I thought autumn was the season for berries, but berries seems to be appearing, ripening and changing colour almost every day in my garden at the moment, and it’s still the height of summer. Among the beautiful, the poisonous and the edible, there are a few I’d like to share with you.
Firstly the beautiful, even if they are on a plant I’d rather not have in general – hedge bindweed. However, I can forgive them at the moment as the berries are so gorgeous to look at:
The berries turn from green through yellow and orange to a glowing red:
Continuing on the ‘attractive’ theme, I find these next ones quite fascinating. Again, these berries ripen very quickly from whitish-green, to red, to black, so that you often get a bunch of berries of markedly different colours. Then just as quickly they shrivel. The plant is Viburnum lantana, also known as wayfaring tree, as they are often found along waysides just as they are here.
Unfortunately the berries are not edible, with the Wikipedia entry saying “The fruit is mildly toxic, and may cause vomiting or diarrhea if consumed in large quantities”.
My most interesting discovery in the ‘berry’ department has been the Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas, which again grows wild amongst the hedgerows, including at the edges of my garden.
This is something of a gem. As well as looking good, the fruits are edible, with a slightly sour taste like cranberry or morello cherry.
They can be used to make jams, a sauce similar to cranberry sauce, eaten dried, or distilled into vodka or liqueurs. They are high in vitamin C, and are fully ripe when they start to fall from the tree. Luckily they are fairly easy to see and to pick up, although you might have to walk a few miles picking up fallen fruit to make a batch of jam!
Cornus mas are also planted as ornamental specimens, as apparently in late winter they are covered in yellow flowers, reminiscent of forsythia. I look forward to that spectacle.
The ‘mas’ signifies the ‘male’ cornus, to distinguish it from the ‘female’ cornus, Cornus sanguinea. This common dogwood is probably the most prolific plant in my garden, in all the hedges as well as popping up in all the flowerbeds and crowding other plants out.
The final fact that I like about Cornelian cherries is that their wood is very dense, to the extent that it sinks in water. This density has lead to it being valued for making tool handles and machine parts, and in older times, spears and bows.