When my family and I were up exploring the great north woods of Maine last week, we stumbled upon many different wild edibles and medicinals growing around us. There was this young northern white cedar outside the door of our cabin bursting with small green cones weighing down its branches. There was a rocky ledge point that jutted out into the lake we explored countless times. It was covered in bunchberry, wild low bush blueberry, mountain cranberry and sweet gale. The edges of the long miles of logging roads were covered with lovely wild flowers and medicinals that every time I identified one, I wanted to stop and gather. But with two young children in tow to regulate, time foraging is short and I only wanted to take what I would use.
So we gathered what we could, teaching our children along the way. Watching. When it comes to berries, young children just want to try them all especially my just turned two year old. We call him Wreckless. His favorite was the bunchberry.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a small, close to the ground umbrella shaped plant. It has a woody stem and four to seven leaves in a whorled pattern that spreads by underground rhizomes. In the spring it produces tiny flowers sounded by four white bracts (look like petals). The red berries emerge in the late summer and the leaves turn burgundy in the fall.
After eating blueberries, bunchberry will taste bland. This was my first encounter trying them. A jelly like fruit surrounding a small seed. This was not my husbands first encounter with the mysterious red berry. He had tried them numerous times and was excited about the size of the patch we found. He told me to really try to enjoy the subtle flavor. I noticed my 2 year old excited and wildly gobbling them off my husband’s hand. He loved them. His new developing taste buds savored it’s faint sweetness. We gathered a waterbottle full of them and made pancakes the next morning. I also winged up some bunchberry syrup/sauce. Just a few hand fulls or berries, water and honey in a pot. Boiled it down and jarred. Smelled amazing.
Now back to the beer.
My previous blog post about The Backyard Gruit Beer came along with us on our trip. It was a hit. Refreshing with a hint of a sour malt taste. So with what we gathered up north came home and brewed a lovely smelling gruit that is fermenting on my counter as I type this. Again, foraging and using plants that you are familiar with is important in creating a gruit. If you are not experienced, that’s okay too. Just use herbs and fruit from your local farmer or store. Many of the measuring I eye balled. I usually go by smell when boiling and adjust.
2 1/2 cups brown sugar or maple syrup
3 tbsp sweet gale leave and nutlets (Myrica gale)
1 cup Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
1/2 cup Eastern White Cedar green cones and sprigs (Thuja occidentalis)
3 tbsps Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
6 flower tops of Yarrow with some top growth leaves (Achillea millefolium)
1/2 cup Common yellow wood sorrel (sour lemon apple flavor)
Couple hand fulls of bunchberies (cornus canadensis with a few blueberries mixed in)
1 packet of ale yeast (or wild, still learning on the yeast front)
Boil for about 30 minutes, cool (I wait until it’s 92 degree F), strain into glass ferment jug, add yeast. Ferment for 10 days. Finish with bottling, priming, capping and rest for 2 weeks.
Enjoy. I’m still amazed how simple it is to enjoy your own homemade beer, with your own gathered ingredients.
Backyard Rewilding can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally or as a food source.