Wild Harvest | Rowan Berries

Rowan berries can be such a breath taking sight. You can find them in lots of different places, and since Rowan is such an easy seeding tree you can often find rows and rows of them all putting on a fantastic colourful display. But Rowan berries are not just a pretty bunch, no, you can use them in cooking too. Read on to find out more...


So, how do you identify a Rowan Tree? Identification of a Rowan tree is relatively simple. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is a very common tree found all over the UK and many other places in Europe. Sometimes is called Mountain Ash due to the fact that the leaf shape is very similar to that of the Ash tree (although the two are not related) and it also grows very well at high altitudes.

The Rowan can grow up to 15m tall and can live for almost 150 years. The bark is smooth and silvery grey. The leaves are distinctive. It has 5-8 pairs of leaflets growing on opposite sides up one stem, with one leaflet at the end. Each leaflet can appear to be serrated. Flowers comprise of close clusters of creamy white petals.

The berries are really distinctive. They start off in bright orange clusters and will ripen to a beautiful, vibrant shade of red.

When to Harvest

The berries will start to ripen towards the end of summer, into Autumn. Every year is different so they you have to play it by ear...or sight. They will also differ between various parts of the country i.e. southern counties of the UK will have ripe Rowan berries a lot sooner than up here in Northumberland. 

When should you harvest Rowan Berries? There is so much conflicting advice on when to harvest Rowan berries. I like to harvest them when they are just starting to turn red, and then sweeten them in the freezer for a few days. A lot of people will tell you that they are at their best after the first frost...freezing them will have this same effect. And...to be honest you can freeze them as a storage solution anyway. If you need to get the harvest in but don't need to use them for a while because you're waiting for something else to ripen (e.g. apples) then you can store them in the freezer. If you leave them too long however, the birds will take a fancy to them and you may miss out!
Note: When I returned from this particular foraging trip and put the photos on the computer, I realised that the berries look really orange in the photos. They are actually redder than the photos would have you believe!


There are plenty of things to make with Rowan berries such as jellies, jams, liqueurs and chutneys, The jelly goes really well with roasted meat and cheese on crackers. 

Watch out For...

Rowan berries are extremely bitter to eat raw...I wouldn't recommend it. And apparently eaten raw in great quantities can cause severe digestive distress. Always wash them and use them in something preserved/cooked before eating them. Are Rowan berries poisonous? No. But just be a bit sensible.

Overall, Rowan berries are in such a wonderful abundance everywhere and they are a fantastic resource to preserve. For my tips on how to be a responsible forager, click here.

Do you have any questions or comments about Rowan Berries? Let me know!

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  1. I have never tried using Rowan Berries; I always leave them for the birds and then enjoy watching their antics. I may try them for myself this year. Any recipe suggestions Ellie?

  2. Ilike them to look at but then I am not a big jam fan so I would not make a preserve out of them!

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