If you go for a walk through our ancient woodland, you will see Nature’s Bounty all around you, from the humble Blackberry to the Sloe’s.
We have all enjoyed picking blackberries for jams pies and even wine, if you are lucky, you may find a crab apple tree to complement them. Blackberries are at their best between August to September and an old wives tale says they should not be picked after the first frost as the devil has spat on them. But by October the damp weather will have ruined the berries.
Other berries that you can make into Jams and syrups are Hawthorn Berries and Rosehips.
Rosehip Cordial is a good pick-me-up for colds and flu, simply dilute it with hot water and honey. During the war, government scientists realised that weight for weight, rosehips have over 20 times the vitamin C of oranges. The Ministry of Food recommended rosehip syrup and a generation of children began receiving a daily dose. With the growing popularity of foraging, the vitamin saviour of World War II has been making a welcome comeback. As well as vitamin C, rosehips are a great source of vitamins A, D and E. They contain an anti-inflammatory and have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
Alternatively make rosehip and crab apple jelly, delicious on fresh crusty bread or even as an accompaniment to roast meats. The seeds have a hairy covering which is an irritant that has been collected by school children to make itching powder for years.
Hawthorn berries also known as Haws can be used for herbal teas. They can also play a crucial role in regulating the heartbeat and managing high blood pressure effectively. Additionally, this plant harbours a wealth of beneficial compounds, including vitamins B and C, which further contribute to its overall health-enhancing properties. Their seeds should be avoided as they contain the same toxins as apple seeds.
Sloe’s unlike Blackberries should not be picked until October, or November time after the first frosts have been to soften the berries, or placing them in the freezer once picked has the same effect. Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn tree. When making Sloe gin you need to make sure you have pricked the berries before steeping them in the gin and sugar. Then leave for 3-5 months for the flavour to develop into a lovely syrupy liqueur.
Another old wives tale is that an abundance of berries is the sign of a harsh winter to come, this is nature’s way of providing food for the birds. However, there is no scientific proof of this.
Berries are a valuable source of food for wildlife, particularly birds. Thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares feast on berries throughout the winter.
The seeds pass out through the bird’s gut and are often deposited far and wide, helping to spread plants.
As with all foraging only take what you are going to use, be careful not to damage the plants by uprooting them, and only pick from areas where there is an abundance.
Written by Lindsay Stuart.