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.