Ah the majestic and humble Rowan Tree. I have to say this is one of my favourite trees, its flowers in May, and the way its leaves turn fantastic colours of red in autumn. Rowan is best known for its use in Rowan Tree and Red Thread Charms or the berries strung up as decoration and used for protection, but also for its very direct Celtic connotations to the Ogham and other deeper folklore uses. It’s an enticing tree with much mythology behind it and its Berry with a little five-pointed star at its end leads us to ponder other questions about its use. It got me to thinking as to what rowan berry recipe I might use at this time of year. One use of them is to make Diodgriafel.
One thing I have always noticed is that the berries aren’t really touched by birds except Chaffinches and Blackbirds so much as other berries like Elder. I don’t think I have ever seen Deer eating them for that matter either (but I could be wrong), perhaps because they taste a little nasty? I have always pondered what to do with the berries outside of crafts and Jam making, so I’d thought I’d share with you two simple forms of alcoholic drink you can make with them. It’s my mantra that you can “brew absolutely anything” if you can’t find another use for it (the caveat, yes you can brew anything doesn’t mean it will taste nice).
Raw Rowan Berries are somewhat poisonous, (if you eat one they taste good then they have a nasty bitter after taste) due to their Scorbic Acid content. It won’t kill you, they’re not that poisonous. Eating a lot of them might give you a rather upset stomach. One way to deal with this bitterness is to heat them (hence the jelly, but it can still taste a little sharp), freeze them or to brew with them. You can also cut them open to remove the seeds as this is where the nasties sit. You must always be sure to pick ripe Berries as well, not nearly ripe as they won’t taste good at all. Which brings me to the Diodgriafel Recipe.
This is a Welsh recipe, first written about in the mid to late 18th century, where the folk in Wales would “make a drink called Diodgriafel by infusing the berries in water“. Simple as that, berries bashed in water and the natural yeast would lead it to ferment. The original recipe might not be so good but I have lifted the below one from a brewing book that is more than tasty enough.
Note” if you haven’t brewed anything before the most important thing is to ensure that everything is sterilised. You can brew anything in anything as long as its sterile!! Most important !! Beyond that it’s not that difficult, what is difficult however, is to get it to taste nice.
Rowan Berry Recipe – Diodgriafel Ale/Wine
- 2kg rowanberries, snipped off with scissors, picked over and washed
- 1.2kg sugar
- 500ml white grape juice concentrate
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tsp of wine tannin
- 1 tsp pectolase
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- Sachet of white wine yeast
- About 4 litres of boiling water
You may want to freeze the berries first to remove some of the Scorbic acid then put the berries in a food grade plastic bucket and mash them coarsely with the end of a rolling-pin, give ’em a good bash. Boil the water then stir in the sugar until dissolved, bring to the boil again and immediately pour over the berries, again this should remove some of the bitterness of the berry. Cover and allow to cool to about body temperature. Add the grape concentrate, pectolase, lemon juice and tannin. Cover and leave for 24 hours then stir in the yeast nutrient and yeast (activated if necessary).
Cover and leave for a week, stirring every day for the first five days. Your brew will look like a sludgy mess maybe separated into layers. No matter, boil a piece of Muslin cloth (remember sterilisation is key) strain the brew through this muslin using a sterile funnel into your demi-john or secondary fermentation vessel. Top up to the bottom of the neck with boiled and cooled water if necessary. Fit your bung and fermentation lock and leave to ferment for a couple of months.
Rack off into a fresh demi-john and leave until all fermentation has stopped for a week, then bottle. Rowan berry wine benefits from a long maturation period in the bottle – at least a year or more so please be patient. You can then if you wish distill this further but that’s a whole other story. You can find more details about blackberry mead here. Im sure this recipe could be adapted to the mead one quite easily.
Rowan Berry Recipe – Vodka (tincture)
There you have it simple huh? Well there’s an even simpler way if you can’t be bothered to go through the above process and still enjoy the taste of the berries. To make a Rowan Berry flavoured vodka (it’s really a weak tincture) it can be as simple as adding Rowan berries into an empty glass bottle as full as you’d like, but no less than a third full, and adding in vodka (make sure its a good quality vodka as you’ll still taste it after its finished macerating) to cover leaving it to sit for up to six weeks shaking it every day. The vodka will take on the colour of the berries turning a slight reddy pink. You can also add in a little bog myrtle as well if you have it handy, (it smells of spice and winter to me, and also said to ward of midges, its one of my favourite plants). Once it’s reached its desired taste simply strain off the berries and anything else and re-bottle. It makes a great wee xmas drink or you could use it for other parts of folk practice when you need to call on the spirit of the Rowan tree. It should keep indefinitely. Rowan berries are astringent and high in vitamin c and said to be good for sinusitis.