The strawberry originated in North and South America. But it was the Europeans who crossbred them from the 16th century onwards, creating what we know today as the common garden strawberry.
Although we primarily use strawberries as food, they’ve long been thought to have enriching, rejuvenating properties. So much so that around the time of the French Revolution, a lady known as Madame Tallien (a rich and eccentric woman) used to bathe in strawberry juice, believing it kept her skin soft and radiant, and that it had healing powers. Even today, strawberries and strawberry juice are used in beauty treatments.
There are more than 20 varieties of strawberries, plus many more hybrid versions. All are herbaceous, meaning that the plant stems and leaves die back to the ground at the end of the growing season, but new growth will develop from the roots or underground stems. Plants grow to about half a metre tall and a metre wide. In summer, they send out runners with leaves at the end that can be cut off and planted elsewhere to create new plants.
Growing the Berries
To plant strawberries, prepare a garden patch by digging it over and adding lots of organic compost and manure. Raise the garden bed or mound up the soil. The end result should be a rich, friable soil with good drainage and lots of sun. Apply a layer of straw around the plants to keep the fruit clean from soil and prevent moisture creating fungal problems and rotting the fruit. The best time to pick strawberries is when the fruit is about three-quarters ripe. Any later and you risk losing it to snails, slugs and birds.