Foraging for Rowan Berries

Sorbus Aucuparia

The Rowan (commonly known as mountain ash) is a tree that you’ve probably seen flourishing throughout the late summer/autumn, with a fantastic display of red/orange berries. Growing in cities and rural areas alike, the rowan is commonly found here in the UK. Taking advantage of the berry’s natural bitterness, it’s often used to make syrups for cocktails or counterbalanced in something sweet, such as our Wild Fruit Pastille Recipe.
Summer, Autumn, Fruits

How to Identify


Dark green tooth edged leaves, with 10-14 leaflets arranged in pairs, with a single leaflet at the end. The leaves often turned yellow/red during the autumn.



Orange and yellow at first, turning into a crimson red berry when ripe (there are some varieties that are orange when ripe). The berry has 2-8 seeds and has a tiny star in the middle which makes it so distinguishable.



Between May – June, creamy white flower heads start to blossom, found in clusters with flowers with 5 petals.

foraging for rowan tree

When and Where

As with many seeds, rowan seeds are easily dispersed by birds, meaning the tree can often be found in many different places! They are often found in higher altitudes thanks to their strong wind resistant roots.


Although the flower of these plants starts to blossom around May, the best time to forage for rowan berries and reap the rewards is early Autumn, when the berries go from yellow to a ripe crimson.

Flavour and How to Use

Rowan berries are rather sour with a slight bitterness. Like with lots of wild berries, the bitter, astringent taste is said to be improved after frost, which helps make the fruit sweeter.


Rowan berries should not be eaten raw as they are highly astringent, diuretic and laxative due to high levels of parascorbic acid. They must be processed/cooked for human consumption.


One of its most common uses is for a Rowan Berry Jelly, but it’s also commonly used infused in liqueurs, made into sauces, syrups and wine.


Have a look at our recipes section below for our Wild Fruit Pastilles using rowan berries!

Foraging for Rowan Berries
Foraging for Rowan Berries
Foraging for Rowan Berries

Medicinal Properties

Improves Respiratory Function

Traditionally used to reduce inflammation of the respiratory tract. This relieves sore throats, asthma and congestion.


Boosts Immunity 

High levels of Vitamin C, essential for everyday good health. Also aids in the  creation of collagen, which strengthens tissue and helps build/repair blood vessels.


Superfood Benefits

Research suggests these berries are jam packed with antioxidants, helping to prevent cancerous growth, premature ageing and boosting eye health.

History and Folklore

The rowan is steeped in folklore and was seen very much as a tree of protection. Here in the UK, the rowan has a long and still popular history in folklore as a tree which protects against witchcraft and enchantment.


The physical characteristics of the tree may have contributed to its protective reputation. Each berry has a tiny five pointed star or pentagram opposite its stalk. The pentagram is an ancient protective symbol.


People also believed the colour red was the best protection against magic. Thus the rowan’s vibrant display of berries in autumn may have further contributed to its protective abilities.

Things to Note

It is vital to know how to identify what you forage correctly to make sure you can safely nature’s delights.


Rowan Berries can be dangerous if not handled correctly. When raw, Rowan Berries contain toxic parasorbic acid – which can cause kidney damage, indigestion and congestion.


Once cooked or frozen, the parasorbic acid is converted into harmless sorbic acid, which is digestible and safe to eat.

Possible Confusions

The berries of the rowan can easily be mistaken for a yew berry, due to the red colour of both fruits. Yew is a very poisonous plant and therefore correct identification is key.


The best way to tell the difference would be by looking at both the leaves and the centre of the berry.  Yew trees have dark green needle like leaves, and a circular black hole (the seed) visible in the centre of the yew berry (see image).


Yew Berries are not safe for consumption.

Yew berry comparison
Yew Berries
Bunch of rowan berries
Rowan Berries

Foraging at our Cookery Courses

Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.

Keen to learn more?

There are a wide range of resources on foraging. Here are just a handful of our favourite books.

Foraging Bags, Baskets and Books

Explore our small range of foraging accesories, including hand woven willow baskets, British wax cotton belt bags, and our favourite foraging books.

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.


If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.


One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 


Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.


Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?


The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 


Leave room for regrowth.

Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.


Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.