Well if the saying that a good crop of berries is a sign of a hard winter then I think we could be in for a ‘belter’. The holly trees are laden with berries and hedgerows are still hosting ruby-red rosehips.

Rich in vitamin C, rosehips are one of nature’s finest medicines containing beneficial amounts of vitamin A, D and E too. They also contain an anti-inflammatory and have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis. Nature’s way of giving back to gardeners maybe.

The best way to benefit from their properties is to use them to make a syrup, which can be taken by the spoonful as a good-tasting cough medicine, or diluted in hot or cold water for a healthy drink or it can be added to alcoholic cocktails for a fruity twist.

The wild dog rose hips (Rosa canina) make the best syrup although the rugosa rose hips (Rosa rugosa)–which you may have in the garden–are suitable too and are larger hips.

The rose hips are often traditionally boiled with sugar and water to make the syrup, but making a ‘raw’ syrup will ensure you retain the maximum goodness and flavour.

Harvest your rosehips and rinse them under water. Trim off the ends and pierce each one with a fork. Sterilise and dry a suitable, sealable jar and place a layer of caster or granulated sugar on the bottom, then a layer of hips, repeating the layers and filling any gaps with sugar. Just layer until you run out of rosehips or until the jar is full – there are no exact quantities. Seal the jar and keep at room temperature for a couple of weeks, turning it from time to time. The sugar will draw the liquid out of the rosehips to create the syrup.

When syrupy, strain it through a fine cloth, like muslin to remove the fine hairs, which would otherwise cause irritation. Don’t’ skip this stage even if you think you can’t see any hairs – trust me you don’t want to be ingesting them. Seal the syrup in sterilised bottles and keep in the fridge.

At this time of year I always make a homemade cough syrup that a client gave me years ago – her husband used to call it ‘snake juice’.

The following recipe is the ‘original’ given to me by my client who used to make enough to give to friends and family (an original Christmas gift) – so you may want to adjust the quantities accordingly.

You will need 4 lemons, 2 large onions, a large jar of honey, a bottle of blackberry brandy and a bottle of peppermint schnapps. Slice the lemons and onions and layer them in a large sterilised jar. Pour the honey over the top and add the brandy and schnapps. Leave for 2 or 3 weeks to infuse. If kept in a cool place, the syrup will last well over a year, although as gifts and ‘preventative measures’ it almost certainly won’t last that long. I take a spoonful each day – I don’t see the point in waiting for a cough!

Keen to swerve coughs and colds, at this time of year I often have a spoonful of blackcurrant jam in my coffee too – it tastes good and provides a bit more vitamin C. And I am a great fan of Hibiscus flower tea. A little like cranberry juice it is a bit of an acquired taste but the health benefits are worth ‘enjoying it’ for and the high vitamin content will also help to keep coughs and colds at bay. Always chose the whole flowers, not just crushed petals, and simply add hot water. After being used for tea, you can ‘re-purpose’ the (now) hydrated flowers in cakes, porridge, bread and all sorts of desserts–and my chickens also love them – I’ve got to keep them healthy too.