The graceful Rowan tree (or Mountain Ash as its also known, latin name Sorbus aucuparia) is laden with fruit at this time of year, yet this bountiful harvest of scarlet ripe red berries is mostly overlooked by us humans.
This may well be due to its flavour. Pick one and eat it straight from the tree and your taste buds will first encounter a slight sourness followed by a mildy unpleasant bitterness and astringency. This bitterness is mellowed with the frosts, so its possible to cheat by freezing them for a few days. Even then they are not excatly sweet and delicious, so why bother to harvest them?
The simple answer is for their nutritional content and medicinal actions.
Rowan berries contain twice the vitamin C of oranges, vitamin E , beta carotene, potassium, flavanoids, fibre, polysaccharides and xylitol (a useful sugar substitue for diabetics) amongst others. Even the bitter flavour elicits a physiological response in the digestive system which helps to tone the whole alimentary canal and improve immunity.
They have been shown to enhance the efficiency of chemotherapy and have promising anti-tumour properties too. They contain phytonutrients that act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, promote healthy blood vessels and blood flow, protect the heart and can be used as an astringent gargle for afflictions of the mouth and throat.
So whilst we may not be grabbing handfuls of gorgeous berries and eating them raw like strawberries or red currants, there are still many quick and easy ways to include them in the diet and enjoy their nutritonal and medicinal goodness.
The Scandinavians and Russians have held the Rowan berry in high regard for centuries and have created many tried and tested recipes. They use them where we might use cranberries and often make a jelly to accompany winter meat dishes. To make a jelly, use equal parts Rowan berries to sour apples, simmer until the fruits are soft, strain through a sieve and return to the boil with the same weight of sugar as berries used. Add the juice and/or zest of half a lemon and some cinnamon, ginger or any other flavour you like. Taste your jelly before deciding to bottle it and add make a few taste tweaks if needed. Hopefully, you will have a delicious and beautiful looking nutritional powerhouse of a jelly.
After some fun (and a few frowns!) experimenting with the berries I have decided that, for my palette, the flavours needed to enhance them and distract from the bitterness include sour apples (crab apples are perfect as are cookers), orange, cinnamon, star anise, ginger etc, warm flavours with natural sweetness and sour sharp flavours that compliment the bitterness. I tried a few herbs like thyme, mint, rosemary etc but for me they tasted unpleasant but you may find otherwise.
Store your berries in the freezer and then take what you need for each culinary adventure. You don’t need to use them all in one go and they do get better tasting the longer they freeze. Simply add a few to smoothie mixes, make teas from the fresh or frozen berries (sweeten with honey, cinnamon etc), make turkish delight, dry the berries and powder them then add to cakes or baking mixes, put them powdered into empty capsules and use as a supplement, add to ice cream or sorbet mixes. Even though they would be too unpalatable for most people to gorge on, avoid eating more than a small handful of raw berries as they can give you a touch of indigestion.
Have a look at this beautiful blog post full of delicious ways to use Rowan berries.
For customers of the Biome Box, your Rowan berries have been carefully selected – the ripest and juiciest we could find – and harvested from a variety of Rowan trees growing in different locations around our local area in Sussex. This way, each bag of berries will contain an even wider range of phytonutrients. Animal grazing and other plant pests of the Rowan cause each individual tree to manufacture defence chemicals designed to ward off a particular threat. These defense chemicals, targeted to destroy or slow pest attacks are actually phytonutrients to us!
Personally, I have always known Rowan as ‘The Witches Tree’ , associated with magical protection and the female essence, the tiny pentagram at the base of each berry hints at its hidden power. May you always be protected from harm after consuming these special little berries!