The Herb of the Month for October 2021 is Medlar, Mespilus germanica.
Medlar is a large shrub or small tree, a cultivar of the Rosacea family, which includes members such as apples, pear,s and rose hips. It is indigenous to Persia, southwest Asia, southeastern Europe, and Turkey.
Medlar is slow growing with a white floral spring display. This plant is suited to zones 5 through 8, and it likes warm summers and mild winters. It has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years and was popular in Roman and medieval times. It was included in the gardens of kings, monasteries, common spaces, and village greens. Its importance anciently was probably due to the lack of sugar and other sweeteners in the general diet. During WWII, the British were encouraged to forage for this fruit. As of 2021, this unusual fruit, is still being grown in the east and Asia, and is making a comeback in Europe.
It is unique in that it is a fruit that becomes sweet and edible in winter, after being “bletted,” or ripening through time or frost. Bletting refers to allowing the starch in the fruit to convert to fructose. This reduces the tannin and acid levels as the fruit becomes soft and sweet. One could say that once the fruit becomes rotten, it is edible. Once cut open, the applesauce-like interior of the fruit can be eaten with a spoon. The flavor has been described as ultra-sweet, ripe dates mingled with lemons, having a grainy texture.
A wide variety of new fruits were developed and introduced throughout Europe and Asia, causing the popularity of medlar to decline from its peak in 1600s. In about the 1950s, it vanished from our cultural consciousness. Most people do not recognize it when they see it in some public spaces.
The fruit can be eaten raw, added to various desserts, or used to make conserves, and jams. The leaves, bark, wood, and fruit have historically been used to treat various ailments.
Because of the difficulty in finding Medlar in our grocery markets, consider purchasing a plant so that fruit can be used as a preserve.
Medlar jam or jellies are made by combining the medlar fruit sugar, a green apple, lemon juice, and sugar. Use on bread, biscuits, or vanilla ice cream.
For herbies, this may be just the plant that you order for an adventure in 2022!