Today strawberries are a common sight and delight – but what is the history of strawberries around the world?
The strawberry is mentioned in ancient Roman literature as early as 234 BC, in reference to its medicinal use. The Romans were faithful devotees of the healing powers of the strawberry. They believed it calmed melancholy and disguised bad breath. According to the ancient literature, strawberries could cure infections, fevers, inflamed throat, kidney stones, gout, fainting spells, and diseases of the blood, liver, and spleen.
Throughout history, there are often mention of wild strawberries in literature and even in artworks. Medieval stone masons carved strawberry designs on buildings to symbolise flawlessness and justice.
One of its most bizarre uses of strawberries ever recorded throughout history relates to Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon. It was well-known that she often bathed in fresh strawberry juice. Reportedly, she used 10 kilograms of strawberry fruit per bath.
Slowly but surely wild strawberries became cultivated and more commonly consumed. By the 1300s the French started to cultivate strawberries, when they transplanted the wood strawberry (Fragaria vesca) from the wilderness to the garden. However, the union of this French wood strawberry and the native North America strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) in 1624 gave us the garden strawberry most grown today. It is a very aromatic berry that grows in great quantities but are rather small in size.
When strawberries became known in England, initially it was not very desirable. For a time during the Tudor period that lasted until 1603, the English believed that raw fruit was dangerous. However, buy the late 1600s, when strawberries became popular in Europe, England cross bread the original Virginia strawberry with the larger Chilean strawberry, and this larger strawberry that England became well renowned for, was born. The combination of strawberries and cream was created by Thomas Wolsey in the court of King Henry VIII. Today, this combination is still synonymous with England and are traditionally consumed at the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
As for the United States, it was not until the late 1700s that garden strawberry made its way (back) there, and by 1825 strawberry production was well-established in the United States. Even today, strawberries have a special meaning in the Unites States, where it is the first fruit of the year to ripen. They are associated with spring and rebirth. No surprise then that the United States is the leading producer and supplies about 20 percent of the world’s strawberries. Strawberries are grown in every US state and Canadian province.
To suite each country’s climate, day length, altitude, or type of production required in a particular region, most countries started to develop their own varieties. This is why there are more than a hundred different Fragaria species worldwide. Today strawberries are native to the moderate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and cultivated varieties are widely grown throughout the world.