or rice pudding.
Comforting. If not a military weapon.