Nothing is so sweet and charming as a tidy, dark green Alpine strawberry plant, hanging with fragrant white flowers and dark red berries. Fragaria vesca var. semperflorens differs from common garden strawberries and the wild strawberry because it grows as an attractive clump that stays put, without forming runners, so it makes a lovely edging or container plant. They should always be included in a fairy garden, as long as it has a sunny location.
The pretty three-part leaves have serrated edges that hold dewdrops in the early morning, and because of the leaf shape, the strawberry has been linked to the Triology and carried in religious ceremonies in Europe. In spring, delicate white blooms with yellow centers are produced in abundance, followed by shiny, bright red fruits. Often, plants continuing producing fruits until the frosts of autumn shrivel their blooms. If moved indoors, fruit may be picked all winter! (If one hand pollinates, or has indoor insects!) While the fruits are small compared to today’s commercial strawberries, they are packed with flavor and sweetness. Alpine strawberries are a delightful way to introduce children to the joys of gardening.
The name strawberry does not come from the common practice of mulching large plantings with straw, but more likely from the Anglo-Saxon word “streauberige” which means “strew.” In fact, the leaves of wild and alpine strawberries were commonly used as strewing herbs.
Strawberries are not often thought of as a medicine or a cosmetic, but in former days the berries were used to whiten teeth and to soothe sunburn. The leaves and berries were common treatments for dysentery, gastro-intestinal problem, urinary diseases, fevers, as a gargle for sore throats, and as a spring tonic to help purify the blood after a long winter. The leaves were often used as a tea to help excessive menstruation and also as benefit to an easy pregnancy. Most authorities feel the leaves lose much of their flavor when dried. Note that only the leaves of the alpine or wild strawberries have significant medicinal properties. The common garden variety has little or no value.
Alpine strawberries are easily grown from seed, and there are several excellent varieties available in the marketplace. “Mignonette” has slightly larger berries. “Rugen” is the most commonly found and “Temptation” is said to be slightly sweeter. They grow well in any sunny location, reaching a height of about six inches and forming a clump about six inches in diameter. Older plants can be carefully divided. Good drainage in winter is necessary to prevent crown rot, so raised beds are excellent. They grow well in containers. Indoors in winter, give them as much light as possible and you will be rewarded with berries to garnish salads or beverages.
I just seeded a batch last week. Simply sprinkle the seed as carefully as possible onto moist soil, trying not to sew the tiny seeds too thickly. Do not cover with soil, as they need light to germinate. I lay a narrow strip of clear plastic wrap over the rows or cover with a plastic dome. They can take a while to germinate, so be patient. My seeding notes from last year show they were sown Feb. 15 and germinated on March 9. Sown early, they will definitely produce fruit the first year. I have no harvest records, because as soon as they are ripe either myself or visitors to the potager harvest them for an immediate snack!