December Foraging: Red Berries

Quintessential winter touches

Skip to content
Hayley Bisofsky Pope
Cornwall dweller, lifestyle blogger and founder of The Little Naturalists Club
2 December 2022

No winter scene is ever complete without the presence of red berries. Red berries and Christmas are synonymous, but are there any varieties of red berries that you can forage and eat?

The first plant that everyone thinks of as a producer of red berries around Christmas time is the holly bush. It’s an obvious choice but getting holly to produce berries is more tricky than one might think. Firstly, it needs to be a female plant, these can be identified when the plant is in flower as the males have a more prominent stamen.

Secondly, the female plant also needs to have a male plant in close proximity to it in order to ensure cross pollination. Only then will the female plant produce the winter red berries that everyone wants to forage for their Christmas wreaths. Although beautiful and festive, the berries of holly are toxic to humans when consumed but there are plenty of other winter red berries that aren’t.

Rose hips are particularly abundant around Cornwall thanks to Cornwall Council’s preference to use these shrubs as hedging. Rosa Rugosa or ‘beach rose’ as it’s often known is favoured as it is fast growing and forms a dense barrier that only needs to be pruned once a year.

It can also be grown in sandy soils and in terms of the elements it can handle sea spray and harsh winds that may cause other plants to fail. It is highly ornamental producing large bowl-shaped bright pink flowers in the summer and large dark red rose hips in the autumn and winter.

Although all rose hips are edible the hips of Rosa Rugosa are a particular favourite of foragers. The soft, sweet, red flesh of rose hips surrounds a hairy centre full of seeds. The hairs used to be used as itching powder in times gone by, by being slipped down the trousers of unsuspecting victims by mischievous children. They are certainly not something you would want to consume and so the trick to foraging hips is in the removal and separation of the soft red flesh from the hairy itchy centre.

If you pick a hip off one of your David Austin roses in the garden and attempt to do this you will soon learn that it’s a lot of work for very little reward. However the hips of Rosa Rugosa are the largest hips there are and they are also the sweetest and have the highest Vitamin C content of any rose. This not only makes them easier to process than other hips but also makes them the most delicious and the most medicinal.

Next time you’re out walking pick a hip and have a nibble of the outer flesh and you will be amazed at how sweet they are. Where we live our neighbour has a Rosa Rugosa on their side of the fence that has never been pruned in its life.

It is massive (maybe 12 feet tall) and now arches over our fence. My 3 year old daughter Ocea can often be found sitting next to the pond picking hips off their plant and eating them claiming “they taste like sweeties mummy”.

Although they do make for a delicious snack whilst walking they make for ever better medicine. Our favourite way to consume them is to dry the flesh in a dehydrator and then keep in a jar.

Whenever we feel the onset of a cold or cough we brew a rose hip tea with honey where we simply steep the flesh in the water for a few minutes. It tastes tart and comforting but delivers that much needed dose of Vitamin C when you need it most.