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Berried treasure in your landscape | New World Seeds & Tubers

A lot of common garden shrubs and trees have fruit that is edible and “OK” if not necessarily luscious. A good example would be Haw berries. Haw berries are the fruits of Hawthorns. The fruit is sweet, a little on the dry side, and mealy.

In China there are species with bigger fruits than are typical of ours. The most typical has a fruit a little over a centimeter in diameter, however, there are some in the subtropics with fruit about the size of an apple. In China, Haw fruit is commonly eaten in any one of several types of candy.

Author and organic gardener Bob Flowerdew suggests mixing haw berries with elderberries and either crab- or cooking apples, to make jelly.

Crab apples make fairly good conserves. Some of the bigger ones are good in most things apples are good in, and my friend Arthur Lee Jacobson, the author and tree expert, speaks highly of crab apple cider. Crab apples to their credit seem to be rather easier to grow than Apples. I see beautiful unblemished fruit here, where apples get scab and other disfiguring diseases because of the humid climate.

Check your “flowering plums” for fruit. Some of them produce “cherry-plums” that taste like typical wild plums. You can eat it fresh thought it might be better seeded, cooked, and slightly sweetened. Would probably make a good addition to Rumtopf (fruit preserved in rum–a specialty of German-speaking countries).

Mountain Ashes, or Rowans (Sorbus) are not native to my part of the world, but the European Mountain Ash has gone abundantly feral here. The trees are typically loaded with fruit come autumn. I’ve long looked at them as possible famine food, but Bob Flowerdew writes that they make “a delicious jelly, almost like marmalade, which goes well with venison, game and fatty or cold meats”. Who would have thought? Now I’m curious to try it.

There are Asian Sorbus with significantly larger fruit, but the fact that only the European Mountain Ash has ever gone feral here make me think they are not as easy to grow.

Japanese quinces produce a hard, sour, dry fruit that can be rendered edible by cooking it. Probably rich in pectin and worth making jelly out of. Japanese quinces are common in cultivation so worthwhile to use the fruit.

Roses are common plants and the fruit is potentially useful. Wild rose hips used to be fairly commonly consumed in Europe–largely for lack of other fruits that had not yet arrived from other parts of the world. Europe was botanically impoverished by the ice ages.

Most highly-bred roses, especially ones with un-naturally many petals, produce few or no hips, and often their hips are unusable anyway. Wild roses, and roses that are domesticated but have single (as in, only 5 petals) often have good hips. Rugosa type roses tend to have especially good hips, being large, colorful, and fairly succulent as rose-hips go. Some roses have sufficiently attractive fruit I would suggest considering hips when selecting them.

A fairly typical use would be rose-hip jelly, but Bob Flowerdew has a recipe for rose-hip tarts in his book. To use them as fruit, you have to trim the ends, cut them in half, and scoop out the contents of the seed cavity, including all the fuzzy stuff. If making jelly, you can strain the seeds out along with all the other solids when you filter the liquid out through a cloth. About a month ago my daughter and her friend tried to make big batch of rose-hip jelly; the result was that the pulp jelled but their jelly didn’t (probably didn’t cook it down enough; you’re supposed to test a drop on a plate).

One use for rose hips that used to be fairly common–through I don’t notice it anymore–was rose-hip “tea”. I think the point is to make good use of the vitamin C that some (alas, not all) rose hips are rich in. It also gives mixed tisanes (“herbal teas”) a tart, fruity flavor.

It seems to me rose-hip concoctions could be improved by saving some of the petals and most importantly, retaining some of their scent, then adding the rose petals to the mix being steeped, so that the final product has the tartness of the hips and a hint of the fragrance of the petals; this would make a final product with a more distinct association with roses. Then you could “enjoy your roses” off-season.

Some people grow Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) as an ornamental–especially the types with colored foliage. The fruit is edible though it’s worth a brief warning: elderberries are probably best not consumed in large quantities raw; they contain cyanogenic (“cyanide-producing”) glycosides. Especially don’t eat red elderberries raw, which could make you quite sick. Cooking evaporates the toxin. I suggest removing the seeds while they are cooking; they’re not only unpleasant to get stuck between your teeth, but they’re also slightly toxic.

I’ll mention Fuchsias only briefly: their fruits are edible, but bland. The one exception that I am aware of is the fruit of Fuchsia boliviana. That said, after thinking about it a while, it occurs to me that while most of them are not particularly tasty, they do provide anthrocyanins that people pay good money for when they come packaged as blueberries or açai berries. So, you might reasonably find a use for them, perhaps mixed with something with a stronger flavor.

Myrtle and their relations are probably worth their own post some time. It’s a huge family, but not all of them have berries and the vast majority are not hardy. Myrtus communis, the “common Myrtle”, is quite rare in my part of the world. More common are a few of its South American counterparts.

I suppose it’s worth a word of advice: ignore signs and tags in the nursery reassuring you that Feijoa is self-fruitful. Make sure you have unrelated seedlings to cross-pollinate. Otherwise, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise after waiting for years for it to bloom. It will take more years to grow another one to pollinate it.

Feijoas are beautiful shrubs or small trees, with showy candy-pink blossoms and rather handsome textured but glossy foliage and bark. They start looking “rugged” even when not particularly old, and remind many people of olive trees. For a tree native to southern Brazil they are surprisingly cold-hardy (I had a gallon-sized tree not even established survive 14F/-10C) not to mention resilient.

The fruit is absolutely delicious, with a sweet-sour taste and a fragrance like sweet peas. Possibly the best of the guavas.

Ugni molinae (formerly Myrtus ugni), “Chilean Guavas”, seems to be self-fertile. The fruit is quite small, roughly the size of a pea if even that big. They taste like typical Guavas, but with strawberry-like overtones. A tad tender when first planted, they get hardier once they start suckering, at which point they come back from suckers if they freeze back.

Often grown as an ornamental in the milder parts of western Europe and the Pacific Northwest, and having escaped cultivation in parts of Europe and California, few people who grow it notice that Luma apiculata can have palatable fruit. The bad news is that apparently fruit quality varies with the genetics of the plant that bears it, and is sometimes dry or bland.

It’s also worth noting that Lumas are very long-lived, at least in habitat, and will eventually get too tall to easily gather the fruit, but only after a very long time as they are slow-growing.

People in warm climates like those of California, Florida, Australia, and Mediterranean Europe should probably check their Eugenia trees for palatable fruit. Several bear edible fruit including Eugenia uniflora, the “Surinam Cherry”.

I’m not sure if Lardizabalaceae is worth mentioning. The fruits (“Zabalfruits”) are generally edible, and often even sweet, but bland and mealy too. I think the only common one is Akebia (“Chocolate Vine”), but sometimes you see Holboelias, Decaisnea (one of the few members of the family that isn’t a climber) and even Stauntonias.

Mulberries probably are worth covering, because while some people won’t eat them, there are plenty of other people who love them. There seem to be three species: Morus alba, M. rubra, and M. nigra: white, red, and black. The names don’t necessarily correspond to the color of the fruit, though. Generally albas are sweet but the most bland, but even that generalization is not always true as there is an alba from Pakistan that is popular for its large and reputedly complex-flavored fruit. Rubras and nigras generally more tart.

I haven’t eaten one since I was a kid and do not remember what they taste like. Kids tend to eat them fresh (and stain their hands in the process), I’ve heard of mulberry wine, and I looked up online to see that other people do make pies out of them:

I don’t know what it is about mulberries that feels nostalgic, perhaps it is because they are not commercially available, but whenever I cook with Mulberries it feels like I am going back to the days of farmhand suppers and lemonade served on the front porch.

“Cornelian Cherry”–Cornus mas–has fruit good enough that they’re grown for fruit in places like Armenia and Iran, and has been considered as a potential crop elsewhere. I’ve eaten them, and they’re not bad. Attractively and vividly colored, pleasantly tart, probably good cooked with a little sugar.

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the fruits are recommended for jelly. That’s because many of them aren’t good enough to eat fresh out of hand, for one reason or another, but they are tart enough and sufficiently pectin-rich to make good jelly. Its a good guess for uses if you can’t think of others. Some unimproved fruits also make good juice when cooked (if needed to release the juices), filtered, diluted, and slightly sweetened.

Hey, it’s free food. Times are getting hard. Take a second look at what you’ve already got.

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I can think of a few more too obscure to mention, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten plenty.

I suggest NOT sampling fruits you don’t know for certain to be edible. Holly-berries for example are somewhat toxic, hence names like “Ilex vomitorium”. Some solanaceous plants have mildly to fairly toxic fruit, and those of the notorious Atropa belladonna can kill you.

What do you think? Do you know of some common landscaping plants that have fruit worth harvesting? How about some good uses?


2 Responses to “Berried treasure in your landscape”

  1. Mahonia (Oregon grape) berries make an absolutely delicious jelly!

    • I tried them back in my mid-teens. I’ve heard of other people eating them, they’re full of valuable phytonutrients, they’re beautiful, they’re abundant, and they’re easy to grow.

      I wonder if there’s something I did, or didn’t do, that would make a difference. Or, perhaps, an issue of just getting used to wild flavors. Maybe I need to give them another chance.

      Next year when they ripen, I’ll try again, and post about my results. I’ll try them as both jam and jelly.

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