After deciding on the main plants that you simply must have in the forest garden it can then be a struggle to decide which of the other possible plants to prioritise and to include and which to exclude (at least for the moment). Here are my thoughts on a few of these possibilities:
Aronia berries and related products are currently in the news as having amazing antioxidant and immune supporting functions and are appearing on the shelves of health food shops.
I have had an aronia bush for many years, first grown in a pot and then transplanted to the current forest garden about eight years ago. It is a beautiful bush with lovely spring flowers and colourful autumn foliage. The black berries are borne in clusters and often eaten by birds. However this year the birds have not touched them and as the berries were starting to wrinkle and fall off I decided it would be okay to take them for personal use.
A few years ago I made some aronia vodka using a portion of the berries and gave bottles to family and friends at Christmas that year. A spare bottle emerged from the back of a kitchen cupboard a few weeks ago and I had my first taste of it – which was very nice. I almost never touch any alcohol (I had some champagne at the millennium and nothing since!) but given the health benefits of aronia I decided to take just a teaspoonful a day.
This year I have made some aronia syrup which is cooling as I write. I boiled the 575 grams of aronia berries in 500 grams water until they were soft and mushy. I then put them in a muslin jelly bag and left them to drip through overnight and squeezed them out this morning. The liquid weighed 757 grams and I added 400 grams of sugar, brought it to the boil for 10 minutes and then bottled it. This was a combination / guesswork recipe but it seems to have worked and produced a pleasant tasting sweet syrup. I will probably have a teaspoonful a day (possibly diluted) when the vodka has all gone. One additional benefit is that we can also give this syrup to our grandchildren.
blue sausage fruit
I planted this tree about five years ago when I found one for sale at a flower show. This is the first year it has flowered and now fruited. The advice on how to eat this is that you suck the pulp from the pod and spit out the seeds. I picked a plump, deep blue pod and sliced into it to see what was inside and my partner and I both took a (delicate) teaspoonful of pulp and seeds. The taste was very, very mild and it was pleasant, but there was considerably more seed than pulp. Given these proportions it was already looking like a very marginal benefit to harvest and eat these pods. As eating the pod made a rather sticky mess I had inadvertently got some of the pulp on my lips, and after a couple of minutes I became aware of it being ultra sticky and quite unpleasant – a bit like I had put glue on my lips. Not very nice. And Pat had the same experience. We have both decided that this plant, despite it being novel and interesting is not something we actually want to grow and I will remove it and plant something else next spring. This is with a somewhat heavy heart as I almost never do this, but it is not native and therefore cannot offer anything to wildlife either.
perennial leek bulbils
Perennial leeks are a member of the onion family that produce flowers followed by spherical heads of tiny bulbils, sometimes hundreds per head. New plants can be grown from the bulbils and you can also eat them. Given the numbers produced and that I already have plenty of mature plants I have harvested the bulbils for imminent use and have stored them in a jar but not in the fridge. I anticipate that they will keep well, but time will prove (or disprove) this.
Despite their tiny size they taste very strongly of onion / garlic and just a few can be used in place of garlic to flavour cooking. All the alliums (onion family) plants share similar health benefits. Two relatively small heads produced the bulbils in the photo below and I will be out in the garden later on today to collect the remaining bulbil heads and store them whole until they are needed.
Forest gardening principle: whether in abundance or not, harvest only enough.