A Lesson in Strawberry History
Strawberries are indiginous to both the nothern and southern hemispheres. They have been found growing by the seaside, in the woods, and on mountain tops. The strawberry was first found in the writings as early as 1000AD and the first sketch of a strawberry plant was printed in 1484. Cato, a Roman Senator made the first mention of strawberries sometime between 234-149 BC. The first descriptions published were mostly for the medicinal uses of the plant and not for the benefits of the attractive fruit as a tasty treat.
Strawberries were first sold in a London marketplace around 1831. They were most likely harvested from wild strawberries in nearby fields or woodlands and not from “commercial” production areas. In England and Europe the consumption of strawberries became increasingly more popular, many peasants as well as aristocrats would have a patch in their home gardens. France, though, became the the front runner in strawberry production.
The word Strawberry is in itself, unique to the English language. The name has a variety of posssible origins. Straw was commonly used to mulch the plants during the winter and to keep the berries cleaner. In London children used to pick the berries, hang them on pieces of straw then sell them in the street markets as “Straws of Berries”. The runners which the plants produce are said to be strewn or dispersed around the plant. In some literature the fruit is called strewberry. In Latin the fruit is referred to as “Fragra” or Fragrant. Charles Linneaus gave strawberry the scientific species name of Fragaria. In French, Italian, and Spanish the fruit is refered to as a “Fraise” or fragrant berry. In North America The Narragansett Indians called the fruit “wuttahimneash” or “heart berry”.
French explorer Cartier brought strawberries to France from the Quebec Province of Canada in 1534. Englands explorer, Hariot, brought back strawberry plant specemins from Virginia to London. Other strawberry plants were brought to Europe from the South American Andes mountain region where they had been cultivated and marketed long before the Spanish arrived. The strawberry plants found native in the Americas, were superior to all European varieties in size, flavor, and beauty. The gardens at Versailles France were among the first to seriously work at improved production of strawberries. In the 18th Century one of the first breeding crosses was made to improve the strawberry. A Virginia variety was crossed with a Chilean variety which lent the resultant offspring both size and firmness. This variety, the first hybrid, became known as the Pineapple or Pine strawberry due to its distinctive flavor.
- To symbolize perfection and righteousness, medieval stone masons carved strawberry designs on altars and around the tops of pillars in churches and cathedral
- The wide distribution of wild strawberries is largely from seeds sown by birds. It seems that when birds eat the wild berries the seeds pass through them intact and in reasonably good condition. The germinating seeds respond to light rather than moisture and therefore need no covering of earth to start growing.