Barberry is gaining popularity all over the place because people are planting it to help a moth, which relies on it as caterpillar food. The native barberry – Berberis vulgaris – was eradicated from most parts of the countryside because it is also the host of a ‘rust’ fungus that attacks cereals. A cute little moth – the Barberry Carpet – was virtually wiped out along with it.
Nowadays the rust has been defeated by breeding resistance into modern varieties of cereal. Farmers have no need to fear the Barberry. So we’re planting it at Sheepdrove Organic Farm this month – fancy joining us?.
But what is Barberrry good for, apart from being a very effective thorny component of your hedge? Well, it’s not just food for caterpillars.
Zereshk (زرشک) is the Persian name for the dried Barberry fruit. Zereshk is commonly used in Iran to bring a tarty slant to chicken – like the Zereshk polo dish served with rice. Also popular for jams and puddings. The barberry is known as Épine-vinette in French. Q’est ce que ςa va dire… spine vine?!
Daniel Darwood, writing about the cuisine at Sketch in The Fine Dining Guide mentions the three-Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire who sometimes uses barberry: “consider, for instance, the Épine-vinette and Lardo di Colonnata which garnished a crustacean course…”
I wholeheartedly recommend a taste of the Laissez Fare blog which has an excellent review of the Sketch experience. To quote:
“Last up was a little sandwich of langoustine with some clever toast of extremely thin fried potato. The inherent sweetness of the langoustine was here matched with the quite sharp flavor of European barberries and the unctuousness of the little dabs of lard. 8/10.” (full review here)
Well, if Gagnaire likes barberry in his kitchen, let’s have it!
So, those of us working in nature conservation don’t have to think of Barberry simply as a means of helping the Barberry Carpet. The comeback of another moth would be great – but let’s also celebrate the comeback of a fine hedgerow character almost lost from our food culture.
If you’re growing barberry for moths, I’d suggest the first surveys you carry out should be for fruits! One way to make sure barberry becomes more widespread is to share its flavours! Try out recipes for jams and sauces, and give them to your friends and neighbours.
Barberry Carpet factsheet (Butterfly Conservation)
Read about herbal uses, yellow dye, and more…
photo from NEN