Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


Medlar is a small tree or shrub which can be found in hedges and woodland in lowland England, but is more usually found in gardens.   Grown originally for its for its fruit, medlar is now more usually grown as a curiosity. It is native to southwest Asia, and possibly southeast Europe, and is believed to have been first cultivated in the British Isles late in the 10th century, and first recorded in the wild late in the sixteenth century.  It is believed that most wild plants have grown from suckers rather than seeds [1].

Richard Mabey in his Flora Britannica, 1996: 209, writes:  [medlar] ‘fruits are like large, brown rose-hips, and in our climate become edible only when they are ”bletted” – made soft and half-rotten by frost  …  In the Mediterranean region they can be eaten straight off the tree.  The flesh tastes a like like baked apple, but with the consistency of chestnut purée.  The slighty ”high” flavour and granular texture made them popular for serving with whisky.  They also made jellies, preserves and fillings for pies or were baked and eaten directly out of their skins with a spoon.’

Local names suggest that the fruit have laxative properties, being known as open-arse, open tail, and open ass.  The last of these is recorded by A.S. Macmillan in his Popular Names of Flowers, Fruits, etc., 1922: 209, as being ‘the common and usual name among the working class’, presumably of Somerset, thus suggesting that at his time medlar fruits were familiar to them.

1.  A.R. Clapham et al., Flora of the British Isles, ed. 2, 1962: 422; C.D. Preston et al., New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora, 2002: 371.

Images:  main, cultivated,  grounds of Hove Museum and Art Gallery, East Sussex, October 2014; inset, fruit, presumably not bletted, on sale at a greengrocers in St James Street, Brighton, East Sussex, 5 November 2021.

Updated 6 November 2021.