Making the Most of Nature’s Harvest: Bramble and Apple Gin

Bottling up the Sloe Gin the other day reminded me of some photos we took a few weeks ago. Even in late August the beginnings of a bountiful hedgerow harvest were in evidence. Back then the sloes were turning from green to blue-black.

They seem to briefly take on an interesting turquoise shade when they are half ripe

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the blackthorn bushes were laden with blossom rather than fruit. In this strange year time has passed in an odd way. Somehow the hours pass slowly and the days pass quickly. This was taken in March.

Dog rose featured in one of my Wildflower of the Week posts . The roses were replaced by bright orange hips.

In the same way, the hawthorn blossom of May has given way to berries that will be enjoyed in the weeks to come by the birds, especially hungry new arrivals migrating here for the winter. In August the hawthorn berries were just starting to ripen and are now turning a darker red.

The blackberries/brambles have been amazing too. We pick some every year, but the crop seemed particularly prolific. We picked almost 3 pounds of fruit in a relatively short space of time, getting our fingers stained in purple juice and covered in tiny prickles. The fruit has been in the freezer since then.

It’s not just the hedgerow fruit that is abundant right now. The apple tree in my mother’s garden is so laden with fruit that the branches are drooping under the weight, even though several bags of apples have already been picked. We have an apple tree with plenty of fruit too, but they all seem to be near the top, well out of reach!

With last year’s sloe gin bottled, that freed up some Kilner jars. With this in mind and such a plentiful supply of apples and blackberries, I decided to make some bramble and apple gin.

There were quite a few recipes online. Some had added vanilla, but this one from Larder Love involved bayleaves. It made me think of the Jo Malone Blackberry and Bay fragrance which is rather nice. The apples didn’t need peeling or coring either – I’m all for that!

I increased the quantities proportionately as I had a litre of cheap gin instead of the standard (750mls) bottle used in the recipe.. This was enough to fill two 1 litre Kilner jars, which had been sterilised. I used

  • 300g blackberries (mine were straight from the freezer)
  • 300g apples, unpeeled, uncored, roughly chopped
  • 266g sugar
  • 2 small bayleaves
  • 1litre cheap supermarket own brand gin

I split the fruit and sugar between the two jars and added a bayleaf to each, then topped up with the gin. Then I sealed the jars and shook them to dissolve the sugar, repeating every so often until fully dissolved. Within a few hours the brambles were releasing their juice into the mixture, turning it red. The jars will now stay in a cool dark place, to be shaken up every so often (light makes the gin turn brownish). In a couple of weeks it will be ready to strain, bottle and drink – much much quicker than slow sloe gin!

I’ve already made some apple pies, frozen some and given a couple away. But what else shall I make? Chutney? Jelly and jam? All suggestions welcome!

Wildflower Of The Week: Dog Rose

The blossom in the hedgerow shrubs has changed through the seasons, from blackthorn to hawthorn and now to elder and the beautiful dog rose, which blooms throughout June and July. Our dog roses are actually a collection of several virtually indistinguishable species. The large flowers, up to about 50mm across, are white or pink, with golden yellow stamens. They have a mild sweet fragrance.

The leaves are toothed and arranged in two or three pairs along thorny stems. The shrub is straggly and grows to 3m or more if well-supported by surrounding hedge plants.

The roots are used in the horticultural industry in the propagation of garden roses. Shoots of the cultivated varieties are grafted on to dog rose root stocks.

The flowers are followed by oval orange-red fruits or hips. These are rich in vitamin C and can be used to make a tea or syrup. As well as a vitamin source, the syrup has also been used to treat gout, dysentery and as a diuretic. The irritant hairs on hips have been used to make itching powder. The roots were used in folk medicine to cure rabies. The flowers are used in skin preparations.

The flower, or at least a stylised version of it is a common feature in heraldry, often seen on coats of arms. Also known as sweet briar, the rose has symbolised love and beauty for millennia. In Ancient Greece the dog rose was often associated with the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, who was depicted as wearing a rose crown. The Romans bestowed an association between the dog rose and secrets. Anything said under places where roses were hung, would remain secret, giving rise the the phrase “Sub rosa”.

Occasionally reddish fibrous tangles appear on the stems of dog roses. These are known as Robin’s pincushions. and are caused by a tiny gall wasp laying eggs in in the stem. The gall shelters larvae of the wasp, which feed on the gall over winter to emerge as adult wasps in spring.

The dog roses I see in the hedgerows are a sign that summer is most definitely here!.

Wildflower of the Week: Red campion.

It’s impossible to miss the tall clumps of pink-red flowers of red campion that are growing in profusion in hedgerows and woods at the moment and will continue to do so until August and well into Autumn and Winter if the weather is mild. This relative of the carnation is a short-lived perennial that produces copious seed that enables it to spread rapidly , especially in fertile soils.

The plant grows up to a metre tall, though usually 30-60cm high. with leaves and stems covered in softly downy hairs. The leaves are pointed oval in shape, carried in pairs on the stems.

The flowers carried in small groups at the end of the stems. Each has five petals and each petal has a central cleft. the calyx immediately behind the flower is dark red/brown and hairy. The plant is dioecious, that is a single plant carries flowers with either female or male parts, not both as in most flower species. On the female plants the calyx develops into a vase-shaped seed capsule full of tiny black seeds. The female flower produces a sticky substance that causes pollen from visiting insects to stick. The Latin name for the campion family, Silene, may come from the woodland god Silenus or from the word for saliva.

The red campion hybridises freely with the closely related white campion with resulting flowers in a wide range of shades of pink. Though I’ve never noticed this, you may come across flowers with a darker centre. This is caused by a fungal disease known as anther smut, producing dark spores on the reproductive parts of the plant

The plant is sometimes called the Adder Flower from it’s use in folk medicine to treat snakebites (though personally if I was in this situation I would prefer to seek professional medical advice immediately rather than take my chances with the plant!) The roots of plants in the campion family can be used to prepare a soap substitute, though the red campion is less known for this than it’s close relative, soapwort. The 16th Century herbalist, John Gerard said that the hairy stems could be used to make candle wicks. A century later, Nicholas Culpepper described a number of medical uses including the treatment of kidney stones and internal bleeding as well as to “helpeth those that are stung by scorpions or other venomous beasts”.

Another country name is Batchelor’s Buttons as unmarried young men would wear the flower in a buttonhole..

Red campion certainly provides a welcome splash of colour in late spring and throughout the summer.

As always, please remember these guidelines.

  • Don’t touch or pick any plant unless you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that it is safe to use, and not poisonous.
  • Don’t pick anything unless it is abundant
  • Only pick small amounts and no more than you need
  • Don’t pick if there is a risk of pesticide/weedkiller or other contamination, including from traffic or other forms of pollution.
  • Always get permission from the landowner.
  • Avoid areas which may be soiled by animals (wild or farm animals or pets)
  • Wash plants thoroughly