Also known as wild rose, dog briar, and wild briar, the herb has been used medicinally since the time of Hippocrates and was named dog rose by the Roman naturalist, Pliny, because it was believed the plant's root would cure the bite of a mad dog.
Most of us have heard of rose hip syrup, tonic, pills, and jam, yet few realize that the rose hips used to make these products come from dog rose and not the common rose plant. Although it had been used medicinally for centuries it was during World War II that the plant came in to its own as a medicinal herb. During the war it was impossible for Great Britain to import fresh citrus fruits and without them scurvy became a threat to the population. Knowing rose hips were rich in vitamin C the government arranged to have them harvested and processed into syrup. Because of this wise action and with the help of nature scurvy was prevented in this isolated country. Once used as an astringent and refrigerant (an agent that allays fevers), the medicinal use of the hips is now mainly as a rich source of vitamin C.
Prior to World War II dog rose was generally known as a wild plant that formed impenetrable thickets and showered the countryside with a burst of colour when it bloomed in spring. However, between 1930 and 1936 another use for it was discovered by Dr Bach, a successful London doctor who abandoned his lucrative practice to find herbs that would heal without side effects. The flower of the dog rose (called wild rose by Bach) is one of 38 different flowers he used to develop and perfect the Bach Flower Essences. Over the years these wonderful healing remedies have become known throughout much of the world.
Dog rose is a perennial shrub found growing along sunny roadsides, and the edges of woods, and hedges. Although it's native to Europe the herb has become naturalized in New Zealand and the cooler areas of southeastern Australia. It grows to a height of two to three metres with stems that have hooked thorns. Leaves are pinnately divided and compared to the familiar garden rose are greener and more smooth. White or pink flowers appear in spring and give way to scarlet hips (fruits) that are one to two centimetres long.
Apart from being made into syrup, jam and rose hip tea the nutritious hips can be eaten straight from the bush. A relative of dog rose, sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa), can be used in the same way.