THE AUTUMN EQINOX: FRUITS: celebrate the Autumn Equinox with foods that honor the hearth and harvest. It's a great time of year to take advantage of the bounty of the season. The ideal autumn diet helps transition the body from summer's lighter intake to heartier winter fare. Fall is a time of cooling the body off before winter, and getting ready for the cold temperatures. The fiber in fall fruits helps to clean out the accumulated heat of the summer months before moving into a heavier diet to see us through the winter months.

Fruit harvested in wild areas is also food the animals need to survive the cold winter, therefore, don’t over harvest. Most fruits should be harvested before the first frost, when they are squishy and soft. The cold winter temperatures help freeze fruit on the plant. If there is a good freeze and thaw cycle, some fruits will freeze dry and preserve well into spring.

Fruits to harvest in fall include: Apples, Blackberry, Elderberry, Hawthorn, Juniper, Prickly Pear, Red Raspberry, and Rose Hips.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): prefers partial shade and would rather be cool and moist than hot and dry. Proper drainage is key to preventing root rot, so avoid any place prone to standing water. It is recommended that elderberry be planted in pairs, no more than 60 feet apart, for the full benefit of cross pollination, which yields more fruit to enjoy! Allow plenty of space between plants. The more air that can circulate between the shrubs, the better they will fare against diseases of the leaf structure. Since they can grow up to 12 feet tall and six feet across, mature bushes will need lots of room to thrive. Elderberries should be planted in the spring, once the danger of frost has passed.

Elderberries have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and immune stimulant actions. Elderberry is commonly used to address colds and flu with a specific indication for inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, including hay fever, sinusitis, and tonsillitis. Elderberry is an ideal herb to use at the onset of a cold or the flu or after a virus has already taken root.

Elderberries ripen from late July through September. Elderberry is a shrub that will grow to 10 feet, and the ones that grow in full sun will have a more compact, dense shrub appearance. Elderberry has a smooth, light colored bark speckled with darker spots that are slightly pronounced bumps. These bumps are lenticels, pores the plant uses to exchange gasses. Elderberry has opposite compound leaves, often with 4 or more pairs of leaves per stem. Elderberries have developed a neat survival strategy that ensures successful propagation. This strategy is to spread the flowering and ripening of fruit over a long period of time, with the first flowers appearing in May, and the last of the fruit ready to harvest in September. It is not unusual in July to find an elderberry flower, bunches of elderberries in the process of ripening, and a ripe bunch of elderberries ready for picking all on the same bush! This uneven flowering and fruit production strategy ensures that a passing insect invasion will not destroy all the flowers, and a passing flock of birds will not eat all the berries.

To successfully harvest elderberry, begin foraging in late July and early August on a regular basis. Elderberries go from green to dark purple over a period of weeks. Look for clusters of berries that are deep purple-black in color with a plump appearance. Ripe clusters of berries are heavier than unripe clusters and tend to hang upside down. Elderberries are an exceptionally perishable fruit. Once harvested they must be cooked, dried, or frozen in 12 hours as they will begin to ferment quickly. After harvesting, fill the sink with cold water and immerse the berries. Give them a twirl or two to rid them of unwanted passengers like insects and dirt. Rinse them again under running water and then set them on a towel to drip dry for about 15 minutes. De-stemming elderberries is definitely the most time-consuming part of the job. Gently tug the berries free from their micro-stems and place in a clean bowl.

Redcurrant & Elderberry Muffins with Sweet Streusel Topping: by the Lovely Greens: Makes 12 muffins.

Streusel Topping Ingredients: 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup flour, and 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar. Muffins Ingredients: 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup sunflower oil, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1 egg, 2 cups self-rising flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup each elderberry and red currants.

Directions: Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers. Make the Streusel: using knives, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour and brown sugar until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside. Beat the milk, oil, vanilla and egg in a large bowl. Add in the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, reserving 1/4 cup of the flour on the side. Stir until the dry ingredients are just moist and the batter is lumpy. Stir the reserved 1/4 cup of flour into the berries until completely covered. Stir gently into the muffin mixture and then fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full. Bake for thirty minutes then pop them out of the muffin tray to cool. Allow them to come to room temperature before tucking in. Muffins are always best on the day they’re made so don’t stop with eating just one!

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): the berries, or haws, ripen from early to late autumn, depending on the location and tree species. Once they are fully ripe, strip them from the branches, carefully avoiding the sharp spines. When foraging hawthorn, never take more than half of what’s available. This ensures that the plants continue to thrive and spread for generations. Always stay aware when harvesting hawthorn because of the sharp thorns.

Hawthorn is a rich source of polyphenols, powerful antioxidant compounds found in plants. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals that can harm the body, and these molecules can come from poor diet or environmental toxins like air pollution. The polyphenols found in Hawthorn have been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, some infections, heart problems, and premature skin aging.

Spiced Hawthorn Pear Persimmon Brandy by Juliet Blankespoor: Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine: a warming concoction that can be made alcohol-free by substituting apple cider for brandy.

Ingredients: 1.75 liters of brandy, 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, grated, 1 Tablespoon cardamom seeds, decorticated, no pods, 2 vanilla beans, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 pears, 1 persimmon, 3 cups hawthorn berries or 1½ cups dried hawthorn, and ½ cup honey.

Directions: Coarsely chop the pear and persimmon and place them in a food processor. If working with fresh hawthorns throw them into the food processor whole with the other fruit. Coarsely blend the fruit in the food processor and add to a gallon glass jar. If working with dried hawthorn place them in the jar. Add all of the other herbs and brandy and let sit for 2-4 days. When perfect synergy has been achieved, strain through a cloth and wring out all the brandy with your hands. Slightly heat the strained brandy to dissolve the honey. Mix, label and bottle.

Juniper (Juniperus communis): juniper berries ripen during their 2nd to 3rd year of growth. The first year produces flowers, the second a hard-green berry, and by the third they are ripening to a deep blue. Pick berries in the fall once the plant has blue berries. There will be berries in all stages of ripening. Harvesting juniper berries can be a slightly painful experience because their leaves are very sharp. Some people even develop a bit of a rash, so make sure to wear long sleeves and pants, as well as gloves for juniper berry harvest. Set a tarp under the plant and then shake it vigorously. Ripe and unripe berries will rain down onto the tarp. Separate the purplish-blue ones and leave the rest to grow more plants naturally, or to compost into the soil.

Juniper berries assist with inflammation and increase production of stomach acid, making them useful remedies to help soothe the gastrointestinal system. It is a helpful treatment for conditions such as upset stomach, heartburn, flatulence, bloating, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal infections, and intestinal worms. The antiseptic properties in juniper disinfect the urinary tract to provide treatment and relief for conditions like urinary tract infections, urethritis, kidney stones, and bladder stones. Juniper also acts as a diuretic to help flush excess fluids from the body. This helps rid the body of excess uric acid which can lead to gout. It also reduces fluid around the joints.

Foraged Chai Masala by Ellen Zachos: a wild chai that features spicebush and juniper berries, wild ginger roots, and spruce needles.

Ingredients: 1 teaspoon dried wild ginger rhizomes, 1/8 teaspoon dried melilot, 1/4 teaspoon dried spicebush berries, 1/2 teaspoon dried cow parsnip seeds, 1/4 teaspoon spruce or fir needles, fresh or frozen, 2 juniper berries, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon black tea leaves or 1 tea bag unflavored black tea, 1/2 cup milk, and honey to taste.

Directions: Combine the spices and water in a saucepan and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a medium simmer, cover the pan, and let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tea. If using a tea bag, cut it open and pour the tea leaves directly into the hot water. Stir to combine, cover, and let the mixture steep for two minutes. Add the milk and honey, and return the mixture to the heat and bring it back to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid into a mug.

Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus): has white flowers, each with 5 separate petals and 5 sepals, as well as ovate shaped leaves with serrated margins. Leaves are typically pinnate and compound, arranged in an alternate pattern. Leaves are commonly green on top with a white/grey coloring on the bottom. Plant in early spring once the ground thaws out and can be worked. Raspberries grow best in a sunny position but will also grow in a partially-shaded spot. The more sun, the more fruit. The planting site needs rich and well-drained soil, great air circulation, and shelter from wind. Avoid a wet area, as well as a windy spot, as raspberries do not like to stand in water nor totally dry out. Before planting, soak the roots for an hour or two. Dig a hole that is roomy enough for the roots to spread, and keep the crown of the plant 1 or 2 inches above the ground. Canes should be spaced 18 inches apart, with about four feet between rows. Fill the soil back in, and tamp it down with your foot. Once the canes are planted, cut them down to 9 inches tall to encourage new growth.

Red raspberry leaves are harvested after fruiting has begun. To harvest red raspberry leaves, simply snip leaves with sharp shears or scissors on a dry day. The leaves can be a little sticky or prickly feeling so feel free to wear gloves. The leaves can be used fresh, but are more commonly dried in teas, syrups, and tinctures.

Red raspberry leaf is an astringent herb and is often used to tighten and tone relaxed tissues in the digestive and reproductive organs. Known as the woman’s herb, red raspberry is naturally high in vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamins B, A, C, and E. The high levels of B vitamins make it useful for relieving nausea, soothing leg cramps, and improving sleep.

Rosehips (Rosa rugosa): choose a location that will get a lot of sun, and can handle the plants growing to a height of 5 feet. Plant roses where they will receive a minimum of 5 to 6 hours of full sun per day. Morning sun is especially important because it dries the leaves, which helps prevent diseases. Rugosa roses will grow into a very dense and thorny shrub, so don’t plan on using it too close to any walkways or paths. Brushing up against the rose bush can be unpleasant and prickly. Dig a hole large enough for the roots of the rose seedling, and plant it to the same depth as it was in its original pot, then give it a generous watering. Rugosa roses are extremely hardy, and are known to grow in the wild in the most inhospitable places. Water it regularly until it starts to produce new growth and get established. Once growing well, only water it during a drought. To get the hips to form, leave the dead rose blossoms on the bush. It may not look that attractive but it’s necessary to let the plant produce its fruit. If growing roses for the hips, do not cut the flowers to bring inside. Just enjoy them on the plant.

Rosehips can be used to make tea. Rosehip tea has a tart, fruity flavor and is packed full of nutrients such as Vitamin C, calcium, and zinc. Rose hips have been used to treat influenza, colds, to help strengthen the heart, and arthritis pain. Studies have shown that rose hips have anti-inflammatory, disease-modifying, and antioxidant properties.

To harvest rose hips, leave the hips on the bush until after the first frost, which causes them to turn a nice bright red and also makes them somewhat soft. Trim off any remaining blooms, and the rose hip is pruned off the bush as closely as possible to the base of the swollen bulb-shaped hips.

The rose hips can be harvested when ripe for their seeds and placed in the refrigerator or other cold place to go through a cold moist period, called stratification. Once they have gone through this process, the seeds can be prepped and planted to hopefully grow a new rose bush.

For use in making food items, the rose hips are cut in half with a sharp knife. The tiny hairs and seeds are removed, then rinsed under cold water. It is said that one should not use any aluminum pans or utensils on the rose hips during this preparation process, as the aluminum tends to destroy the vitamin C. The rose hips can then be dried by spreading out the prepared halves on a tray in single layers so that they dry well, or they may be placed in a dehydrator or oven on the lowest setting. To store the halves after this drying process, place them in a glass jar and keep them in a dark, cool place.

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