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Rowanberries: Something to forage for in autumn

If you’re out and about in late summer and autumn, you may notice the bright red of rowanberries in hedges and beside paths. People will tell you they’re inedible, possibly poisonous, but this is not the case. They’re simply bitter and heating them makes them more palatable by converting the bitter parasorbic acid into the well-tolerated sorbic acid.

Delicious cooked any way

Rowanberries can be processed into jams and jellies, compote, syrup, juice and liqueur. They also taste good in pastries and cakes. To stew the berries, first soak them overnight in water with a dash of vinegar. Then simmer until soft with a little water, mash and sieve. If you like, you can mix the rowanberries with mild-tasting fruits such as apples, quinces or pears and flavour with cinnamon and cardamom. Then simmer for 15 minutes more and spoon into jars. The dried berries can also be added to fruit and herbal teas. Or make rowan chutney with onions, tomatoes, red peppers and raisins. This chutney goes well with soft cheese and game dishes. Rowan berries are very healthy; they contain plenty of vitamin C (80-100 mg per 100 g berries), provitamin A, essential oils, dietary fibre such as pectin and valuable phytochemicals. Stewed rowan berries are said to cure loss of appetite and digestive problems. They are also used in folk medicine for colds, rheumatism and gout.

Botany and harvest

The mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), as the rowan is actually called, belongs to the same family as roses. Rowans grow widely throughout Europe, preferring sheltered forest edges, clearings and hedgerows. The white flowerheads turn to bright orange to coral red berries in late summer or early autumn. You might be lucky and find berries still hanging on the trees until late October, but usually they will be eaten by birds and small mammals. They’re very popular with birds, so don’t leave your foraging trip too late. After the first frosts, the fruit tastes sweeter and less bitter, but also contains less vitamin C. Don’t forget to wash them well before cooking them.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.bzfe.de