Food growing tips from the Community Garden Makers project - Rowan jelly

05 October 2014

Have you noticed autumn creeping in?

The leaves on the trees are tinged with red or yellow and soon they’ll be cloaked in their full autumn glory.  One tree that heralds the changing season is the Rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia) which is commonly known as “Mountain Ash” because it grows at high altitudes and is widespread in northern hills and mountains. The Rowan’s leaves are very similar to those of the Ash tree but it’s actually part of the Rose family.

Rowan Tree

The Rowan is a small deciduous tree; it will tolerate poor soil, is hardy and can live up to 200 years.  It’s often used in urban parks and green spaces and as a nursemaid tree in newly planted coppices.

It’s also steeped in folklore and is associated with magical connections. Crosses were made from Rowan twigs tied with red thread as a protection against witches and cream stirred with Rowan twigs would be used to prevent the witches from curdling it!  The tree is even said to have saved the life of the great god Thor- dipping its branches into a fast flowing river to allow him to escape drowning, hence the name “Thor’s helper”.

Rowan is known by many different names including Witchbane, Witch Wood, Witchen Tree, Roan, Rantry, Roddan Delight of the Eye, Sorb Apple, Wild Sorb, Quicken Tree and Quick Beam.

In Scotland, the trees are often seen around old farmsteads. They were planted to protect farmhouses from roaming witches.  With their soft green leaves and red berries, maybe they were even the inspiration for some Scottish tartans!

Rowan is a wonderful tree; its creamy scented flowers weigh down its branches in May. From late summer and into winter, orange red berries hang in dense clusters - a favourite food for many birds, especially songbirds. After the winter frosts, the leaves take on beautiful hues of pink, scarlet and gold until they’re stripped by the wild winds.

Rowan tree flowers

It’s very easy to spot right now so why not get on your walking shoes and get out there – harvest its berries and make a gorgeous Rowan Jelly packed with Vitamins A & C.

Rowan berries

You will need:

  • 1.3 kg Rowan Berries – washed and stalks removed
  • 900g Apples, peeled, cored and chopped (if you’re lucky enough to find  wild Crab Apples on your walk use those)
  • Soft brown sugar (quantity varies see recipe)
  • 1 litre of water
  • A jelly bag or muslin for straining.

Making the jelly:

  • Put the sliced apples in the water and bring to the boil.
  • Cook until the apples are soft.
  • Add the Rowan Berries and simmer until they’re pulpy.
  • Strain through the jelly bag, allowing dripping overnight. Do not be tempted to squeeze the pulp as this will result in a cloudy jelly.
  • Measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice you need to add 450g of warmed sugar and boil again for approx 10 minutes. Keep skimming off the scum from the top of the fruit.
  • Pour the mixture into warm, sterilised jars then label when cool.
  • OR pour into a shallow tray, allow to set and cut into squares to serve as Turkish Delight.

Please note that raw berries should not be eaten - they can cause stomach upset and vomiting.

(Recipe taken from “The Hedgerow Handbook” by Adele Nozedar)

For more fascinating tree mythology head to


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