Wednesday Weed – Sweetbriar

Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..

Sweetbriar (Rosa rubiginosa) hips

Sweetbriar (Rosa rubiginosa) hips

When I first decided to write the Wednesday Weed, I must confess that I had not given much thought to what would happen in winter, when very few plants are flowering, and many have disappeared altogether. Today, I walked around Coldfall Wood with a heavy heart, looking at the Brambles  and the Ivy   that I have already written about, and wondering what I would find that would be interesting. In some desperation, I slipped along the muddy path into the Cemetery  and realised that there was enough inspiration here for the whole of the winter and beyond.

Autumn in Coldfall Wood 039Tumbling over one of the gravestones was a shrub of Sweetbriar (Rosa rubiginosa). It had no flowers, and barely any foliage, and yet the hips were characteristic – they have very long sepals (the dangly bits at the bottom of the fruit), and when viewed from below, the hips look a little like a cone-headed alien parachuting to the ground.

Hip of Sweetbriar viewed from below (By Schnobby (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Hip of Sweetbriar viewed from below (By Schnobby (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

According to Harrap’s Wild Flowers, there are glands on the stems and leaves which give off a ‘delicious apple-and-cinnamon scent’. How I wished I’d thought to test this out! I will make a return visit soon to see if the plant retains its perfume this late in the year.

Sweetbriar flowers in June and July, and its blossoms are much pinker than those of the commoner Dog Rose.

Sweetbriar with beetle visitor (By Meneerke bloem (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sweetbriar with beetle visitor (By Meneerke bloem (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sweetbriar is the Eglantine of Shakespeare and other early poets, who often contrasted its sweetness with the sharpness of its thorns, as in this poem by Richard Herrick (1591 – 1674).

The Bleeding Hand

From this bleeding hand of mine,
Take this sprig of Eglantine:
Which, though sweet unto your smell,
Yet the fretful briar will tell,
He who plucks the sweets, shall prove
Many thorns to be in love.

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however,  the plant is all drowsy seductiveness:

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

Sweetbriar in bloom (By Rosa_rubiginosa_mit_einigen_Knospen.jpg: Sebastian Bieber derivative work: Bff (Rosa_rubiginosa_mit_einigen_Knospen.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sweetbriar in bloom (By Rosa_rubiginosa_mit_einigen_Knospen.jpg: Sebastian Bieber derivative work: Bff (Rosa_rubiginosa_mit_einigen_Knospen.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

When I was growing up, rose hips, such as those from the Sweetbriar, were a valuable source of vitamin C, and I remember looking forward to my daily spoonful of Delrosa Rose Hip Syrup. Since the 1930’s it had been known that a cup of Rose Hip pulp had more vitamin C than 40 oranges, and during the Second World War, when citrus fruits were difficult to come by, the Ministry of Health instigated a scheme for voluntary collection of the hips. These were turned into syrup, and distributed to small children. Collection continued until the 1950’s, and the syrup was considered a valuable dietary supplement for many years. Plus, unlike many such products, it was delicious. If you would like to learn more (including how to make your own Rose Hip Syrup), I can recommend the Wartime Recipes website – a real delight. Who could resist Patriotic Pudding (key ingredients potato, fat and carrot?)

Autumn in Coldfall Wood 038The one thing that slightly concerns me about finding Sweetbriar in the cemetery is that it shouldn’t really be here. It tends to be a plant of chalky soils, and is not common anywhere. So, could it be that it was planted by a mourner, wanting to honour a loved one by surrounding them with its scent and its pretty flowers? Whatever the reason, its bright hips have brought back a lot of memories for me this morning, and have reminded me that although there is not the abundance of plant activity in autumn and winter that there is in the warmer seasons, there is still lots to observe, if I take the time to notice.

 

2 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Sweetbriar

  1. Lynn D. in Oregon

    I have a similar rose (hips are more orange) growing by the back door and back gate. Its thorns make an excellent security system! It grows there because I used to throw the dregs of the pot of my rose hip tea out the door. Did the rose at the cemetary have rose galls?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplolepis_rosae
    Mine has lots of them and I find them the most interesting and sweet smelling part of the plant.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Wednesday Weed – Dog Rose | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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