Hedgerows were the original field bounderies for farming. Dry stone walls were built in rugged areas where hedging was scarce but in most areas hedgerows were the way to go long before the advent of wood or wire fencing.
Not only did these barriers keep animals in and mark out your terratory they were also a source of food in the berries and leaves they provided and also the timber used for firewood and making things.
Hedgerows are loved by birds, butterflies, bats, hedgehogs and voles.
What makes up a hedgerow?
HAWTHORN Also known as May Tree or Thorn Apple. Although usually part of a hedge this can grow as an individual tree up to 40 feet tall. It has pretty tiny white flowers in May and June which butterflies love. You can eat both the flowers and the young leaves in salads. Red berries form in Autumn and these can be made into jams and jellies and even hawthorn ketchup! In the middle ages they used to make a wine from the berries to help treat high blood pressure. The berries also help digestion and boost the cardiovascular system.
ROWAN Also known as Mountain Ash, this is now hedge height but a fully fledged tree that very often grows within hedgerows and can grow up to 50 feet tall. It also flowers in May and June but it takes 15 years before it bears fruit. The berries it produces at this time of year are bright red and grow in clusters. You can make jelly and jam with them and they are very rich in vitamin C. Rowan trees used to be planted by churches as the red berries were said to ward off evil.
BLACKTHORN Also known as Sloe Bushes. Famous for flavouring Sloe Gin the blackthorn wood was said to be used by witches to make their wands! Sloes are very good for the digestive system but you wouldn't want to eat one raw as they are very bitter.
BLACKBERRIES Also known as Brambles in Scotland though actually the word bramble really means impenetrable thicket due to the spikey tangled bramble cables the berries grow on. Brambles can be eaten straight from the bush and also make great jam, jelly, pies, crumbles, chutney and used in liqueurs like brambly apple gin.
BEECH No, not the seaside, Beech trees are often part of hedgerows and both the young leaves in spring and the beech nuts (or mast as they are called) are edible. The beech nuts have a furry husk almost like velcro that pops open and drops from the tree when ripe. Inside there is a triangular nut which you can toast in a dry pan and eat. These are very popular in France and can be ground down for a coffee substitute. The French also press oil from these beech nuts.
There are other goodies in the hedgerows, everything from dandelions to daisies, chickweed where there are ditches running alongside and cleavers (sticky willy). All of these are edible, hedgerows are great!