Now is the time to get onto the hills foraging for deliciously juicy cloudberries for your winter jam. Roddy Maclean tells us more about them and their connection with Gaelic place names.
Bidh Albannaich a thadhlas air Lochlann a’ faicinn, agus ’s dòcha ag ithe, oighreagan thall an sin – mar shabhs, ann an iogart no ann am paidh – ach ma dh’fhaodte nach bi fios aca gu bheil an aon lus a’ fàs ann am beanntan na h-Alba cuideachd (ged nach eil iad cho lìonmhor ’s a tha iad ann an leithid na Suain is na Fionnlainn).
Tha lus nan oighreag càirdeach don t-sùbh-chraoibhe, ged a tha e a’ fàs gu h-ìosal (gu tric fo fhraoch), agus bhiodh na seann Ghàidheil ga ithe mar mhìlsean. Tha grunn bheanntan air an ainmeachadh air a shon, leithid Càrn Oighreag ann an taobh sear a’ Mhonaidh Ruaidh, Beinn nan Oighreag ann an Gleann Lìomhann agus Meall nan Oighreag taobh Locha Tatha. ’S e meadhan agus taobh sear na Gàidhealtachd as sgìre as pailte sa bheil iad. Tha na measan ag abachadh an-dràsta, a’ dol ruadh as t-Sultain (bho dhearg). Carson nach tèid sibh suas beinn a tha ainmichte airson oighreagan airson faicinn a bheil an lus fhathast pailt ann?
Scottish visitors to Scandinavia will often encounter the beautiful cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), both in the environment and as a foodstuff, but might not be aware that the plant also grows in our own mountains – albeit not as plentifully as in countries like Sweden and Finland.
A low-growing relation of the raspberry (although not as sweet as that species), the cloudberry was a traditional food in parts of the Highlands and was well known to the Gaels, as is attested by a considerable number of mountains named after it, ranging from Stirlingshire to Aberdeenshire.
The Gaelic for the fruit is oighreag, and the plant is known as lus nan oighreag. Places like Meall nan Oighreag and Càrn Oighreag were recognised as areas for collecting the fruit (they ripen from deep red to orange in autumn). Keep your eye open for them in the hills – and here’s a little project for a keen person – why not see if the mountains named for them still carry the species in abundance today?
Be inspired by some Swedish cloudberry recipes here.
And if you’d like to learn some Gaelic nature words you can find a list along with an audio recording of the words here.