Have a berry merry Christmas with the help of garden bounty

Have a berry merry Christmas with the help of garden bounty
Berries are ideal for brewing your own tea to boost your health and wellbeing this winter. Try berries such as bilberry, cranberry, blueberry, and blackcurrant as well as rosehip. Picture: iStock

Nip those winter ailments in the bud with the help of garden bounty. Fiann Ó Nualláin shows you how.

WE ARE reaching the end of our autumnal harvests from the allotment, from the garden and from the hedgerow. In particular the berries and fruits are waning fast. Winter is here. Sniffles are here. Aches and pains are here. Tiredness and low mood may be accompanying.

And so as not to miss the vitamin C and health flavanols of those fruits across winter, I like to freeze or dry some of that bounty before its gone. I can then have on hand ample supplies for flans, smoothies, homemade muesli. However, since researching my last book (all about herbal teas) I now really enjoy a fruity sip to nip winter ailments in the bud.

Sure there are many fruity and berry flavoured teas on the market but the keyword there is “flavoured”. Some may contain a real piece of dried and powdered fruit, some an ester or other contrivance of a flavour molecules. So I prefer to make my own.

I own a food dehydrator which makes it all a very simple process. Herbs I continue to dry the traditional way, but it has come in invaluable for mushrooms and foraged fare. It is excellent for drying out those berries and fruit pieces while preserving the bulk of their health properties. Well worth a letter to Santa.

It’s not an oven-dry more of a warm-air system to extract moisture and so more of the vitamin C (which is heat sensitive) is preserved. The air-dried fruits and berries will still yield an abundance of antioxidants to defend against oxidative stress and they will hold their various pigments intact and that’s where much of the fruits of healing attributes reside.

The dried fruits can be stored in an airtight container and used as a pure fruit sip or added to a cup of green tea.

So what can you try?


Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) as a fruit is traditionally availed of to improve vision and to stabilise blood glucose levels. Bilberry tea has a higher anthocyanin content than any berry.

Anthocyanins are anti-inflammatory, they help to stabilise DNA, tackle oxidative stress, improve insulin secretion and also support metabolism.


Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus) is a fruit with potent levels of phenolic flavonoids that protect against viral infection, cancer proliferation, inflammatory and neurological diseases.

Blackberry tea has traditionally been utilised as an antiviral beverage against colds and flu and as a convalescence support.


Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) fruit is also availed of to fight a viral infection, not just via its intensity of vitamin C buts its helpful flavonoids that tone the body, help fortify capillaries and peripheral circulation and equip us for a more efficient functioning of the immune system.


Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) fruit is filled with resveratrol— a polyphenol potent against pathogens. The tea is traditionally utilised to remedy stomach infections and viral illness — but its fruit acids and natural sugars also supply energy and regulate digestion.


Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon and V oxycoccus) contain anthocyanosides which block how bacteria adheres to cell walls in the bladder. The tea is traditionally sipped to prevent/ resolve urinary tract infections.

Cranberry’s other phytochemicals help trigger increased levels of adiponectin — a fat cell hormone that is associated with a decreased accumulation of body fat and triglycerides.


Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is my own personal go to for potent antiviral action — not only does its rich flavonoid content support a more efficient and functioning immune system but the berry contains a lectin known as Sambucus nigra agglutinin which actually binds to invading virus strains including H1N1 and other flu strains and disables how they grip onto cell structures and replicate.

Elderberry tea is known to reduce the duration of a cold or flu by several days.


Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna & C oxycantha) is a well renowned cardiotonic, it contains Oligomeric procyanidins that actively help to strengthen capillaries and tone venous health.

Hawthorn tea has tradition in reducing blood pressure. It achieves this via its inhibiting of a peptide hormone in our system known as angiotensin — which in excess increases blood pressure, water retention and levels of potassium and sodium within the system.


Goji (Lycium barbarum) fruit supports to the immune system via its vitamin C also its pre-biotic fibre which encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The tea however, is a brilliant detox and diuretic cleanse for the liver and a general pick-me-up.


Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) isa good source of salicylic acid (natural aspirin) and also ellagic acid which inhibits the activities of pro-inflammatory enzymes such as COX-2. The tea which traditionally can contain dried fruit and dried leaf has benefits in pain management.


Rosehip (Rosa spp) are packed with immune-boosting vitamin C and has a long history in the treatment of colds, flu, coughs, mucous congestion, fevers and bacterial and viral infections.

The tea also has a reputation for cooling menopausal hot flushes and reducing profuse night sweats and it does have a portion of isoflavone phytoestrogens which may act as a mild HRT.


Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) is one of the sweeter sources of iodine which enhances cognitive function. It also contains a phytochemical known as fisetin which regulates mitochondrial function and other processes implicated in age-related neurodegenerative complaints.

Fisetin also increases serotonin and noradrenaline and is a simple dietary mood elevator. A sweet sip to diminish some winter blues.

All of these berries are easy to grow and now is the time to get some bareroot stock or plugs into the ground.

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