During the 12th century German Benedictine abbess, mystic, writer, composer, philosopher, visionary, and polymath Saint Hildegard von Binger (a.k.a. Sybil of the Rhine) declared strawberries unfit for consumption because they grew along the ground where snakes and toads most likely crawled upon them. Hildegard is famous for her dietary advice but actually was relaying much older warnings about picking strawberries which were also widely regarded as an aphrodisiac.
Roman poet Virgil, (70 to 19 BCE), author of the Aeneid, warns children picking wild strawberries to beware of serpents lurking in the grass. The Romans never cultivated strawberries but wild fruit was popular with children as our own ones in the park are today. This rather unfortunate 'snake in the grass' reputation strawberries had for centuries is well embedded in European folklore making them a latter day forbidden fruit equivalent. In 1560, Bruyerin-Champier, physician to King Henry IV, wrote that the English ladies enjoyed their strawberries and cream so much they began planting the strawberries in their own gardens.This seems to be one of the earliest references to cultivating starwberries in England. In the park we have both wild and cultivated varieties of strawberry, indeed the LEAP team removed and replanted some wild ones to replace them with a more productive larger fruit cultivated variety on both the Strawberry wall and obelisk.
In the course of history the humble strawberry made the transition from dangerous fruit to one mostly fit for women. Thomas Tusser the Essex farmer/poet, who wrote Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry in 1557, where he suggested growing strawberries is an appropriate "employment of women," composed the following poem to emphasise the point:-
Wife, into the garden and set me a plot
With strawberry roots, the best to be got.
Such growing abroad among thorns in the wood,
Well chosen and picked, prove excellent good.
Because of their bright red colours and heart shapes, strawberries were the symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love in much European folklore. This was not always a good thing. For example Henry VIII's second wife, Ann Boleyn, was thought to have been a witch because she had a strawberry shaped birthmark on her neck.
Nutritionally strawberries are superfoods, 5 medium-sized strawberries will supply your minimum RDA of Vitamin A and includes the following nutritional benefits:
1 g. protein
0.5 g fat
10 g. carbohydrates
3 g. fiber
0.6 mg iron
1 mg sodium
20.2 mg calcium
30 mg phosphate
39 IU Vitamin A
0.03 mg thiamine
0.10 mg riboflavin
81.6 mg Vitamin C
239 mg potassium
0.02 mg zinc
14.4 mg magnesium
0.09 mg Vitamin B6
25.5 mcg folacin
Like all the LEAP produce strawberries are abundantly available in season to those wanting to pick this magical if controversial fruit and benefit from the health bomb they provide. Work parties are open to all interested parties, the Friends group warmly welcome all new and old community gardeners to make our urban green spaces edible and other community gardening tasks. We meet most Saturday mornings in St George's Park at 10am and can be spotted in our hi-viz yellow LEAP vests - if you can why not come and say hello to us?
So if you can't make it to Wimbledon this year don't worry there will be free strawberries a-plenty in St George's Park where there is also a tennis court, all you'll need to bring is the cream and the job's a good 'un.