Nutrient Dense Fruit and Hedgerows

Nutrient Dense Fruit and Hedgerows

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of the ‘old hedgerows’ of Europe. It is my understanding that in the days of the ‘commons’ throughout Europe, most people lived in small villages and still had access to the forest for firewood, building (green woodwork), herbs, food etc., and areas set aside as places to graze one’s animals, places where many people took their animals to graze all together during the day.

Around these grazing areas or fields, lanes and byways, and on the edges of the forests, there were often hedgerows, marking boundaries perhaps between fields, or between road and field, or just filling in otherwise unused spaces.

I don’t know if these hedgerows were actually planted, or whether they were just the plants that came up and survived because they were not being grazed hard like the fields were… I imagine a combination of both.

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around NZ over the past few years, and I’ve been really amazed at what actually grows in this land along side roads and on boundaries between fields and waste places, where no stock is grazing. Alongside the road driving down to Fleur’s restaurant at Moeraki is a wonderful guild of plants that makes the heart sing just smelling and checking them out – loads of legumes, tagasaste, broom, several other yellow flowering, extremely sweet scented legumes I don’t know the name of that look as though they would make excellent stock forage, bee forage and hedging plants, wild passionfruit, elderberries, wild currants, apple seedlings and old plums.

The plentiful legumes are providing the nitrogen for the rest of the guild, and they all look and smell very happy together. Further up here in the Hawkes Bay, Taupo, Rotorua, and areas up through the Eastern Bay of Plenty, I can see other guilds of plants that are growing in the wild places where stock can’t graze and people do not manage. – California poppies, sweet peas, sulla, tagasaste, gorse, perennial yellow lupins, vetch, peaches, wild plums, and many seedling apples. I love these collections of plants, and we can all learn a lot from them in our own areas.

Being alongside byways and roads for many generations, even thousands of years in Europe, there would have been places where apple cores, pear cores, and plum seeds and nuts were thrown or dropped by people or squirrels etc. Closer to places where people harvested on a regular basis, I’m sure they would have been consciously ‘gardened’, and the range of plants would have been altered by the people who lived their lives in a close relationship with them. The best elderberries (very important medicinal plants in Europe) would have been spread around easily by cuttings pushed into the ground close to home harvesting patches etc. Comfrey plants that produced more leaf (more stock feed and medicinal herb) would have been encouraged, as would have all the best crab apples,  sloe plums, hazelnuts,  hawthorne flowers…

The species in the hedgerows would have varied according to the main purpose of the hedgerow which also varies quite a bit. Sometimes their main purpose was to keep stock in an area, so a thick, difficult to get through hedge was critical – stock feed for nutrition and medicine would have also been valuable, and human food and medicine less important. Closer to home, human uses would have been higher on the list etc.

In ancient times, when our human bones and health was very strong compared to the bones and health of people today, as documented in books such as Primal Body Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas, and Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan, the main fruit humans were eating came from these wild areas, byways and hedgerows. It seems that our original fruit was very unlike that we eat today, and mostly consisted of a huge range of tart but very tasty berries, astringent crab apple type apples and pears etc. These fruits were mostly dried and/or fermented to make them edible and also keep over long periods when they were not available. The fermentation would have not only made them non-toxic and edible, but also far more nutritious, and the amounts of sugar in them would have been far lower than what we have today.

Gail and I are working together now to create  a  comprehensive list of potential hedgerow plants in New Zealand and list them with their uses and  cultural needs, so that we can do a better job of planting hedgerows that will have the ability to do a combination of being fences, places for animals and humans to harvest medicine and food, places to provide shelter and food for the birds, insects and animals that are part of their guilds, places to harvest firewood and green woodworking materials from, places for the bees to obtain high brix nectar to keep them strong etc. etc.

There already is a chapter on hedgerows in my book Design Your Own Orchard, but we are going to take this to another level. We’d love to hear of any of your experiences with hedgerows or potential plants that you know about. We are imagining this will become a Koanga Institute Hedgerows Booklet in the next year.

Kay Baxter