Who does not know them, the large, apple-like, orange-red to coral-red berries of the mountain ash, the so-called rowan berries. They are extremely decorative and a valuable forage plant for birds and insects. They also play a special role in mythology. To this day, the opinion persists that rowan berries cannot be eaten. But is that true or is it just superstition?

Edible or poisonous?

In the botanical sense, the colorful, spherical berries of the mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) are apple fruits. They usually hang in dense umbels on the tree well into winter. The prejudice that rowan berries are poisonous and that they cannot be eaten is widespread. This misconception is reinforced by the fact that the berries taste very bitter raw. But the exact opposite is the case.

  • Rowanberries are not poisonous
  • Fully ripe, cooked and/or well frozen, edible
  • Inedible and incompatible when raw
  • Eaten raw in higher doses, slightly toxic
  • For both humans and pets
  • Parasorbic acid, responsible for the bitter taste
  • Is largely destroyed by cooking and by the effects of frost
  • Converts to sorbic acid
  • Bitter taste disappears
  • Eat fruit afterwards without hesitation
Note: Even if rowan berries are generally not poisonous, intolerance can occur after eating. For example, if you are allergic to one of the ingredients.

Main ingredients

The parasorbic acid it contains is largely responsible for the unpleasant taste. There is a particularly large amount of it in the pips, of which each berry has about three pieces. In addition to parasorbic acid, they contain many vitamins, especially vitamin C and provitamin A, as well as minerals, trace elements, phytochemicals, essential oils, fiber such as pectin, anthocyanins (plant pigments) and sorbitol.

Raw incompatible with humans and pets

Intolerance only occurs when consuming large amounts of raw and unripe berries. In humans, nausea, vomiting, pain in the lower abdomen and diarrhea as well as intoxicated states and irritation of the mucous membranes can occur. However, first aid measures are usually not necessary. Children and pets are particularly at risk. It is best for children to avoid eating rowanberries altogether. The raw berries are considered slightly poisonous for dogs. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and salivation can also occur here.

Harvesting the berries

The bright red fruits of the mountain ash can no longer be overlooked from the end of August. They hang in large umbels on the tree and do not go unnoticed by birds and insects.

  • Before you start harvesting, taste the fruit
  • Content of bitter substances can vary from year to year
  • Extremely bitter taste does not completely disappear with cooking
  • Ready to harvest when berries are intensely orange-red or red
  • Fully ripe fruits are easy to detach from the stalk
  • Process quickly after harvest
  • If stored in between, quickly dry and shriveled

After cool and sunless summers, the time of harvest can be pushed back into October. But that’s not a bad thing, quite the opposite, because if you leave the fruit hanging until after the first frost, this can, as already mentioned, significantly soften the tart-bitter taste and they become sweeter. The longer they freeze, the better they taste.

Tip: With the large amount of berries that these trees usually bear, it is usually sufficient to pick only the lower ones and leave the upper ones to the birds and insects.

Multiple uses

In the diet

If you want to eat rowanberries, you should prepare them beforehand, for example with delicious jams, jellies and compotes, as well as juice or alcoholic specialties such as liqueur and rowanberry brandy. But also as a component of smoothies or as a sauce. A tasty rowanberry puree can be conjured up with quinces, pears or apples.

Lovers of Indian cuisine can make a delicious chutney from it. They also go very well with game dishes. It is also conceivable to use it as an ingredient in cakes and pastries. You can also use the dried berries, for example for a warming fruit or herbal tea. As with freezing and cooking, the parasorbic acid should also evaporate during drying.

Tip: Not only the berries can be used, but also the buds, which smell and taste like bitter almonds. You can take advantage of this in a pesto by placing them in olive oil, pureeing them and mixing them into the pesto.

In medicine

Not only can rowan berries be eaten, they also have a certain healing effect. Due to the high vitamin C content, they were often used in the past to treat scurvy (a vitamin deficiency disease). Sorbitol was obtained as a sugar substitute for diabetics. The provitamin A acts as an antioxidant and gives the fruit its intense colour. Its ingredients are still used today for a wide variety of ailments such as rheumatism, gout, kidney disease or bronchitis.

Chewing fresh raw berries can help prevent constipation. In contrast, the dried fruits help with diarrhea. In addition, they are said to be a very effective remedy for hoarseness, tonsillitis and metabolic problems and to drain the body. They are also used in veterinary medicine, for example as a remedy for so-called goat or pig erysipelas.

risk of confusion

  • Danger of confusion with the service tree

  • In terms of growth habit, leaves and fruits, both very similar
  • Significant differences in bark, buds and fruits
  • Rowanberries have a smooth bark
  • Inedible raw
  • Buds are blackish brown and hairy
  • Bark of the service tree small-scaled and fissured
  • Fruits small, apple or pear shaped
  • Brownish-green and reddish on the sunny side
  • The berries can be eaten raw
  • Service tree buds green-brown

Edible Varieties

Sorbus aucuparia ‚Edulis’/Mährische Eberesche

The Moravian mountain ash presents itself from May to June in a beautiful, radiant white blossom. It gives off a delicate, pleasant scent. The flowers, which are arranged in flat panicles, develop into extremely decorative, bright coral-red, large, round berries. They are edible and ready to harvest from August. Due to the fact that they contain less tannic acid than other varieties, they are less bitter. They are particularly suitable for the production of jelly, jam and compote.

Sorbus aucuparia ‚Rosina‘

This mountain ash also delights its owners in spring with a rich bloom that attracts a variety of beneficial insects. The berries are large to very large and have an intense orange-red color. They appear around the end of August and are ideal for preparing liqueur and compote, but also for juicing.

Sorbus aucuparia ‘Concentrate’

The bright white flowers are also the first thing that catches the eye with this variety. The orange-red berries are slightly smaller than those of the ‘Rosina’ variety, but contain twice as much vitamin C. They can be harvested from the end of August to the beginning of October. They can be used to extract juice and to make jellies, jams or liqueurs.

Tip: Both the flowers and later the berries form a beautiful contrast to the green, feathery foliage of each of these varieties.

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