Nature’s bounty: dried berries experiment

Our garden is filled with so many beautiful plants and trees, but my heart was captured this Autumn by our Hawthorns. They live at the very top, acting as a boundary between us and the field behind.
In folklore lone Hawthorns are said to be connected to Fairies. They have white flowers and red berries, and anything red and white was often linked to the Fair Folk. Animals like cattle and hounds with red and white markings were associated with them. Hawthorns were often used as field boundaries, like ours, and so can have a protective element. Because of the white summer blossom they are also referred to as Whitethorns. Ours do have thorns but not many. Perhaps they’re friendlier and don’t feel threatened.

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The opposite, and complementary, to the Hawthorn is the Sloe, also known as the Blackthorn. By some perfect quirk of fate several years ago my dad planted Sloe bushes at the front of the house. So we have the opposites at opposite ends of the homestead.
Our Sloes definitely do have thorns, but then the public path is right in front of them. Unlike the Whitethorns the Blackthorns have more to protect us from. Blackthorn wands are often used in magic to protect against darker energies.
(Note: unfortunately I don’t have any suitable photos of our Sloes, and they are now sans berries and looking rather sorry for themselves since Winter is setting in.)

I make a lot of my own aura sprays, and wanted to add some of our own berries to a protective cleansing mist to give it extra potency. I had just about caught the berries in time, as they had already been ripe for a little while.

I asked the permission of the Sloes first, and was allowed to pick a good amount, but was told to leave most for the birds. Sloes can give nasty scratches, so always be careful when interacting with them. I found the best way to pick the berries is to twist them until they’re just at the end of the stalk. Then you pull them off very gently. The best ones to pick have a colour similar to a deep purple plum, and are firm. Any that are discoloured, marked or squishy can be left for the birds.
Next I went to seek permission from the Hawthorns, and they were very generous with their bounty. Ours don’t have that many thorns, but most of the berries were quite high up so I could only reach the ones lower down. After squishing several I found the best technique was to hold the stalk with one hand and gently but quickly twist-pull the berry off with the other. As with the Sloes, the better ones to pick are the brightest, the ones without scars, and are firm.

Hawthorn and Sloe berries before drying

The next part was particularly fun for me, since I had no idea how long the berries would take to dry. Watching them turn from plump and bright to wrinkly and matt was very interesting.
Before picking the berries I ordered a set of draws meant for organising paperwork. I bought a mesh set because the berries need to breathe as they dry or they can become mouldy as moisture is released. I put the Hawthorns in one tray and the Sloes in another.

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At first I put both trays in the space beneath the log burner in the lounge. The Hawthorns did really well there, and dried in about a week, with the fire being used for around 5 hours a night. The Sloes, however, were far bigger and jucier, and didn’t seem to be drying out much. I realised they probably needed a more constant heat source. I ended up putting them on top of the boiler in our downstairs toilet room, as it is dry in there. The bathroom airing cupboard would be unsuitable because of all the moisture, which would make the berries mouldy.
After nearly two weeks on top of the boiler my Sloes looked more like round raisins, and are at least half the size they were. They also weigh a lot less.

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Both lots of berries dried successfully, and I would definitely do this again. Next year I’d like to extend my collection to include Rosehips, Elders and Rowan berries. My only sadness is that we may well be moving next year, and possibly to somewhere with a smaller house and garden. I will miss our beautiful trees and bushes, and have decided to take cuttings or saplings of some of them so a piece of them can come with me.

So there you have it. I hope my experiment has shown just how easy it can be to dry your own berries if you have the trees and bushes nearby. Maybe you might give it a go yourself. If you do I’d love to know how you get on.

If you are interested in learning more about the folklore of plants, and different ways to use them for magical purposes I am finding Tylluan Penry’s ‘The Magical Properties of Plants and How to Find Them’ a fascinating read. I’m really enjoying it so far. When I finish the book I will be writing a review.

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