Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Vaccinium vitis-idaea

An evergreen 5-20 cm high shrub with shining darkgreen leaves and pink or white flowers in clusters . The scarlet berries ripen in September. It is common in the heather-moors and woods of Jutland and East Zealand, but else rare in Denmark.

The berries were ab. 1800 a large commodity in Jutland, women and children from humble homes made a good profit. People gathered the berries in baskets, in linen-bags and boxes. The the beginners did not pluck clean; they run all over and were disliked by the skilled pluckers. The best berry-places were kept a secret. Cowberries were considered healthy, they were sold to the merchants of the district and sent in large portions to Copenhagen and other large cities, it was a welcome extra earning for the smallholder families. The owner of the heath got a certain quantity of berries or the family worked for him harvesting or lifting potatoes.

Plucking cowberries in Dollerup Bakker

The women usually respected each other's domains, but if unfamiliar women suddenly emerged, tempered discussions happened about ownership and sometimes rough and tumble, while the chilren laughed and yelled. Every Friday the berries were sent to the market, the smallholder's wives sent their own load, it was sometimes so high that they had to go beside the wagon.
Upon a 2200 hectare large heath in Kongenhus mindepark was the plucking organized since 1942, and the income was for the maintenance of the park. The best cowberry-year in 1947 gave ab. 30.000 kilo. In the old days a wife could gather 25 kilo daily, in 1947 a woman at Sønder Omme plucked a record of 49 kilo. The harvest was sold to private, hospitals, hotels and to the gardener-auction in Copenhagen. In Ulfborg Skovdistrikt in West Jutland between Ringkøbing and Holstebro people might pluck as many cowberries they wanted, but only for their own use, not for sale, and the Mid Jutland State-Forests and private forest owners announced that people might pluck cowberry for 2-3 days, but they had to fetch an allowance card.

Food and Tea
The juice of riped berries were cooked and kept in glass- or stone-jars, eaten for steak etc. The boiled juice was used like lemon juice for a punch, and giving taste on wine soups and alikes. The juice could preserve raw meat like vinegar. Boiled down juice gives a very fine jelly. Cowberry jam is popular for panncakes and apple cakes, it is a traditional accompaniment for a roast beef ( and venison). The berries need only half the sugar than what is neccessary for other berries when making jam. In some districts in Jutland, i.e. in Vendsyssel the cowberries were preserved togther with pears and apples. Poor people used fresh or dried cowberry in sweet soup, buttermilk-gruel or as raisins in cakes. From very riped berries were made wine and snaps. In the Egtvedgirl's coffin from Bronze Age were found rests of cowberry-wine. The leaves can give a good tea, and the spring leaves gives a tasty daily drink.

Cowberry was stated in the pharmacopoiea in 1772. The juice mixed with water and sugar gave a cooling and stimulating drink for fever-patients. A tea of fresh cowberry was used against soar throat, crushed berries were placed upon skin diseases, i.e. when children had German measles. The Jutland heath-farmers eat dried cowberries for stomach ulcer. In Greenland the berries were eaten against scurvy.

The leaves dye black , the berries give a red but not fast colour; silver cooked in cowberry-juice turns white.

When the rye is ripe the cowberry is ripe.

Source: Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik 3, V.J. Brøndegaard, 1979.

photo Dollerup Bakker, Hald August 2008: grethe bachmann

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