Very berry good!

It looks like a great year for blackberries.

The hedgerows are thick with blackberries already this year, I assume as a result of the rather extreme weather we’ve had of late. There are lots of berries that grow wild in this country – strawberries, sloes and elder to name just a few – and it’s a reflection on our modern lives that the vast majority of us wouldn’t be able to identify them, and certainly not feel confident to pick them! We all got terribly excited about ‘superfoods’ a few years ago and berries are top of the list being high in antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C and flavonoids.

The world-conquering strawberry.

As ever, ancient man (and woman of course!) knew all this and berries have been a valuable food source for humans since before the start of agriculture. They were a seasonal staple for early hunter-gatherers for thousands of years. In time, humans learned to store berries so that they could be used in the winter.

Berries began to be cultivated in Europe and other countries. Some species of blackberries and raspberries have been cultivated since the 17th century. The most widely cultivated berry of modern times, you won’t be surprised to hear, is the strawberry, which is produced globally at twice the amount of all other berry crops combined.

Rowanberries – impossible to miss even by the most shortsighted bird!

As ever, Mother Nature has got it all cleverly worked out and when ripened, berries are typically of a contrasting colour to their background (usually green leaves), making them visible and attractive to animals and birds. This is essential as it’s how the plants’ seeds get dispersed to produce new plants and so keep the growing cycle going…

As well as the old favourites – strawberry, raspberry and blackberry – there are plenty more berries out there! Here are a few more:

  • White and Golden Raspberry
  • Dewberry
  • Elderberry
  • Lingonberry
  • Cloudberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Mulberry
  • Loganberry
  • Tayberry

Fresh raspberries – so delicious!

What a gorgeous sounding list! The last two are especially interesting as they are ‘hybrid’ berries – hybrids of other berries, created by planting fruit cross-pollinated by two different plants. In the late 19th and early 20th century, botanists went on a bit of a hybridizing craze, crossing berries in the Rosacea family (like raspberries and blackberries) to try to come up with berries that had the best qualities of both parents.

Loganberry
Legend has it that the loganberry was accidentally created in the late 1800s in California by Judge J.H. Logan. Judge Logan planted an heirloom blackberry and a European raspberry next to each other. The plants seemed to grow well together, and with a little help from the birds and the bees, they cross-pollinated. Loganberries have a deep red raspberry colour and the size and texture of a blackberry. The vines, which lack the substantial thorns of a blackberry, have dark green fuzzy leaves. Unsurprisingly, the loganberry taste a little like a raspberry and a little like a blackberry!

Tayberry
Tayberries are a more recent cross between raspberries and blackberries, developed by the Scottish Horticultural Society in the late 1970s and named after the river Tay in Scotland. The Tayberry also tastes of a cross between raspberries and blackberries, but it is larger and sweeter than Loganberries. Tayberries have a naturally high level of pectin, so they’re perfect for jam and pie filling. Yum!

Elderberries – lovely when ripe… posionous when not!

Fruity facts:

  • If you feel you’re lacking in vitamin C, reach for the strawberries. Just nine provide you with your whole recommended daily allowance!
  • Did you know strawberries are powerful teeth whiteners? They contain Vitamin C which helps fight plaque.
  • Strawberries were regarded as an aphrodisiac in medieval times and a soup with the berries, borage and soured cream was traditionally served to newlyweds at their wedding breakfast. I don’t think I’ll be trying that recipe anytime soon!
  • Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are all part of the rose family. So next Valentine’s Day, consider giving a bunch of berries instead.
  • Everyone knows blueberries are great for humans, but did you know you can freeze them and give them to dogs as a crunchy, healthy treat?
  • While many berries are edible, some are poisonous to humans, such as deadly nightshade. Others, such as the white mulberry, red mulberry, and elderberry, are poisonous when unripe, but are edible when ripe
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When you wish upon a star…

I came home quite late the other night and the sky was beautifully clear. As I gazed up at stars overhead, seeking out the Plough, or the Big Dipper, a shooting star shot across the sky! This fleeting glimpse of something so natural and beautiful immediately made me feel happy, excited and all sorts of other emotions! Sadly these days, not many people get to experience such sights, as dark skies are becoming increasingly rare.

Does it matter, you may ask? Well, it appears it does for all sorts of reasons and there is now a Dark Sky Movement gaining momentum here in the UK and across other developed areas of the world to address the problem of light pollution.

Up until about 100 years ago, the night sky was dark, really dark, can you even imagine that? Today, with the ever-increasing use of artificial light, our world is illuminated almost 24/7. The result is light pollution and there are several risks to this constant illumination:

Energy use

Poorly aimed and unshielded outdoor lights waste billions of kilowatt-hours of energy each year. More than one-third of outdoor lighting is lost to skyglow — the artificial brightness of the night sky. Millions of tons of carbon dioxide are released each year to power outdoor lighting.

Disrupting wildlife and ecosystems

Light at night disrupts the biological clocks of nocturnal animals. Artificial lights can interfere with the migration patterns of nocturnal birds that use the stars and moon for navigation. Birds can become disoriented by lights and may collide with brightly lit towers and buildings. For frogs and toads, when night-time croaking is interrupted, so is their mating ritual and reproduction.

Health concerns

Some studies have linked artificial light at night to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and depression, as well as obvious sleep disorders. Specifically, when our bodies don’t spend enough time in the dark, we don’t make enough of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle, as well as regulating some of your body’s other hormones. The natural 24-hour cycle of light and dark helps maintain precise alignment of circadian biological rhythms, the general activation of the central nervous system and various biological and cellular processes.

To me, that all sounds pretty alarming, so I was interested to read that Dartmoor (practically on my doorstep) is applying for ‘Dark Sky Park’ status. If successful, this application would ensure protection against unnecessary and inappropriate lighting.

Very good news for this part of the world at least!

There’s lots of fascinating information online about how best to view shooting stars and meteor showers and, if you are really keen to see some but live somewhere with lots of light pollution, maps to show you the best places to visit in the UK for dark skies.

Look up!

The Perseid meteor shower of August 11 to 13 is traditionally the best meteor shower of the year. Between August 11 and August 13 is usually the best time to see this meteor shower, so perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see your own shooting star this weekend – fingers crossed, and don’t forget to make a wish!

 

 

 

 

 

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