Sweet Briar

Latin Name: Rosa rubiginosa

Fruiting bush by the Georges River, Sydney, NSW

Fruiting bush by the Georges River, Sydney, NSW

Origin: Native of Europe and western Asia.

Alternative Name(s): Briar Rose.

Family: Rosaceae.

Known Hazards: There is a layer of hairs around the seeds just beneath the flesh of the fruit. These hairs can cause irritation to the mouth and digestive tract if ingested.

Habitat: Open pastures. Usually found on calcareous soils, it is one of the first shrubs to colonize chalk grassland.

Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Flowers: 1–3 together, each 2–4 cm wide, fragrant. Flowers mainly late spring to summer.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies). The plant is self-fertile.Scrambling or erect deciduous shrub to 3 (rarely to 5) m high. Rootstock shallow, perennial, suckers if disturbed. Stems with prickles, mixed with glandular hairs. Leaves usually comprise 5–9 leaflets that are ovate to obovate, mostly 1–3.5 cm long and 1–2.5 cm wide with toothed margins. Leaves give off a sweet apple-like fragrance when crushed. Fruit (hip) green at first drying yellow then reddish, ovoid to globe-shaped, 1.5–2 cm long. Seeds numerous, 4–7 mm long, yellowish.

Image by fabelfroh

Image by fabelfroh

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by stems smooth when young and rough-barked when mature with prickles that are unequal in size; flower stalk with glandular hairs and fine prickles; glandular hairs on lower leaf surface; petals pink to pale pink.

Dispersal: Spread by seeds, mostly by birds, foxes and water.

Edible Uses

Flowers; Fruit; Seed; Stem. Fruit – cooked. It is used in making jellies etc. The taste is best after a frost. The fruit is up to 25mm in diameter, but there is only a thin layer of flesh surrounding the many seeds. Some care has to be taken when eating this fruit, see the notes above on known hazards. A pleasant tasting fruity-flavoured tea is made from the fruit, it is rich in vitamin C. Petals – raw or cooked. Remove the bitter white base. Used in confectionery. Young shoots – raw. Used as they come through the ground in spring. The seed is a good source of vitamin E, it can be ground into a powder and mixed with flour or added to other foods as a supplement. Be sure to remove the seed hairs.

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Medicinal Uses

Aperient; Astringent; Cancer; Skin; Stomachic. The flowers and hips are aperient, astringent and stomachic. An infusion of dried rose petals can be used to treat headaches and dizziness, with honey added the infusion is used as a heart and nerve tonic and a blood purifier. A decoction of the petals is used to treat mouth sores. The seed is rich in vitamin E and an oil extracted from the seed is used externally in the treatment of burns, scars and wrinkles. The fruit of many members of this genus is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavanoids and other bio-active compounds. It is also a fairly good source of essential fatty acids, which is fairly unusual for a fruit. It is being investigated as a food that is capable of reducing the incidence of cancer and also as a means of halting or reversing the growth of cancers.

Other Uses

The plant makes a good low hedge. The prickles on the stem make it a useful security hedge.

Notes: Seeds germinate in warmer months on disturbed land. Introduced as a garden, hedge and food plant in the early 1800s. Plants reach maturity slowly, flowering at about 3 years of age. Over a long period of time infestations can cover thousands of hectares, reducing grazing potential and harbouring feral animals. Major weed in some localities, especially on hilly, well drained, disturbed or poorly managed land.

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