Permaculture Projects

Cornus mas, Turkish tea and Softwood Cuttings

Week 14 – ESC Project – The Polyculture Project

Last week the first fruits of the Cornus mas started to fall. The berries need to be a very dark red when eaten otherwise they are extremely astringent.  We gather the darkest fruits that have fallen and gently shake the tree to harvest the ripe ones. It’s important not to shake the tree too aggressively, as otherwise the unripe fruit will fall.  If that happens, you can simply remove them before processing or eating.  We make a syrup or cordial with them, a very typical method of preservation in our area.



Cornelian Cherry Cordial Recipe

-Prepare by washing glass jars and bottles well and leaving them to dry.

-Harvest the ripe fruit by holding a sheet under the branches of the tree and shaking them gently. Gather them into a large bucket and rinse with cold water to remove other tree debris or unripe fruit.

-Weigh the fruit to know how much sugar should be added. It’s all according to personal preference and how sweet the fruit is, but as a general guide, 300-500g sugar for every 1kg of fruit.

-Place the fruit into a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil for around 30 minutes, with the lid allowing a little steam to escape. Allow cooling.


– Use a piece of cheesecloth (we use a pillowcase) and strain the mixture through it, squeezing the life out of the pulp and seeds, which can then be composted.

– Bring the red liquid back to a gentle simmer, and add the sugar, stirring until well dissolved. Remember, this is a syrup, so you can test for sweetness by pouring a little of the liquid into a glass and diluting it to taste. syrup:water (1:5).

Once you are satisfied with the sweetness levels, you can pour the syrup into the glass jars and bottle while still quite hot, seal and leave them to form their own vacuum.

I would estimate that we can harvest at least 50kg of fruit from our oldest tree in the residential garden. According to some studies, in its natural habitat, the Cornelian cherry can yield from 500 to 1000 kg of fruit per hectare but in orchard plantings, fruit yields can reach up to 5000 kg per hectare. This gives the species huge potential. For a more detailed look at this quite marvellous plant, including how to grow it in polycultures see our Essential Guide to Growing Cornus mas.

One of our favourite plants for a herbal brew is Lemon Verbena – Aloysia citrodora. I decided to try and take some cuttings from it, just sneaking in time at the end of the season for softwood cuttings using a technique from Richard Young, a fellow plant enthusiast here in Bulgaria, who shared his YouTube video with us. Richard recommends cutting plastic bottles of different sizes to create mini greenhouses, and by opening and shutting the bottle tops, you can adjust the level of humidity to suit the plant that you’re propagating. We had a stack of plant pots that fitted together like a glove with the cut bottles. Together with the ESC volunteers we took cuttings of Lemon Verbena using this technique and to our delight can report a 100% success rate so far. You can watch Richard’s video here. Cheers Richard!


Earlier in the summer we harvested herbs from around the local area and our gardens to dry and make tea blends with. One mix we are experimenting with is a relax blend, featuring the forementioned Lemon Verbena – Aloysia citrodora along with Lavender – Lavandula angustofolia, and German Chamomile – Matricaria recutita.

Our ‘relax’ blend :)

We’re really happy with the flavour combination, but wanted to get some more feedback and were delighted to have the opportunity to share the tea with some guests of the Shipka Fest that was held this weekend by Open Mind Foundation.  The Shipka Fest celebrates traditional arts and crafts and was a great opportunity to meet people and learn new skills. We attended a herbal remedies workshop hosted by Bulgarian expert herbalist Nadezhda Maksimova. The feedback on our tea blend was very positive, and Turkish ESC volunteers Ruhsar and Hekim also made traditional Turkish tea which was immensely popular with the festival goers. We plan to package our blend with a logo design that represents the 2021 ESC experience for the volunteers to take with them, and to share with our friends and supporters.

The ESC volunteers learning from a local artisan blacksmith

Zanthozylum piperitum is a truly remarkable tree that can be grown as a spiny shrub or a small tree and always seems to capture the attention of visitors, especially when they can see the pepper corns framed by attractive red husks.

We’re harvesting the seeds at the moment, some of which we’ll sow now directly into seed trays as we have yielded better propagation rates this way that waiting until the spring, and others will be stored and sent out to customers of the plant nursery this spring.  It can grow in the deep shade of a forest making this an ideal candidate for the forest garden but also tolerates full sun and our trees little little attention throughout the dry season, we apply around 30 litres of water every month or so.
Thanks to Rushar for some of the photos used in this blog.

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.

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