Why are Strawberries Called Strawberries?

by Charlie
Strawberries

Strawberries are known for their characteristic aroma and sweet taste. In addition, strawberries are a popular fruit that also provides artificial flavorings to numerous products.

Why are strawberries called strawberries? Nobody is positive where the name “strawberry” came from, but there are a few possibilities. One is that it is a corruption of the phrase “strewn berry,” while another speculates that it is to do with the look of the strawberry, and a third suggests it could be because straw is frequently used as a mulch when growing strawberries. Alternatively, perhaps they were packed in straw when going to market.

The “Strewn Berry” Theory

This is considered by many to contain the most likely explanation for a strawberry’s name. When they grow, strawberries often look as though they have been strewn about all over the field, because they produce runners all over the place. This is true in wild growth too; they often appear almost randomly scattered about the place.

Because this theory can predate our cultivation of strawberries, it’s thought that this is very likely – we would have had a name for the berries before we started mulching them in our fields with straw.

Before spellings were standardized and we began to assign fixed spellings to things, it is easy to believe that the spelling could have ended up as “straw,” especially given the variations in accent all over the country.

So, perhaps you should take a new approach to your strawberries – they are not straw at all, but strewn! Alternatively, perhaps one of the other options will seem more feasible to you.

The Aesthetic Theory

Strawberries look a little bit like they have straw inside them. Their red surface is flecked with yellow lines, like the ends of straw poking through.

This is another potential explanation; people trying to describe the berry might have compared the yellow flecks to a material that they would have been very familiar with at the time.

However, this also seems somewhat random. There are many other things that the strawberry’s yellow flecks might have been compared with, although admittedly the way they appear sprinkled is somewhat similar to how straw looks when scattered around.

There’s no proving this one, and no disproving it either. You might have to decide for yourself whether you feel convinced by it. Do the yellow speckles look like straw poking through to you?

It’s worth noting that they aren’t as distinctive in wild strawberries as they are in our modern cultivars, which is a point against this theory, since strawberries were named based on the wild variety, and not the cultivated kind!

The Mulch Theory

It’s true that strawberries are often mulched using straw. This helps to keep dampness in the soil around them while they are growing, and it also suppresses weeds and other plant growth that might crowd out the strawberries. Mulching in the winter helps to prevent the strawberries from being damaged by heavy frosts.

Straw also helps to stop the fruit from touching the ground, which might cause deformity or rotting. Some people also think that it discourages slugs and other pests from crawling onto the strawberry plants to munch the fruits, although this may not be the case.

A layer of straw over the plants while they are fruiting is a good way to hide the bright fruits from birds that love them almost as much as people do, and this method has also been used in the past.

You can therefore see that there are plenty of good reasons for using straw to mulch in strawberries, and it’s the material of choice. It’s easy to imagine that this common usage might have led to the name “straw” berry, but it is thought that this reason isn’t actually as good as it might sound.

As mentioned, humans began eating strawberries long before we started cultivating them. We picked wild strawberries in the woods and ate them, and we carted them to markets to sell them. We have been enjoying these berries since long before we needed to mulch them with straw.

That means that while this theory sounds plausible, it probably isn’t the case. There isn’t any reason we’d have associated the wild variety of the plant with straw mulching, and we would have named them before we started domesticating them.

On the whole, then, this theory seems to have been fairly firmly dismissed as not very plausible, despite how neat it sounds. However, the name of the fruit could come from its association with straw in a different way – packaging and transport.

The Packed In Straw Theory

So, when the foragers were picking strawberries in the woods to take to market and sell, what did they do with the berries? They couldn’t really fill their pockets with them!

It is thought (although this is only a theory) that the foragers may have strung the berries on pieces of straw to make them easier to carry and prevent them from getting squashed on each other. This would have let them carry far more berries than they could otherwise have done. 

Straw was cheap, and many people could access it, meaning that it would provide a useful transportation method to most people, and if it made it easier to carry more berries to market, it would certainly have been used.

A different version of this theory involves using straw to pack the strawberries into crates without them squashing each other. Farmers or foragers could then easily transport the strawberries to market, and would still have fresh, whole berries to sell – rather than a mush! 

Again, straw was cheap and readily available, so it would have been suitable to use (and probably reuse) as a packaging material for these berries.

Final Thoughts

There are many potential explanations as to why strawberries have got their peculiar name, but the most likely ones recognize their history as wild plants before they were cultivated. 

It seems probable that the name either comes from a corruption of “strewn” berries, or that it referred to the method by which they were packed and taken to markets. The next most likely explanation is to do with the plant’s aesthetics – but we will probably never know for sure how these fruits got their name!

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