Ask the Gardener

Ask the Gardener: Pucker up to Pyracantha berries?

November 8, 2013 

All I want to know is: Are pyracantha berries poisonous or edible?

Debbie Norman

Sanford

Poisonous? No, but eating too many raw berries could give you a tummy ache. Edible? Yes, especially when cooked. Tasty? In my humble opinion, no. Pithy and bitter are qualities I associate with some raw pyracantha berries, downright bland with others. And there doesn’t seem to be an appetizing in-between.

Pyracanthas do belong to the Rosaceae family, which includes plums, peaches, pears, cherries and apples, so you would think there could be some redeeming culinary quality to these berries – and actually, there is. Several years ago in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, I was introduced to pyracantha jelly, which almost made my top 10 list of favorite jellies.

I was given a copy of the recipe, but since that time, I have seen several variations of pyracantha jelly, so making it doesn’t seem to be an obscure pastime known only to Druids and survivalists. I included the recipe in one of my columns about two years ago, and it is reprinted below. Notice the large amount of sugar – it just goes to show that enough sugar will make anything taste good!

Pyracantha jelly

4 cups pyracantha berries

3/4 cup grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 ounces powdered pectin

5 cups sugar

5 1/2 cups water

Pick berries (making sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides), wash them and add to the water in a large pot. Allow to boil for 15 minutes and then strain the liquid through a piece of cheese cloth. This should produce about 3 cups of pyracantha berry juice. Add the lemon and grapefruit juices to it. Bring to a boil and stir in the powdered pectin and then the sugar. Continue boiling for an additional two minutes. Remove from the stove, skimming off any foam. Pour the mix into sterilized jars and seal with paraffin.

Inkberry not just for birds

What do you think about using inkberry as a hedge?

Dick Sellers

Durham

I think it could be a good idea. Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a native evergreen shrub that rarely tops 8 feet, and it can spread to a hedge-making 6 to 10 feet wide. Its oblong, refined leaves are complemented with small – bordering on inconspicuous – sprite-like, white flowers that are bee and butterfly magnets in the summer. On female plants, these blooms are followed by ink-black berries that birds consider munchies. Species plants can eventually mature into a more open habit, but for hedge purposes, this can be avoided with late-winter prunings or by choosing cultivars such as Densa and the compact Shamrock, which tend to have fuller branches.

What’s that mystery shrub?

I have seen a medium-size shrub along the roadsides that has white, feathery flowers blooming now. I often see it with goldenrod. Would you have any idea what it is?

Pam Welch

Raleigh

I have a good idea what it is because I always get asked about it around this time of year. The shrub you saw is the native groundsel bush (Baccharis halimifolia). And since you mentioned “feathery,” I’m sure what you have been seeing is actually the fuzzy seeds that form on the female plants. Groundsel bush is a deciduous woody plant that is common on the N.C. coast and is beginning to be found more often in central parts of the state.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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