Posts Tagged ‘berries’

What’s in a name?  That which we call a lingonberry
 By any other name would be as healthy.
~ William Shakesberry

Cowberries grow in Cow Bay.  Of course they do, you say.  Where else would cowberries grow?  Well, in a lot of places actually.  They’re found in most countries located in the circumpolar expanse that encompasses the arctic tundra and the sub-arctic regions of the boreal forest (known as the taiga in Russia).  Vaccinium vitis-idaea goes by a number of names:  partridgeberry, foxberry, redberry, lingonberry, quail berry, csejka berry, mountain bilberry, mountain cranberry, lowbush cranberry and… cowberry.

Regardless of what it is called, this tart red berry is brimming full of anti-oxidants.  Native peoples and Scandinavians have known this for some time, but North Americans are just catching up on the news, making the lingonberry the new superstar natural food recommended for lowering bad cholesterol and fighting cancer.

Dr. Oz puts lingonberries in a smoothie with almond milk while Scandinavians (even IKEA) and Newfoundlanders make them into a jam/preserve which can be spread on toast or served with venison, ideally reindeer meat.  However, I enjoy the berries fresh off the vine, their flavor being a blend of blueberry and cranberry.  Frost enhances their flavor but makes them more mushy.  I also find them tasty crushed fresh and sprinkled with sugar as a topping for vanilla ice-cream.

This evergreen vine often grows in boggy places.  The ones I found were on or near deadfall trees in locations many would consider scrub wastelands.  As old growth forests on the edge of wetlands are destroyed to make way for new  ‘developments,’ I’m sure these wonderful berries will become less common here in Cow Bay Nova Scotia, and consequently even more prized for their healthful properties.

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Why did the snake cross the road?  Didn’t it feel the vibrations from oncoming traffic? 

Hey, do I look worried?

This maritime garter snake managed to survive being run over by a truck, luckily slipping between the tires.  Why was it willing to risk life and limb to get to the other side?  Was it looking for something tasty to eat? Snake berries perhaps?

For years I’ve heard both adults and children talk of ‘snake berries.’  Could these be berries that were frequently eaten by snakes? 

As children, my sons and their friends used the term to describe the fruit of the bunchberry plant, shown above.  It seemed that only the daring among them had ever tried tasting these snake berries.  My friend Sandy thought snake berries were blue. Others who knew of snake berries weren’t able to describe the plant in any detail. 

After a bit of digging, I discovered that the term is used to describe any berry of questionable edibility.  So, if you are in the woods, and see a berry that you’re not sure you can eat, you might choose to call it a snake berry.  All snake berries are therefore considered poisonous.  By the way, bunchberries are edible.  They’re bland with a large pit, but edible nonetheless.

Since the berries shown above are unknown to me and I’m not sure if they’re safe to eat, I’ll call them snake berries until I can learn more about them.  And since all snakes are carnivores, there’s no way that they would eat this or any other berry.

So, as to why the snake crossed the road… in Cow Bay, there can only be one answer:  it was the pheasants’ day off!

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wild blackberries

The blackberries that grow wild in my yard aren’t as perfectly formed as the genetically modified ones to be found at the grocery store, but they are tasty.  I let them grow where they will and over the years the number of brambles has increased along with the amount of fruit.

blackberriesNova Scotia is known for its abundance of berries.  Like other wild berries, blackberries are full of vitamins and minerals that make them an excellent food choice. For maximum nutritional value, they are best eaten raw, fresh off the vine.

For dessert, they can be piled raw into empty tart shells with fresh whipped cream.  Blackberries can also be enjoyed in pies, jams, pancakes and wines.  They are also delicious served simply with cream and sugar.  Their leaves can be made into a tea.

Berry bannock is an excellent native recipe that can be cooked in a pan over a campfire:

  • Mix 2 cups of flour with 3 tsps baking powder, 4 tbsps powdered milk and 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Cut in 6 tbsps margarine, butter or shortening.
  • Ad 1 cup washed damp berries, mixing gently to coat fruit.
  • Add 1/3 cup water and work into a dough.
  • Shape into a 1 inch thick rounded cake, dust with flour and place into a warm, greased fry pan.
  • Cook over moderate heat until a crust forms on the bottom.
  • Turn over with spatula and cook until browned and no dough sticks into a fork inserted into centre of dough.

Often the birds manage to get to the blackberries before I have a chance to pick them.  The bramble shown below was picked clean by wild creatures who obviously didn’t believe in wasting anything.  I’ve found a nest of cedar waxwings in the yard in the past, placed not far from some blackberry brambles.

blackberry stems

The following quotation was used in the first post I wrote in this journal last October.  I’m reminded of it whenever I pick the blackberries growing in the yard.

I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods.  Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.

~Wendell Berry

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bunch berries

The fastest plant in the world resides unassumingly in Nova Scotia’s cool woods. Botanists have discovered that the petals of bunchberries move at a speed of 22 feet per second when they open, releasing a flurry of pollen into the air.

In late summer however, it’s the red berries of this plant that dot the forest floor.  Their leaves are worn and streaked with burgundy, duller versions of the fresh green plants that brightened the ground back in June.

buncberryThese bland tasting berries are edible but far less enjoyable to the palate than the blackberries available in the wild at this time of year.  Yet children often enjoy them and find them easy to pick.  Berries can be found on plants consisting of six leaves.  Also known as dwarf dogwood, the plant will acquire an overall burgundy color later in the fall.  Berries dry as the season progresses, providing food for deer, moose, grouse and songbirds.

With a preference for acidic woods, bunchberries often grow in partially shaded spots.  They are known to neutralize the effects of acid rain.

Known as Cornus canadensis in Latin, bunchberries are native to northern North America and have a history of being used medicinally for kidney ailments, to lower fevers and treat infant colic.  Leaves have been applied topically to stop bleeding and heal wounds.  Berries can be made into a poultice to treat burns or taken internally to help counteract the negative effects of ingesting poisonous plants.  Their use is being investigated for cancer treatment.  

bunchberries in bloom

High in pectin, berries can also be made into jellies and puddings. In the fall, they were gathered by native people by the bushel full and later either frozen or stored in bear fat for use in winter. The berries are thought to promote mental strength and clarity which is reason enough to give them a try.

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rowan12“Some things you must guard with care:
There are Rowans in the dooryard;
Rowans in the yard are sacred,
Rowan branches too are holy
And the leaves upon the branches –
And the berries even holier.
By their means a girl may learn,
A young woman may be guided
To affect her sweetheart’s feelings,
Even to command his heart.”

~ from ‘The Teaching of the Bride’ in ‘The Kalevala,’ Finland’s great epic poem

 Late winter is a good time for dreaming up plans for springtime plantings.  I’ve been wondering what type of tree or bush to plant near my front door to replace the Cedar that gave up the ghost last year.  I’m leaning towards Mountain-ash, a tree very closely related to one known as Rowan in the Old World.  Rowans are supposed to bring good fortune and repel negative energies, qualities that make them ideal plantings near the entrance to one’s home. 

Referred to by the Celts as ‘Fid nan Druad’ or ‘wizard trees,’ Rowan Trees have been regarded by Northern Europeans as magical trees since ancient times.  They are often found growing near ancient settlements, churchyards and henges (stone circles).  A large number of Mountain-ash saplings, just the right size for transplanting, are presently growing towards the edge of my backyard. 

Rowan Leaves by Andy Goldsworthy

Rowan Leaves & Hole - by Andy Goldsworthy

A Scottish superstition warns that it’s bad luck to cut down a Rowan Tree.  Its wood was traditionally employed in the fabrication of walking sticks, coffins, crosses and wizards’ wands.  The trees are associated with prophecy and creativity.  Quickbeam, one of Tolkien’s Ents from the Lord of the Rings saga was a Rowan.

The name of Mountain-ash is misleading, since this tree is not a true Ash but rather a member of the Rose (Rosaceae)  family of plantsMountain-ash leaves are a favorite of White-tailed Deer, Moose, Fishers, Martens, Snowshoe Hares and Grouse.  Squirrels, mice, voles, grouse, jays, robins, thrushes and waxwings all enjoy the berries.  Fermented berries can be intoxicating to small animals.  Years ago, I stopped to pick up a robin that had flown into my windshield while I was driving.  Its mouth was full of Mountain-ash berries.

I’ve yet to figure out exactly why the above lines from the Kalevala say that a young woman can affect her sweetheart’s feelings through the use of Rowan berries.  Certainly any food or wine prepared with care and a loving heart will inspire good feelings, especially today, St. Valentine’s Day.

For anyone who has access to rowanberries and is curious about their possible ‘love-potion effect,’ here is a recipe for rowan jelly that I found in Pamela Michaels’ cookbook All Good Things Around Us. 

allgoodthingsaroundusRowanberries make a light red jelly with a sharp flavour that goes beautifully with venison or game, as well as with lamb and pork.  You can make the jelly with green cooking apples, but crab apples give the best flavour.

1-1/2 kilos / 4 lbs rowan berries  +  1 kilo / 3 lbs crab apples  +  water  +  sugar

Wash the berries and strip them from their stalks, wash the crab apples, cut them in half and nick out any bad bits.  Put both fruits in a large pan, add enough water to barely cover, bring to the boil and cook for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and pulpy.  Pour into a jelly bag or double thickness of muslin and drip overnight.  Measure the juice into a pan and add 400 g / 2 cups / 1 lb sugar for each 500 ml /2-1/2 cups / pint of juice, heat slowly, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly for about 7-10 minutes until the liquid jells when dripped on to a cold saucer.  Skim and pour into warm dry jars, cover with waxed circles while hot, seal with cellophane covers when cold.

For more information about Rowan trees, see: 



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