Health in the hedgerows: Foraging and cooking with autumn berries
Berries are superb from a nutritional point of view – small, nutrient dense and high in antioxidant power. From late summer to early autumn there are plenty of delicious berries around for use in home-made jams, jellies and pies.
If you go foraging it’s a good idea to take an image guide with you, to be sure you know what you are picking. Only take berries from places where they are plentiful, and use gloves to protect your hands from the prickles!
Most wild berries require cooking to make them palatable, and may need seeds removing to avoid stomach upsets – but as long as you follow your recipes carefully autumn berries can make a super nutrient-packed addition to your diet.
Here are four of our favourites:
When: Mature berries are best picked from October onwards
Look for: Small clusters of bright red pea-sized berries.
Benefits: Rich in antioxidants and used in Chinese medicine for digestive problems and high blood pressure Hawthorn supplements have also been trialled as a treatment for anxiety.
Uses: Hawthorn berries generally need to be cooked into sauces and syrups, and can be used to make an excellent ketchup substitute. The dried berries can also be stored and used to make a winter tea
When: End of august to October
Look for: Bunches of very small dark purple-black berries, round in shape
Benefits: High in vitamin C and antioxidants, elderberry syrup is a popular remedy for colds and flu due to its immune boosting properties.
Uses: Raw berries can cause nausea and stomach upsets. Once cooked, these are great for syrups or nutrient-packed cordials
When: September to November, once there is no trace of green left on the berries
Look for: Oval shaped bright orange/red berries.
Benefits: Rich in polyphenols and antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, these are a great boost for the immune system. Traditionally used for coughs, colds and respiratory infections.
Uses: Can be used to make a vitamin C-rich syrup or cordial. Be sure to remove seeds by passing the cooked puree through a piece of muslin. Whole rosehips can also be used to make tea.
When: Sloes are at their best late in the season, from November onwards. If they are picked before the first frost they can be placed in the freezer before using.
Look for: Dark blue-black berries, 1 to 1.5cm round with a stone in the middle
Benefits: High in flavonoids and vitamin C. Sloes are used in traditional medicine to treat urinary infections and stimulate the appetite.
Uses: Sloes are rather bitter when raw, and the raw berries cause stomach upsets in children. As with many of the other berries they make excellent jellies and sauces that can be served with cheese or game meats. And don’t forget sloe gin!
For further information, check out this handy foraging guide from the Woodland trust