Seven common, utterly delicious and health-giving wild berries that you can track down on wild land near you. Check out a few berries that you may never have heard of, plus some that you surely have, with the Fascinating Experiments top seven list of mouth-watering wild berries.
Wild fruits and berries are among the easiest of wild plant foods to identify, but of course don’t take any chances if you’re unsure about identification. Eat the wrong berry and you might die. That’s no fun! But with a reliable guide book in your hand or, better still, someone who knows one berry from another, you can enjoy these seven delicious and healthful wild fruits to your heart’s content.
By the way, although the title of this article mentions berries, technically most of these wild fruits aren’t berries at all. But that’s neither here nor there from a culinary point of view.
The Rowan is a rather pleasant tree, very common and often planted by tree planters for the hell of it. In folk culture, the tree is said to repel witches. So stay away from this tree if you’re a witch. The artificial sweetener sorbitol was originally discovered in rowan berries, but that doesn’t mean the red berries are sweet; actually they are quite bitter and not good eaten raw. They are excellent made into a jelly and eaten with meat though. (Just to reiterate — make sure you know what you’re doing when you pick wild berries. The photograph here isn’t enough to safely identify rowan trees. In fact if you were to solely go off this photo, you could easily confuse it with yew — the deadly seeds of which are also contained in red fruits. But no-one who’d put a bit of effort into knowing what a rowan tree looked like would ever confuse the two, unless off their head on PCP, LSD and crack cocaine.)
6. SloeAnother very bitter fruit, so bitter it will suck your cheeks in and set your teeth on edge. But the extreme bitterness of the sloe masks a rather interesting plummy flavor, unsurprisingly since the sloe is related to the common plum. They even look like plums, but smaller and rounder. Probably the best thing to do with them is to make sloe gin. Pick them after the first frost (if it gets frosty where you are), which takes the edge off their bitterness. Put them in a kilner jar and cover them with gin and sugar. Leave them in there till Christmas, periodically shaking the jar. Then when Christmas comes around, enjoy your sweet, plum-flavored, ribena-like gin.
The sloe tree (or bush) is known as blackthorn. In spring, the white blossom emerges from the nearly-black wood before the leaves, making blackthorn bushes one of the nicest sights of spring.
5. ElderberryThe elderberry is an exceedingly common tree or bush in Europe and, I believe, the States. The berries are a bit odd and watery raw, but OK mixed with apples and used in pies (by themselves they’re too watery). They’re really good made into wine. Better, if you ask me, than grapes — although unlike with grapes, you’ll need to add sugar to get them to ferment. I’m guessing the berries would be pretty good made into a cordial too, although I haven’t tried. You can also dip the flowers in batter and fry them, or make them into a cordial. But frankly the flowers are an acquired taste and often full of small insects. The wood of this bush is interesting too. It burns very fast and very easily when dry, and doubtless for this reason would have been much used by our ancestors to kindle fires. If you’re out in the woods and need to get a fire going, but have the taste not to use gasoline or firelighters, you can snap off small, dry elder twigs (leave them if they bend – they’re not dry enough) and use those. You can also hollow out the larger stems (they’re filled with a soft spongy material but hard on the outside) and use them to blow your fire into life.
4. StrawberryThe wild strawberry is more common than you’d perhaps think, and can often be found growing in grassy, often slightly shady places. Its fruits are nothing like those of domesticated strawberries; they’re very small (pea size) and have a uniquely intense taste. The taste is oddly more strawberry-like than commercial varieties, if that makes any sense. Maybe because strawberry-flavor sweets sort of taste more like wild strawberries than ‘ordinary’ strawberries. The whole plant is rather lovely too, with its little white flowers with their yellow centers. Once you’ve seen them a few times you can’t help but associate them with strawberries, and it’s always a pleasure to spot them.
The bilberry, closely related to the American blueberry, is found throughout the world on acidic moorland and heaths. What are acidic moorlands and heaths? Well basically if you spot some ground covered in heather, the soil’s acidic and you’ve got a good chance of finding bilberry bushes there. On moors the plants are often close-cropped by grazing animals, but you can still find the berries at the right time of year — towards the autumn, a little later than many other fruits. If left ungrazed, the plants can grow into sizeable bushes that yield a good crop of pea-sized bilberries. The fruits closely resemble blueberries and even taste a lot like them but are smaller. Enjoy them raw (wash them first if there are sheep around!) or, if you can pick enough, make them into pies or muffins. Delicious! They’re also very good for your health.
The Wikipedia page on billberries is really interesting — check it out, but please come back afterwards! We haven’t finished yet!
Blackberries are small blue-black berries that cost a small fortune in supermarkets, but grow freely in the wild; — if you can find any wild land these days, it’s probably got blackberries growing on it. To reach the very best berries you have to stand on tiptoes and lean precariously over the spiny bushes. But it’s worth the effort, and to many people of generations gone by “blackberrying” expeditions were one of the delights of youth. The fruits are really tasty, often quite sweet and excellent raw or cooked into a syrupy pie-filling type-thing. If you make your own jam out of them, leaving the seeds in, you get to taste the world’s best jam. Commercial jam makers inevitably skimp on the fruit in blackberry jam, rendering it a pale reflection of how it ought to be. Good blackberry jam is full of seeds (which don’t affect your enjoyment of it at all) and tastes extremely like blackberries. Really wonderful.
Apparently the juice will also set if you mulch them up, filter the juice through a cloth and put it in the fridge, to make an interesting and unique dessert.
The plants will often root in your garden if you cut off a bramble and put it in the soil. But be careful, because blackberry bushes are invasive. However, there’s scarcely a better plant to be invaded by.
It’s a hard task and highly open to debate, but I’ve given the raspberry the number one most delicious position in my wild fruit ranking system. Raspberries are closely related to blackberries; indeed, as Charles Darwin pointed out at enormous length in his classic book On the Origin of Species, you can find a whole continuity of plants between the raspberry and the blackberry. And yet the two species tend to remain somewhat separate in the wild. Raspberry bushes lack the vicious spines of the blackberry; the fruits are a little smaller and more delicate, and of course, red. While the blackberry grows rampantly in any field that will give it a home, raspberry bushes are a little more reclusive, preferring spots of dappled shade on the edges of woods or woodland clearings. They taste, of course, excellent, and are to be found in supermarkets at inflated prices. Eat them as they are, mix them with yogurt, blend them with sugar and milk for a delicious milkshake, blend with ice cream for a spectacular dessert, make mouth-watering raspberry sauce … the possibility are endless. Did I mention that they are great in jam? Pay no attention to that stuff the supermarkets sell you, claimed to contain “50% fruit” or whatever. Your own raspberry jam will knock the spots off that stuff. They also just look really good! Raspberries ….. mmmmm ……
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… and don’t forget the Fascinating Experiments Nature section!