A walk along a Gloucestershire hedgerow this week yielded ripe blackberries, clusters of elderberries, and hips and haws already turning red.
Rowanberries were beginning to hang heavy, and sloes and hazelnuts were on the way. In the field itself there were mushrooms springing up after the rain, and fresh nettles rampaging around the edges of the dungheap.
Blackberries and hips
It’s not an accident to find such a rich harvest within a few yards. Some things were planted there, probably hundreds of years ago. Others arrived by themselves, to be carefully husbanded by generations of hedge-walkers. A hedge is a little ecosystem used by all sorts of wildlife, but it starts with human needs: to enclose livestock, to provide a windbreak for crops, and to supplement the range of foods and medicines before winter sets in.
Elderberries, for example, are rich in vitamin C, and they help to soothe coughs and see off all manner of respiratory ailments, from sinusitis to bronchitis. They’re gently laxative, which could be a blessing on a monotonous winter diet, and to top it all, they taste good
Here’s a recipe to warm your heart and ease the January blues.
Gather lots of elderberries, strip them from their stalks and wash. Put them in a large pan, add water to cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain and press through muslin. Measure the liquid and return to the pan, adding 0.5kg sugar for each litre. You can also add lemon juice and cinnamon to taste.
Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, then bottle and label. It keeps for up to a year.
Dilute 1:5 with hot water to drink.