(Sorbus sp. – Family Rosaceae)
Rowan and sorb berries, service berry (tree), sorb apple, mountain ash berries
sorbe (French), Vogelbeere (German), sorbo (Italian), fresno alpestre (Spanish), røn (Danish), rogn (Norwegian), rönn (Swedish), pihlajanmarja (Finnish), ryabina (Russian), jarzebina (Polish), jérabka (Czech), jerabina (Slovak), veres berkenye (Hungarian), oskorusa (Serbo-Croat), scorusua (Romanian), ofika (Bulgarian), sourbo (Greek), huzrar (Hebrew), nanakamado (Japanese)
Rowan and sorb are two distinct sorts of trees in the genus Sorbus of the rose family, but their names are often used interchangeably. They are more commonly recognized as the bright orangey-red berries of the mountain ash tree.
It owes its name to the practice of bird-catchers in Germany, and elsewhere in the world, who would trap small birds in hair nooses baited with rowan berries, since birds love the berries.
These are not true berries, but drupes which are sour and astringent unless exposed to the mellowing effects of frost. They are more suited to making jams or jellies.
Rowan berries grow in clusters wild throughout Europe and parts of Asia, especially the mountainous regions and are matched by the North American variety (S. americana).
S. torminalis is the species usually called sorb and tends to grow further south in Europe. The fruits are larger than those of the rowan and green or brownish rather than the orange.
Often called “sorb apples” because they look like small apples or pears in their shape and colour, sorbs, like the rowan, are sour and astringent, although less so after exposure to a frost.
In northern climes, they are gathered to “blet”, which softens them and mellows their sourness enough to be used in pies.
In the south of Italy, the sun ripens the fruits on the trees, often enough so they can be eaten raw or used in pies.
The fruits of the cultivated sorb, S. domestica, are larger and, otherwise, the same as apples.