Racoon berry wine

By Dudley Wooten - PDT Columnist



In our local Shawnee Forest and the surrounding Scioto County Forest we have several non-native invasive pests. The most significant might be the Emerald Ash Borer, as it is now statewide.

In Hocking Hills, they have far more Eastern Hemlock than we do and there is still another unwanted Asian varmint attacking them. This is the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid and its already destroyed the hemlock to the far east.

It’s a white “wooly”-looking insect that sucks the life out of hemlocks. It is controllable at a reasonable cost. You can learn more about saving the hemlock by calling 1-800-HOCKING. This is a big deal anywhere we have hemlock.

The hemlock is shade tolerant and found in shade on north-facing slopes and along river gorges. In a dense mature stand of hemlock, the only seedlings coming up under them will probably be hemlock or maple.

The evergreen needles will be flat, green, and have 2 white stripes on the underside. When the wind blows through them they give the same “silver” effect as does the silver maple.

In the 1800’s the bark was used to tan leather with its high content of tannin.

It’s not the same poisonous hemlock used to poison Socrates. That is an unrelated plant in the carrot family and also called hemlock. Our Eastern Hemlock tree is edible and eaten by white-tailed deer, grouse, rabbit, and porcupine.

Of course in landscaping, it is used as an either open natural or sheared conical evergreen tree. This can be done to create privacy or to naturalize an area, particularly in shade. A hemlock planted in sun will probably live but be more yellow-green in color.

I use Eastern Hemlock in several ways. I’ll use them with boulders, grasses, black snake root, azaleas, laurel, vinca and rhododendron to “naturalize” a planting at the edge of the woods and I’ll use hemlock as a privacy screen in shade. Their open, natural evergreen habit looks right in those settings. I’ll grow them in their natural, unsheared, shape or lightly prune some for closer to the house.

I have a 4500 square foot log home on a hill that’s at the back end of the farm at the end of a quarter mile gravel drive through the woods. The home is made of poplar logs which are half dove-tail notched and chinked. The gable ends and the octagonal breaks fast nook are rough-sawn random width 4 inch quarter hemlock boards with batten strips. We sawed the hemlock from logs we harvested at Canter Cave in Jackson County when they put in the lake, 40 years ago.

I’m not the only one who likes hemlock. It’s the Pennsylvania State Tree. Black birch seem to like hemlocks. They have a reddish bark and were used to make a pioneer tea. The Eastern Hemlock was also used to make tea. In either case, they would chop the twigs into one-inch lengths, boil, and add honey.

How does this differ from birch beer? The tea is served warm. The beer includes yeast, time, fermentation, bottled, and is served cold.

With no convenient stores or drive-thru, the pioneers had to be resourceful. If you could eat it, they could make beer or wine out of it.

You’ve all heard of Apple Jack, dandelion wine, and elderberry wine but are you familiar with raccoon berry wine?

Raccoon berry wine is made from may apples. May apples are also called hog apples and mandrake. You find them in the woods blooming in May with an apple-like blossom, consequently, the name – may apple.

They’re a wild flower-sized plant and only 12 – 18 inches high. An easy identifying trait is its shape. There will be a trunk about pencil size and then it will fork into two stems at about 8 – 10 inches from the ground. Each stem is about 6 inches long and has one leaf on each stem. The leaf is deeply lobed and one foot wide.

The apple blossom will appear in the crotch between the two stems and that is where the single fruit (may apple) appears. It’s a yellow, fleshy, cherry-sized berry. It’s actually in the Barberry Family but it lives in the shade of the woods from Canada to Florida and as far west as Texas and Minnesota.

I’ve thought it was poisonous in the past but that’s the leaves, roots, and seeds. Mandrake is an old world plant with a similar root.

The edible, ripe, yellow fruit can be used to make jelly or wine. The Indians used may apple roots as a cathartic (laxative).

Now you know just about as much about raccoon berry wine as I do and maybe more than you felt a need to know but you never know when it’ll come in handy.

May the forest be with you.


By Dudley Wooten

PDT Columnist

Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.

Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.