Monday, 23 April 2018

Bird Cherry: in folklore and in Byron's Gin

http://www.floralimages.co.uk/
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Image courtesy of J. Crellin/ Floral Images
Bird Cherry Prunus padus has a long history as a flavouring for spirits in Scotland, according to Milliken & Bridgewater's Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland. So it's no great surprise that one of the two gins in the Byron's Gin range, launched earlier this year by Speyside Distillery, is called Bird Cherry. 

The tree is one of seven botanicals selected by Andy (BSBI County Recorder for Banffshire) and Sandy (master blender at Speyside Distillery) as key ingredients in this delicious new gin, along with Juniper of course. 

Flora Celtica also tells us that Bird Cherry was venerated in Wester Ross for its "ability to dispel evil" and that walking-sticks made from Bird Cherry were believed to prevent people from getting lost in the mist. But we don't have any evidence for this so if you are heading out on the hills, we'd recommend the map and compass approach rather than trusting to a magic walking-stick! 

One thing we are fairly sure about is that Bird Cherry is attractive to wildlife - bees and flies are attracted to the flowers, while birds seem to be quite partial to the berries. 

Bird Cherry is just coming into leaf at the moment but we'll have to wait another month or so for the distinctive clusters of white flowers and even longer for the shiny black fruits. Worth noting here that the fruits are quite bitter - definitely better as an ingredient in gin than in a fruit pie! 

This BSBI distribution map shows where you will be able to find Bird Cherry across Britain and Ireland, while this entry in the New Atlas gives more information about the tree's habitat requirements.