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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Wld food of the month September: The haw

Sod this, I may as well get on with this. Here it comes the wild food of the month: the berry of the hawthorn, the humble haw.

I've long vaguely been aware of the edibility of this plant, possibly one of the most widespread berries in Europe. But as kids we just dismissed them as bird berries. The only thing I knew you could make out of them was jelly, and I could never really be bothered with making jelly. As there are rather a lot of them around at the moment I decided to look a bit further into this and found out some astonishing facts:
  • The haw used to be known a bread and cheese, because they were considered such basic food items. Children in England used to nibble on the young leaves in spring and the berries in autumn.
  • Haws have some amazing health benefits, especcially for the heart. This applies not only to the berries, but also the leaves and flowers. This a quote from this website:
The hawthorn drugs are used for heart disease, especially for the cardiac muscle fatigue. They selectively widen the coronary vessels and celebral vessels, lessen the nervous system affectability, increase the oxygen supply to the heart and brain, improves the metabolism, normalize the heart rhythm, remove the painful feelings in heart area, stabilizes sleeping and the general condition, helps accelerating the recovery after serious illness and decreasing the blood cholesterol level
  • According to this same web-site, haws contain caffeic acid and according other sources the roasted seeds of haws make a coffee substitute

So off I went and picked some. The first batch was turned into haw ketchup or haw-chup:
  • 750g haws
  • 450ml red wine vinegar
  • 100g sugar
  • 25g salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Strip the berries from their sprays and wash them. Put into a pan with the vinegar and cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve and return to the pan with sugar and seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes. Bottle and seal.

We tried this on some nut-dogs (like hot dogs, but with nuts...) and it was delicious. However this was extremely messy trying to separate the seeds from the flesh after cooking. It only produced one medium-sized jar of ketchup and the left-over seeds didn't come off clean enough to subsequently roast them and turn into a trial coffee batch.

So the next lot I dried whole on a food dehydrator. It didn't take long, just one night. The resulting dried berries I roasted complete in a hot oven at 175C for about 20 minutes than zapped the whole lot through the food processor.

This resulted in a fine, fragrant powder. We had just found a perfectly functioning espresso machine on the skip (which I have meanwhile seen for sale at €70/ same model!), so I thought I'll test it with this mixture. Didn't work. The powder is too dense and the water will not go through.

So I put it into a saucpan and boiled it up briefly with some water. The result I strained through a paper filter. You know what? It wasn't coffee, but it was delicious! And while it had some sort of quickening effect, this wasn't like a coffee. You could have one of those late at night and have no trouble sleeping afterwards.

Elsewhere I read, that you can add the flour to bread too, so shall try that with our next loaf of bread we're baking.

With all these health things and a similar distrust of the medical profession as of dentists, I decided I should look more into herbal medicine, i.e. gather some of the leaves too and some of the flowers in spring. Susan also had her first slight cold since we have arrived in Italy, so I brewed up some sage teas and a tea made from walnut leaves.

With Susan it often goes that once she has got her mind stuck on something she gets very enthusiastic about it. So after finding all these health giving plants and drying and storing some of them (also wild mint and lemon balm) she wanders around and randomly points at plants and asks me: "so what can you do with this plant?"

Usually I have no idea. Then she points at these abundant shrubby yellow flowers growing all over the place at the moment.

To make out I sort of know what I'm talking about I pick a couple of leaves and rub them beyween my fingers and giving them a sniff. To my surprise an aromatic herbal smell protrudes, smelling definitely as if it should be good for you. So I have a look at a couple of books and doesn't take me long to identify it as goldenrod, an important plant in herbal medicine. A tea made from the leaves and flowers is beneficial against diseases of the kidneys and bladder. It is said to relieve cistitis (is one of the i's a y?) work as a natural diuretic and work well against depression.

Now I don't get depressed much, but I have had kidney trouble before, so now a large bundle is hanging in our kitchen to dry for the next emergency.


Mr. H. said...

Hmm, this is so interesting. I have also been aware of the possible edibility of hawthorns berries since I was a child. My grandmother used to eat them. This year we started picking and using them for the first time ever...just like you. We have both the red variety in your picture plus a purple colored one. Micki cooks them down and has been freezing the juice and I think they would make a really great syrup, although we have not tried that yet...but they do thicken up quickly. How neat that you have used the seeds to make a coffee of sorts.

Here is where it gets really wierd. We also identified goldenrod growing on the outskirts of our garden this year but have not done anything with it.

Ok, so what on earth is a nut dog? I know you are a bit health concious but a nut dog? Speaking of which, how did the ketchup taste? That really sounded like something I might like.

I had better shut up now, very good post. I can now confirm via your pictures that I have identified both plants correctly.:) Thanks!

Heiko said...

Mr.H, this spooky. Are you my long lost twin brother? Well a nut dog is a hot dog shaped thing made out os a mixture of hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, herbs and egg. Call it a nut sausage if you like. The haw-chup wasn't unlike really good quality tomato ketchup. As the mixture was still very thick I added some Balsamic vinegar towards the end too to add an extra not. Sweet and sour. I'm working on a little cookery based on wild foods and frugal recipes, accompanied by music from around the world. It will only be available in e-format against a payment of your choice. As you have send me seeds already, you'll be one of the first recipients.

Ruralrose said...

This is an excellent post. I thought I had a hawthorne tree, but the berries are dark and small and the foliage is different. Back to the books to figure it out. I have had no experience with this plant. Being a prairie girl we had crab apples and choke cherries. Love when you talk about medicinal plants and how to use them like conventional ones. Have you made chickory coffee?

Heiko said...

Rose, there are quite a few similar looking berries, but the leaves are a definitive indicator to identification. Haven't tried chicory coffee, at least not home-made one. It is quite popular commercially in France. Also wanting to try acorn coffee, which was used here a lot during the war. I'm looking for an old hand driven coffee mill actually as they are considered antiques here these days and have become unaffordable.

Jan said...

I knew a few of the facts about the hawthorn but unfortunately they don't grow around here. We have lots of the yellow flowered plant though, but I didn't know it was called golden rod. The golden rod I know of is a completely different herbaceous plant that used to be common in english gardens.

Jan said...

I've just googled golden rod... I didn't realise that there were so many varieties! So that explains my confusion.

Kate said...

Oh Heiko, how lovely! We are all learning from each other, in blogland.... there are lots of hawthorns here in Tasmania too. They are not native to here but who cares!As it is spring here, I will collect some leaves.... maybe even today at the Food Forest.

Heiko said...

Jan, I've read somewhere that there is a garden variety which is sold as cut flowers too. A lot of contact with them can lead to allergies amongst florists. I can imagine it as they are quite pungent.

Kate, the flowers together with the berries and leaves can be made into a herbal tea. An alcohol infusion of the flowers and berries taken regularly (a few drops at a time!) strengthens the heart. And the leaves in spring can be added to salads.

Ayak said...

You really should write a book. You have so much useful information to give...it needs a wider audience! Although how you would find the time for a book I really don't know!