Hedgerow Harvest – Rowan berries and Crabapples

Claire Fleetneedle is with us once more to take us through some more interesting facts and foods from the hedgerow.

For some reason many people believe that Rowan berries, the fruits of the Mountain Ash, are poisonous. I was told as a child never to eat the berries as they would make me very ill. They do contain an acid which can give you a tummy ache if you eat a lot but they are certainly not toxic in the slightest. I have also read that the acid content of the berries is lowered after the first frost - an effect easily replicated by popping your freshly picked berries into the freezer. It is also worth bearing in mind that, when cooked, this acid is removed completely making the berries entirely safe. They are a marvellous ingredient for wines, jam’s, chutneys and even marmalade and have been used over many centuries for this purpose. Indeed, extract of Rowan berry is still used in the food and drinks manufacturing industry in a wide range of products. 

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The berries are packed with vitamins C, D and E, but this is not the only string to the berries bow. They also hold a whole host of medicinal values. To begin with the juice possesses not only anti-fungal but also antiseptic/disinfectant qualities. In herbal medicine rowan is used to treat gout, arthritis, rheumatism and kidney problems. This is due to the fruits ability to correct the way the body processes and eliminates uric acid. Rowan berry, dried or fresh is also a mild laxative and diuretic. Its astringent properties mean it has been used in folk medicine for gastric inflammations and bowel disorders.

The high vitamin C content in Rowan berries makes them the perfect immune booster over the winter months, which is why I initially wanted to try using them. Having a store of vitamin rich cordials, preserves, chutneys and jelly’s cuts down on our winter food bill and keeps us healthy. I made my first Rowan berry jelly a few years ago, and even though it isn’t to my taste my partner Chris loves it. Apparently it is a great accompaniment to cold meats and cheeses and he says it’s delicious on sandwiches. Since it proved so popular I have made it every year; this is my recipe.

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Rowan berry and Crabapple Jelly

Ingredients:
1 Kg of freshly picked and washed Rowan berries (you can pre freeze them if you wish).
300 – 500g of Crabapples (Windfall apples or even Bramleys will do if you can’t source Crabapples).
1 – 3 cloves depending on personal preference.
400g of sugar to every pint of sieved liquid.

Method:
Remove the Rowan berries from their stalks, cut all the apples into 4 and try to remove as many pips as possible. Put all the fruit, cloves and 2 ½ pints of water into the pan and begin to boil. Once boiling turn the heat down and simmer slowly for at least 20 minutes, mash the fruit with a potato masher to release as much juice as possible. When the fruit has broken down sieve the pan contents through a muslin cloth and a colander. This will take up to 24 hours to completely drip through, so it is best to leave it covered overnight. The following day you can squeeze the contents of the muslin to get the last juice out. Measure the liquid and then reheat it, once boiling add 400g of sugar to every pint of liquid you measured. Once you have reached the setting point pour into sterilised jars, seal, label and store in a cool dark cupboard. I can’t advise how long it keeps because Chris has always eaten it all in about three months. 

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I use Crabapples in this recipe, partly because apples reduce some of the Rowans bitterness but also because Crabapples hold properties of their own. These small hard apples are very tart and not many people would wish to eat them raw, however they are delicious when cooked. I use their juice to make cordial and also for Crabapple jelly - like Rowan Jelly, Crabapple is good with cold meats and cheeses. However my initial interest was sparked not by their comestible qualities but by their almost complete multi vitamin content. Crabapples contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C plus calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, omega 3, omega 6, phosphorus and potassium. Like Rowan they boost the immune system but Crabapples have also been linked to improving iron absorption which is something, like many women, I struggle with. I have also read that it improves nerve and muscle function.  This aside the taste Crabapple is very different to modern cultivated apples, it may sound strange but there is something ancient and rich about their flavour which is hard to quantify. I also prize them highly because they contain high levels of pectin which means I can mix them or their juice with low pectin fruits. Pectin helps jams and preserves to keep for longer, and though you can buy it I prefer to use this natural free source. 

With such versatile wild fruits available it seems wasteful not to utilise this abundant wild harvest, remembering of course to leave some for others, most importantly as food for the birds. 

Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle

Caution: Crabapple seeds contain small traces of cyanide so do not eat the fruit raw without removing the pips – bearing in mind that massive quantities of pips would have to be ingested before they created a danger.

These are some of my personal experiences using Rowan berries and crab apples, combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult with an herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.

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