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Baltic berries

The unusual weather patterns this year mean that British berries are appearing earlier in the hedgerows, and are likely to last for longer. It’s going to be a bountiful autumn for the birds, apparently due to a warm dry spring followed by a wet summer. For human foragers, there are sloes and hawthorn berries, but the blackberries are long since over.

We don’t share the Scandinavian love of heading out to the forest to pick wild berries, which is a shame (as is the fact that most of us don’t have a forest on the doorstep that we could pick berries in!). But we can experience a similar joy by growing our own, and a lot of the Nordic berries are great choices for a British garden.

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If you’ve encountered a lingonberry in this country, then it was most likely in Ikea! Lingonberry jam (lingonsylt) is a firm favourite in Swedish kitchens, where it is used both as a sweet jam and a condiment for savoury dishes - similar to cranberry or redcurrant jelly. Lingonberries are smaller than cranberries, juicier and more sour. If you grow your own you can also turn them into a cordial, lingondricka ,which can in turn be mixed with vodka to make a Wolf’s Paw (Vargtass) cocktail. Lingonberry plants like similar conditions to blueberries and cranberries, i.e. they need acidic soil or an ericaceous compost mix.

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Bilberries grow wild in northern parts of the UK, but aren’t found in the south. In Sweden these blåbär are known as wild blueberries. They have red flesh, and produce a purple juice, and are a popular food for wild bears and moose! Human uses for the berries include jam and pancakes, tea and fruit soup. You may prefer to grow the American blueberry, which is closely related but produces larger and sweeter berries (with white flesh).

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The Arctic Blackberry makes a good groundcover plant that you could also choose to grow in a hanging basket, so that its berries are within easy reach. It has pink-violet flowers that are easy on the eye. Although this wilder berry isn’t the most productive, it produces intensely-scented fruits that delight the senses.

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Moving on from the forest to the coast, the Sea buckthorn plants that grow wild in the UK are largely left untouched, but elsewhere in Europe they’re a popular and cultivated ‘superfood’ berry, sometimes known as the seaberry. It’s possible to find sea buckthorn juice, jam, oil and syrup on the shelves of European supermarkets; here you’d have to search for it in health food shops. In Sweden, the plant is called havtorn.



In Britain, sea buckthorn tends to be used in coastal gardens, where it happily withstands salt spray, but it will also grow inland. It is a valuable wildlife plant, and its thorns mean it can be used in hedges to improve security. Those thorns do make it a bit tricky to harvest the berries, and the fruit does tend to ‘smoosh’ rather than leave the bush cleanly, so there is a bit of a knack to collecting your bounty. The fruits themselves (though not to everyone’s taste) can be added to both sweet and savoury dishes. They are very sour, and can be used to replace lemon or vinegar, but are also used in baking, jam and liqueurs:

Sea Buckthorn Liqueur


1 kg fresh sea buckthorn berries
250 g sugar
1 bottle of vodka
5g vanilla sugar

Bottle the juice from 1kg sea buckthorn berries with the vodka and sugar. Close the bottle and make sure that it is airtight. Let it sit on a windowsill for two months, shaking occasionally dissolve the sugar. Pour the juice through a sieve after two months. Cheers!


The Lubera catalogue contains two sea buckthorn varieties, bred to be better for gardens (and gardeners!). They’re descended from sweeter Russian varieties, have fewer thorns, and crop over a longer period. They can be very productive, with up to 20kg fruit on a mature bush, but because plants are either male or female, you need to remember to plant a male to pollinate your fruitful females.


Brits have a wonderful tradition of growing berries, from strawberries and raspberries through to gooseberries, blackberries and a whole rainbow of currants. We’ve happily adopted American blueberries as one of our favourites, so it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to think that we could find space for a few more Baltic berries in the mix!

Emma Cooper

 

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