Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Little Bit of History - Rose Hips

Rosa Rugosa, sometimes called beach rose or any number of other names, blooms along the shoreline of Provincetown beginning in the spring, often having a second blooming around mid-July, and sometimes even a third round of blossoms before it begins to die off for the season in the Autumn. It is found in great abundance on the fore dune (the first small sandy hillside along the edge of the water) at Herring Cove Beach and in a number of spots out in the dunes. It withstands the salt spray of the ocean very well, and it is often the first plant in from the edge of the beach able to thrive along the salty shoreline.
When Hurricane Bob and the no-name storm that followed damaged the old wharf at the Ice House in the east end of town in 1991, and subsequent storms broke off other small pieces, the old wharf eventually had to be removed. The gaping hole left in the seawall after the removal of the pilings and planks was filled in with a mound of sand running the length of the gap, and rose hips were planted in the sand, where they are sometimes splashed with sea water during a windy high tide, and yet they thrive there.
When the petals drop off, a sort of fruit begins to form, turning a deep orange to a bright red color and looking a bit like a cherry tomato by the end of the summer. This fruit is rose hips, and not a tomato by any means. Rose hips jam, jelly and marmalade are popular around the world, but if you want to try this fruit right off the bush, take care to avoid the tiny hairs that grow inside. They are used to make itching powder. The national soft drink of Slovenia is Cockta, a sort of fruity beverage made from rose hips. In Hungary an alcoholic beverage called Palinka is made from rose hips. It also has a great amount of vitamin C, and if you read the label on your bottle of vitamin C at home, you'll very likely find rose hips as a major ingredient. Native to southeast Asia, this plant has been cultivated in China and Japan for over a thousand years, where the fragrant, sweet-scented blossoms are used to make a potpourri.
In the early seafaring days of Provincetown, rose hips were commonly taken on board on long sea voyages where the sailors and fishermen would often be away from shore for months at a time. Typically the Grand Banks Schooners would set sail in April for the rich fishing grounds found off the southeast shores of Newfoundland. The Grand Banks were some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. The fishermen would stay until the end of summer, in September, and return with the holds of their ships filled to the brim with cod and other fish that would bring a good price.
In the first few weeks of the voyage, they would eat up all the fresh fruits and vegetables they could carry on the ship. After that they would still eat fairly well. They had fish, of course, available every day, and whatever else they might catch by chance, and likely cured or dried meat such as ham or venison jerky, and the ship's cook would make them fresh biscuits every day, but there is no vitamin C in any of those foods, and without it, scurvy would make the men quite ill. So they would have rose hips tea or rose hips jelly for the vitamin C they needed to stay relatively healthy on a long sea voyage.
Look for rose hips jelly in some of our local shops and markets, and think about the hundreds of local fishermen and sailors who depended on its health benefits during the early fishing days in Provincetown.

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