Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mountain Ash Berries – Food for Birds and People


Summer is far from over (I hope!), but when mountain ash Sorbus aucuparia berries ripen you known that autumn is fast approaching. They don’t last long – blackbirds strip the trees very rapidly. There is persuasive scientific evidence now that the fruit juice and pulp of Sorbus fruits inhibit the germination of the seed inside, but passage through a bird’s gut removes this obstacle, and there’s also evidence that a bird’s digestive enzymes weaken the seed coat, making germination easier. While the fruit is being digested the seeds can be carried long distances from the parent plant before they’re voided, so it's no wonder this attractive tree is so widely distributed. Mountain ash berries also feature in the human diet, indirectly. Check out the ingredients in your toothpaste, low calorie food or most diabetic food products and you’ll probably find that they contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, named after the Latin generic name of the plant that it comes from. Sorbitol was discovered in mountain ash berries by a French chemist back in 1872. It’s used as a sweetener in toothpaste because bacteria in the mouth can’t feed on it, so it doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. It’s used in diet foods as a supplement to artificial sweeteners because it has a lower calorific content than glucose.

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12 comments:

  1. Hi Phil,
    Cracking photo.
    I believe Sorbitol is also a laxative - one way for diet foods to stimulate weight loss I suppose. I didn't know it was in toothpaste - I'm going to wash my mouth out!

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  2. I knew there were various forms of sugar in use but didn't know one came from the Mountain Ash. The trees in the village here are looking just like your photo. I can't remember the last time I saw them so weighed down with that striking red.

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  3. I knew the birds liked them Phil, but didn't know they were used in all the other ways. Fascinating.

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  4. I agree, Phil. The Blackbirds have completely stripped the Rowan of its berries, in my garden.
    Great shot, btw.

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  5. I am planning to make Rowanberry Jelly this year.

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  6. Thanks for the tip-off about the laxative effects Rob. Dangerous stuff, toothpaste..

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  7. We've got an excellent crop of mountain ash berries up here in the North east too, John ... the blackbirds are just starting to make inroads into them.

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  8. Thanks Dean. I used to have a whote berried Sorbus in my garden and the birds alwsys took those berries before the red ones.

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  9. Hi Keith, I think there's also a lot of superstition associated with this tree - it was supposed to keep witches away...

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  10. That sounds like an interesting project Emma, I imagine it has a lovely colour, as well as an interesting taste..

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  11. I have only had Rowanberry jelly once; it was a very pale orange/red colour and delightful. One of the church wardens in Upper Coquetdale makes jams and marmalades for sale in aid of church funds. I usually pop into St. Mary the Virgin at Holystone to buy a jar of jam when I'm passing (I make my own marmalade) and I found it there. It is particularly nice on a buttered girdle scone but I think it is also used as an accompaniment for venison (couldn't say what it's like with meat as I'm vegetarian). I have an old Farmers Weekly cookery book which includes a recipe if anyone is interested.

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  12. You've excited my curiosity Emma - I'll have to try it. I'll look out for a jar at one of the Weardale shows.....

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