Sara Bir writes about the saucy reputation of strawberries.

Among fruits, strawberries are perhaps the most sexualized. They also convey the most innocence. Why the dichotomy? There’s a reason Strawberry Shortcake heads up that franchise of rainbow-haired dolls. But there’s also a reason painter Hieronymus Bosch used strawberries as a recurring symbol for the sin of fornication. See the pale, emaciated naked Flemings grappling miserably over boulder-sized strawberries in The Garden of Earthly Delights and you get the sense that eating giant fruit is not only unfulfilling, but something your eternal soul will pay dearly for. (What a drag life must have been in churchy fifteenth-century Dutch circles!)

Wild strawberries are as fleeting as sexual innocence in the face of opportunity. In Roman Polanski’s 1979 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the cad Alec D’Urberville dangles a perfect, ripe strawberry before the nubile country maiden Tess. “I would rather take it from my own hand,” she says. But Alec accuses her of being coy and she relents, easing her ruby lips over the fruit and accepting it. After failing to seduce Tess, Alec rapes her, and eventually (spoiler alert) Tess will be hanged for murdering him.

Symbolically, the strawberry straddles the before and after, but in our actual lives there’s no tension in the moment itself: Anyone who has come across wild strawberries instantly falls into a carefree reverie, very much as a teenager making out in a car. Boundaries peel away, though overindulgence in wild strawberries results in a stomach ache, at worst. Poor Tess—Maiden No More—eats that single fateful strawberry and emerges from the figurative backseat in the family way.

Humans have eaten strawberries without ruining their reputations probably since they first spotted them, though the earliest records of wild strawberries in human feces date from the Mesolithic era (10,000 to 5,000 BCE). Bosch be damned—fornication is fun, and ideally free of scarring, spiritually or physically.

The times we live in are in many ways dark, but our comparative enlightenment about sexual matters should translate without effort to the shameless seeking and consumption of wild strawberries, perhaps as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did.

Strawberries are perennial, and they send out runners (stolons in botany-speak) just like their cultivated relatives. We’re so used to the sight of strawberries that the seeds on their exteriors don’t jar us, but it is unique among fruits.

Botanists don’t consider strawberries to be true berries, but “aggregate accessory fruits”: Each individual strawberry seed is an ovary and is technically a separate fruit.

Strawberries are fairly easy to cultivate and are a great deal of pleasure to eat straight from the vine. A gardening friend of mine consumed them that way exclusively, spitting out any specimens she felt had subpar flavor and moving on to the promise of the next berry. This technique can also be employed with wild strawberries, exalting in the moment.

Perhaps this basal sort of behavior is the root of the strawberry’s role in art, stories, and song as a portal to sensual bliss— indicative of either naïveté or worldliness, depending on how uptight you are. Control of one’s manners and bearing are lost upon biting into the delight of a ripe wild strawberry and I encourage you to pursue this state of being, fleeting as it is.


This is an extract from The Fruit Forager's Companion by Sara Bir, RRP £22.50, available from